I always liked my boobs.
When I didn’t have them, I stuffed my bra. I was around eight and in dance class. The teacher looked at me with pity as the white toilet paper peeked out of the top of the black elastic of my leotard. Later, in college, my boobs weren’t so big, but they were cute and perky. Me and my girlfriends were always flashing each other and anyone else who would look. I remember, barely, yelling “tits for Jager” through the fog of a weekend trip to Jazz Fest in New Orleans.
I didn’t understand the work breasts could do, though, until I had kids. I nursed both of my biological kids for about three years each. My boobs got huge, stayed huge, even after I stopped nursing. I think it’s because I got bigger and they didn’t shrink, but still, they were big. Double D.
They were shapely too, because I didn’t get pregnant until I was in my thirties and had my second kid at forty. It was around the time they started feeling gravity’s effect when I went in for a mammogram. Then a needle aspiration. Then a biopsy where they use some kind of automatic grabber inserted into your body. It reminded me of the teeth in the Alien movie, shrouded until they get close to their prey, then cha-chang! They bite the spot right out of your flesh.
Next, surgery. I didn’t realize it was a lumpectomy until it was over. “You have cancer, we just don’t know what kind.” Turns out it was something called LCIS, a rare marker for cancer. “You’re not really in the club,” one oncologist told me.
A few years and as many mammograms and MRI’s later, after hearing, “Oh, we’ll just watch that, it’s really small right now” and waiting for another shoe to fall, I was offered the option of the prophylactic removal of my breasts. You remember — the ones I liked. Mastectomy. One of my oncologists said, “Get rid of them and get rock star boobs.” I’m fifty. I don’t need rock star boobs. But I don’t want to die. Like Ever. I want to be a hundred years old. Like Keith Richards (knock on Ron Wood.) There’s pretty much no reason to write one of those DNRs for me. Do resuscitate! I am actually waiting for the singularity so I can be assured my own spot on the internet forever.
So, if I am willing to give up my body and go into a machine, I could get rid of the boobs. Even if I did like them.
Waiting for it to happen was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The days leading up to the surgery were filled with obsessive research online. I took and that test, the one that predicted my risk of getting cancer to be sixty-three percent, over and over. As if I could change the answer. I made lists, so many lists, up to the last day, of stuff I needed to do before and stuff that needed to happen after. I spent hours wondering if I was doing the right thing.
Even when I checked into the hospital, and I had the little cap and gown on, and the plastic surgeon had made all kinds of marks on my body with a sharpie, I thought to myself, “I can just get up and walk out. I don’t have to do this. What if I never get cancer?”
What if I do? Odds are I will. I stayed.
The doctor came in after surgery to check on me. He moved to open the surgical bra, stuffed with white gauze and bandages, that velcroed in the front. As the velcro crackled, I turned my head and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see me.
The doctor noticed. He stopped. I opened my eyes. With pity he looked at me and said, “Yea, it’s pretty brutal.”
Maybe it was the pity. I took a deep breath.
There was something defiant in me, then. I was okay. I was okay with brutal. It was the choice I made. Sure, it fucking hurt, but it was the path to rock star boobs or living forever. I was gonna be okay.
I looked. It was weird. Wrinkly, like a shrunken head. But not so bad.
So, reconstruction is a process and not a precise one. First, they take out the breast tissue and replace it with an expander. Then, they expands your chest muscles over time. Once you are the right size, they exchange the expander with a breast implant. I was okay with the expanders. They were like bricks, and when they filled them, about fifty CCs at a time, with a long needle, it hurt. They were ugly, and jut out of my body at odd angles. For a while I even had a shark fin on one side. But they were temporary.
It wasn’t until after they exchanged the expanders for implants that I broke down. I had romanticized how it would turn out. I thought they wouldn’t look the same. They didn’t, exactly, but it wasn’t different enough. I cried every day for weeks, sobbing in the shower. Was this the new me? I hated them. They were stiff, uneven, rippled and just… not right. I decided I wasn’t done. I wanted to fix them. Get fake boobs I could look at without crying. I felt alone and ungrateful. More surgery and more healing and more burden on my family.
Plastic surgery reminds me of an artist’s process, iterations. A little here a little there until you’re satisfied, have to start all over, or run out of money or time. It’s a merry-go-round and you get off when you are happy or tired of it. It’s not uncommon for women to have multiple surgeries to address what the new fake boobs look like. The decision to go back into surgery is hard. Usually, you have just started feeling good, the swelling has gone down. You are getting back to normal. Starting all over on purpose feels crazy. I recently had a revision surgery and I’m not sure how I feel, yet. You can’t even know what they will look like until about three months after surgery, when the swelling goes down and the tightness settles. I know, I know — sisters not twins, and they’ll look good in a bra. But is it too much to want to look good naked? I may not be a spring chicken, but I’m not a dead chicken.
I still look for affirmation that this whole course of action has been the right thing to do. I read this or that about breast cancer research and treatment. I have friends who were diagnosed before and after me. People who are dealing with similar treatments and outcomes. I fall down rabbit holes online. Too many mastectomies, random metastasizing, pictures of boobs on social media. It feels like no one knows anything, it’s all a crap shoot. I don’t think I will ever get the verification that l look for.
What was confirmed? My husband is a badass caretaker, person, lover, friend. My friends and family make me laugh. My kids are seriously nice people. I am loved.
I named my new boobs, Poppy and the Wanderer. They don’t behave like they’re supposed to. I like ‘em.