Today is my birthday. I used to think such declarations were a bit self-centered. Now, I want to shout it from the roof-tops: I LIVED ANOTHER YEAR!! I'M THIRTY-FUCKING-EIGHT!!
It was a rough year, for sure, as my dad's diagnosis was just a couple of weeks after my birthday last year, and so I spent much of my 37th year grappling with his sickness and passing and the aftermath. But still, I am here, earthside. So, yes, I'm a fan of birthdays and while I don't neecessarily want to live to 100, I do want to live a good long time yet.
Take that cancer!
As a nod to my cancerversary, which is coming up next week, I thought I'd post a snapshot of 30-something post-breast-cancer life, starring my buddy the foob*...
My 4" Scar: All That Glitters is Not Gold
"Turns out," he said, and then laughed awkwardly, perhaps wishing he hadn't spoken, afterall, we didn't really know each other that well. "Turns out, if you cough with dentures in, sometimes the top bridge shoots out of your mouth and flys acrosss the room." He reddens at this admission while I laugh at the image of this shy man so betrayed by his teeth.
I think to myself: Turns out, if you have your breast removed and stuff your bra each day with a tan, silicone blob, you could be walking downtown one day and feel a soft plop on your shoe, only to look down and see your breast lying there. On the ground. Just right out there in the open, for anyone to see.
But I don't say this. Afterall, we don't know each other that well.
Sometimes the foob betrays me, and other times I say to myself, F--- it! Fly that flag!
And so there is the night I drink too much and say, "Does anyone want to see my foob?" My party trick. I reach into the armpit of my shirt and whip it out. It looks obscenely real, this flesh colored dome of silicone. It's sexy for maybe half a second and then it's confusing because what is a breast without a body on which to perch? My friend's eyes widen and then she sets her wine glass aside and takes it in her hands like something sacred. She bobs her hands, weighing it, poking at it. We both laugh at the little nipple-like protrusion and ask, "Why?!"
More laughing and then I push it back into my bra, and I go back to being symetrical.
The soft form warms to my body quickly, hugging the purple scar that stretches 4" horizontally across my rib cage, sternum to armpit. My ribs poke out tenderly where the surgeon scrapped away the cancer, all the way down to my chest wall. It's the thinnest part of my body now. A sharp valley in a landscape of curves and hills.
What to do with this scar. Tattoo it? I'd like to eventually. I thought I would right away but now the idea of taking a needle to those tender ribs makes me cringe.
When my daughter was four and the scar was still new and healing, she ran her fingers along its raised edge and cried and cried. This breast was hers. It fed her, nurtured her, comforted her when nothing else could. And what had I done? I'd cut it off and flung it as far from my body as possible. The loss of this breast was a loss my daughter morned pitifully.
Not long after my last chemotherapy treatment she picked a fluffy dandilion and blew on it, scattering the seeds, and as she did so I heard her wish quietly for the cancer to be gone. "Oh, but honey, it is gone!" I rushed to say, thinking somehow she hadn't known the good news. "But... when will your breast grow back?" she asked sadly.
And that's when I knew my decision not to pursue reconstructive surgery didn't just impact me. I thought I didn't care about breasts. I thought having my life was enough. The whole "save the ta-tass" campaign had always seemed a bit shallow to me. But in this moment, comforting my daughter over the loss of this breast, I could see they do matter, just not in the way I thought. It mattered tremendously that when my child cried and I hugged her to me that my chest didn't feel against her cheek the way it once had. And so I went and got a replacement, which was more than just a pillow to stuff in my bra. It turned out to be an almost life-like prosthetic, which my daughter now adores. In a way I'll never fully understand, she has bonded with the foob and will lay with it any chance she gets.
Despite her obvious joy over the thing, for awhile I still thought I didn't care. I thought I could take it or leave it. I thought, it'll just be my sometimes foob. My party foob. My dancing foob. My dress up foob. But in the two years since I've had it, it's become my every single day foob. I feel strange without it now, acutely aware that nature favors symetry. As my daughter as, I've also bonded with this tan lump. It is my armor. It stands between the world and my scar: my tender spot, my cancer story.
That is, unless it falls out on the sidewalk. Plop!
*Faux boob. If you'd like to more foob, here is the tale of the foob coming home with me and Nia's first impressions of it. And here is more on Nia's deep, deep sadnesss over my mastectomy, and the first time she touched my bandages.