It’s not that I love having another woman grab my left breast and smash it between two cold plastic plates at 7:40 on a Tuesday morning. It’s the mammogram I like. The picture. Look at it. My boobs haven’t stuck straight out like that since I was 16. But that’s my boob, and it looks great here, right? So that’s what I’m going with.
If you happen to be a radiologist or a breast surgeon, please write me, but don’t write to tell me my image looks concerning. I had my best friend Cassie Photoshop it for me, just in case there really was something concerning about it that my real doctors missed, so other doctors wouldn’t write and tell me.
Cassie is a very talented photographer, so she doesn’t use Photoshop much, only for special things like my online dating photo. I even considered using this boob shot for my online dating photo, except my boobs don’t look like that when they aren’t smashed between two cold pieces of plastic, and I try to be honest on those things.
Breast cancer has always been a peripheral thing in my family. On health forms, I could always say, “Yes, my grandmother had it, but not until she was in her sixties and she was a paternal grandmother anyway. Yes, my aunt, but again, paternal and post menopausal. Oh, and a cousin on my mom’s side. She was only 40, but that was some weird fluke. No sisters, not my mom, not my maternal grandmother. Check. Check. Check. I’m good.”
But this year was different. My sister was diagnosed a few months ago.
When you have a sister diagnosed with breast cancer, things in that department can go a little wonky for a while. Your thoughts thrash all over the place between denial, blame, fear, and anywhere else they can think of to go.
So what, it’s just a boob. That husband of hers. It’s his fault. DCIS isn’t real breast cancer (I had read on the internet). My boobs feel fine, so screw mammograms.
And, geeze, my mom. Her denial was so great (in front of the rest of us anyway) she seemed almost cheery about it. But I remember when this same sister had an abnormal pap smear once. She had Suzanne dead and buried before I even knew about it.
“Oh, and she has those four kids . . . “
“Mom, it’s a class II pap smear. It could be caused by anything, even just an infection or something. The results didn’t say anything about cancer.”
“I just can’t imagine what she will do.”
She didn’t hear anything I said. I guess at that time, she was the one worried about her husband raising all those kids alone. Of course it turned out to be nothing, just the result of having given birth recently, and everything returned to normal. So normal, in fact, baby number five came 9 years later.
So I’ve been very flippant about my breast cancer chances, even though so many other women I know have battled it in one form or another. ‘Crap. I can’t say that my family history is clean any more,’ I thought one day. Then it hit me. This was my sister. And then my denial began. I mentioned it to a friend in an off-handed way one day. She stopped and grabbed my arm. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” she said. I looked at her like, ‘Huh? So what. She’ll be fine. Now what were we really talking about?’
Later, she told me she was surprised by my cavalier attitude about it. “I would be devastated if it were my sister,” she said. “Yes, I admitted. I was keeping it at arm’s length for some reason.” I still don’t know why. I try not to overreact to news like that. I think because so many times, it turns out to be okay. Is that what I really thought this time too, or was there something wrong with me? Why wasn’t I rushing to her side or quitting my job to drive her to radiation treatments every day, or to sit for hours and brush her long lovely hair while we looked at each other’s reflection in the mirror like those heroic friends and family members I read about and see in movies? What is wrong with me?
We have a weird thing about our bodies in my family. It’s half shame and half TMI. Some of us are extremely prudish and ashamed when it comes to sex and the anatomy. Yet, in the safe (and sacred) confines of marriage, anything goes, chatting about details no one wants to hear, getting overly descriptive about our partners and what we do with them. But then on the other hand some do as our pastors say–as if we really do believe that the Church should know everything about what’s going on in our lives, including our bedrooms, our use of birth control, and whether or not we are having sex purely for procreation. Add the worry about getting pregnant with baby number 8 the whole time and ensure there is absolutely no fun involved. It’s kinda cultish, really.
And then when we get older we are sorry we wasted all our good years on being so prudish and wish we had had some more fun, So my plan is this: When the shame and worry of pregnancy is finally gone, I’m finally gonna have some fun. Yep, I’m gonna be an 80-year-old slut.
Women in my family get pregnant until way late in life. My grandmother was baby number 11 to a 47-year old mom—in 1898! And if my gynecologist is to be believed, non-smoking women today are entering menopause later than ever before. Mostly, she supposes, because of better health. She is putting 5-year birth control devices in ladies in their early fifties left and right. And don’t you know, insurance is paying for it so you know there’s something to it. No one wants to pay for all those prenatal tests and sonograms for a bunch of 56 year old pregnant lades. One-thousand dollars per hit for an inter-uterine device is a much better gamble on the actuary tables.
So my sister has breast cancer. What does that mean for me? Nothing really—again, according to by gynecologist. But what does it mean to her? I can only imagine. I imagine that it will change her life, and the lives of all five of her kids and her husband. But I can hope that it will change her mind a bit too, and that she will be kinder to herself and put herself first once-in-a while like her self-centered sister, and she will grow to someday be–maybe not an 80-year old slut–but the 80-year-old graceful woman I imagine.