Tuesday, February 26, 2008

mammaries of mine

First of all, no, those are not mine. If I were not a public school teacher, I would easily post mine here for all the world to see. I have no qualms about being naked in hot springs or while strolling down Zipolite beach in Oaxaca, or at the Oregon Country Fair, but sorry, not here. I just thought a lovely picture might entice you to read this post, which isn't necessarily going to be lovely.

They are, after all, only boobs. Behind and beyond the painful adolescence, the sexual pleasure, and the miracle of mother's milk, lies the simple fact of biological life.

And death.

"The envelope" arrived for me today from Memorial Hospital. If you have ever had a mammogram, you will know this letter. It has pink paper showing through the cellophane address window, and your results are held within. I have always hated the color pink. Ever since I watched my mother survive with and die from breast cancer, I have despised it.

About two weeks ago I went for my annual mammogram. I arrived, I filled out the form, I read an AARP magazine. All was just dandy until I was walking down the hall toward the waiting room and read a sign that said "Mammography Seating". I'm not sure what happened next, but my chest tightened and the tears welled. I felt my breasts tingle and became painfully aware of them, almost like the "let down" feeling of milk coming in. Suddenly, everywhere I looked there were breasts. I noticed the old ones and the young ones. I watched the soap operas on TV, and couldn't follow the story because I was so busy staring at their breasts! Magazines, too. Boobs were everywhere! I felt like I was going insane.

Suddenly, I realized that this must be what it feels like to be a man. And I got it. I really, really got it.

The actual mammogram was uneventful, if you consider having your tender breasts squished to within an inch of their lives in between two pieces of plastic while holding your breath uneventful. And I never know where to look. At the wall? Down at my squished boob? At the other one hanging out in space? At the machine?

Anyway, it really was fine, even with all the manipulating and squishing and holding breath and making small talk with the tech.

It's just that while I'm there I want to rant and whine to somebody, anybody who will listen:
"You know what? My mom survived breast cancer for five years, and this is my first mammogram since she died, and I'm terrified about the results, and what do you think about genetic testing, and doesn't cancer just SUCK!?!"

But I don't say any of those things. I just stare down at my naked torso in the dressing room after it's all over, cup my breasts in my hands, and murmur gently to them, "Please don't betray me. Just don't. Not now. Not ever. Please."

Today at the Chinese Buffet, my fortune cookie read, "Don't be afraid of fear". But how can I not live in fear of my mother's fate? It is not death I fear, not even an early one. It is the long slow cancerous journey to get there that terrifies me, filled with smocks and needles and smiling nurses and greeting cards from my friends and worst of all, having to embrace the color pink. I mean, can you really be a breast cancer survivor and fucking HATE the color pink?!

While sitting at the registration desk, a pink-cheeked, pink-collared old lady smiled knowingly at me from across the registration area. I smiled back, but what I really wanted to do was scream at her, "I will never, ever be YOU!"

But I might.

Only time will tell.

Today, the pink letter from Memorial Hospital informed me that my mammogram showed no signs of cancer. And so today, I love my breasts. They nursed my first baby for 14 months and my second one for just over two years. For that, I am most grateful. They are the perfect size proportionally for my body. They still make my husband want me when he glances at them.

And yet they hold this deep, dark, terrifying secret. This potential poison. Knowing that I could lose them, knowing that they could betray my love at any moment, knowing that they could one day end up killing me......

Well, it's a love/hate relationship of the purest kind.


reliv4life said...

I am so glad all was well with you. this is just beautifully written, I felt I was right there experiencing it first hand. I am involved with a food science company out of MO that has changed my life. I know several people that have had results with malignancy as well... if you are truly looking for preventive nutrition, email me - mgrabbe1008@msn.com I would be glad to connect you with some of these ladies...

Jim Thomsen said...

As a man, all I can say is: Boobs rule. And so do you for understanding why they do.

John said...


Anonymous said...

Sue, I recently watched your mother's testimony on youtube. Seems like you come from an amazingly strong woman, I wish I could have met her.
I have been obsessed similarly, though in a more vain way (post-breast feeding breast blues, blah blah blah). This put things in perspective.
Great writing, I felt like I was in your head, it brought me to tears, thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

boobs, how can enlarged pockets of flesh hold such emotion, and then I look down at my nursing 28month old and know. Weanning will be hard. My boobs job will be over, they will be a flacid shell of their once perky glory. I want them to be mine again.

Noel's boring lesbian mom said...

During the 70's I knew a physician who did unnecessarily aggressive breast exams, and during each exam he explained that the breast is nothing but a large sweat gland. Not one person in the room believed him, especially the woman who owned the breasts.

JJM said...

I had a lovely boob experience yesterday that I recommend you all try: go on a bike ride bra-less with a loose shirt and let your sisters swing! It was totally great- especially on bumps and turns. Gravity + breasts= bike riding bliss.

(Keep in mind my lady's aren't huge, however- I wouldn't want any one to damage themselves)

hilary said...

Thank you for that.... especially the fortune cookie. ;)

I missed you last night, and hope you are feeling much better.

jana said...

That was very moving. I could totally relate to your anxiety and relief. I go through that every time I get a Pap smear and the mammograms are going to begin soon. There is so much to love about our bodies, and at the same time, so much to be worried about.

On a humorous note, an aunt of mine told me her greatest fear was being in the middle of a mammogram, having the fire alarm go off in the building and in the ensuing panic, being left behind...her breast trapped in vice grip.

NBLM - I think that doctor was a large sweat gland. He's sounds positively stinky.

jjm- isn't it odd how your perception and acceptance of your breasts change over time. I remember once when I was in highschool I forgot to wear my bra. We had gym that day and I was wearing a sweat shirt. I remember being mortified that someone was going to notice something bouncing around (which is in hindsight, hilarious, considering that I was an A cup). Nowadays, I may wear a bra 50% of the time and, like Sue, have no problems with baring my chest at the hot springs or anywhere really. It's so nice to be free of that embarassment.

Kate said...

I totally relate to this. My mother is a breast cancer survivor (so far); I've already halfway convinced myself that my eventual death from breast cancer is inevitable. That's dumb, I know; but there it is.

Anonymous said...

I had my first mammogram at 30, after my mother began treatment for breast cancer. She was clear for 5 years, then got it again and had a mastectomy this time. It's been almost ten years now, and she is doing well. I've asked her to consider genetci testing for the sake of her three daughters, but she won't. I have my mammogram every year with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, wordlessly praying. Still, I am always grateful for the time I spent nursing my babies and feel they've served me well so far. (But I'm not trying that nike riding thing - ouch!)

Anonymous said...

Or bike riding. Whatever.

Beth said...

Hey Sue,
My first mammogram came back with calcifications that required a 6 month follow-up and a 6 month follow up after that. Because the tiny calcifications kept appearing (no change, no growth, no increase), they recommended a stereoscopic needle biopsy. I went to the surgeon for a pre-op consultation and realized that a 'simple' needle biopsy is really a mining operation. After much thought and internal listening, I decided to cancel the procedure. If there are problematic cells in my breast, these miraculous vessels seems to have done a great job of isolating the problem. Some doctors believe that the needle biopsy could break that protective shell and dislodge the cancer--CREATING a problem--where none existed. I'm not opposed to early detection, but I am cautious about unnecessary, invasive procedures. I'll continue to monitor the white specks in my breast with regular squeeze sessions.

Thanks for your thoughtful lines. I'll never experience another mammogram in the same way! Beth

Anonymous said...

Felicidades Sue!
BRAVO to the second power!!!
This piece was truly beautiful. I am so glad everything went well, from the actual procedure to your mental journey. Just recently my mother called me with the most horrendous news...the doctor had found a small bump in her breast...and like you, many thoughts crossed my mind unintentionally...am I going to lose her? Is this it? Why her?
Anyway, I loved your writing piece and thank you for sharing.
Now, pink ain't that bad! C'mon!...Just kidding!

suesun said...

Thank you all for sharing your own stories..... it seems we all have a boob story that needs to be told. Love and good health to all..... xoxo

Maria said...

I'm very glad and I get scared at my mammos too.

My mother died of breast cancer and my little sister is a three year survivor or it. Another cousin recently died of breast cancer.

We did the genetic testing and ALL of us sisters (I have three) came out free of the gene.

Life is very scary on mammo days, though.

Johanna said...

It's been nearly a year since my first and only mammogram. A self-located lump turned out to be nothing more than too much coffee. In spite of this, the fear that was invoked is real. You expressed it well!

Friar Tuck said...

I am so glad I am not a woman....no offense...just an honest response to stuff like this

Anonymous said...

I found your blog through Newspeak today. I like very much what you wrote about breasts. I'm not sure I understand why men go gaga over them, but I breastfed my two boys who are now age 3 and 7, and they both miss cuddling up to feed from my bosom. It's a curious thing, but apparently breasts evolved because men were so attracted to bottoms, and it sends out two lots of sexy signals. I don't relate to being turned on by plumbers bottoms though.
I lost one of my dearest friends to ovarian cancer. It was a long hard journey, so I can understand your worry there. Try not to worry and take good care of yourself.
I sometimes post as Aunt Lobelia when I'm feeling flippant.

Rebecca said...

Sue, I know exactly of which you write. Man! I had my first mammogram February of 2007, I was 40. My grandmother died of breast cancer. When I received a phone call a few days later telling me I needed to go back for further evaluation I was completely freaked out. I went a week later for an ultrasound. All was marginally well, come back in 6 months. Had another round of mammo and ultrasound on my right breast in August. All clear. Whew. But the week between procedure and results was the longest I could remember. I had my second annual mammogram last month. It was clear.

Meanwhile, my cousin, a year younger than I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. I HATE pink. So much she, because I've not yet seen her wear it. Her sister, however, now LIVES in pink. gah!

I hope and pray your breasts, which have brought life and pleasure, do not betray you. I hope and pray my girls likewise behave themselves, and that Lisa may never suffer a recurrence of any other form of cancer in her lifetime. We don't need no stinking pink to make that so.