Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Melancholy Monday: Breast Cancer Awareness

So, October is breast cancer awareness month and since October is almost over I can’t help but offer my memoir-esque anecdote on breast cancer for Melancholy Monday (although I’m a day late). My mother’s best friend passed away from breast cancer when I was 10, and ever since then my mom has been a huge advocate for research. She organizes fund raisers, makes hefty donations from her own salary, and has been educating me for years regarding the importance of regular OB exams, self checks, etc. I would read the pamphlets that she’d give me and listen to her rattle off statistics about the number of women who die from breast cancer every year. But I never really took the information to heart, after all, her friend died from breast cancer at the age of 45, my friends’ mothers had breast cancer “scares,” their grandmothers, nobody gets breast cancer before the age of 40, right.

I was sent into a tailspin of disbelief when I received the diagnosis myself at the age of 18. Breast cancer. Nothing could have prepared me for hearing those words aimed in my direction. I thought that it had to be a mistake; they had to be talking about someone else, but they weren’t talking about someone else. I sat there on the exam table, while the four doctors buzzed amongst themselves about the treatment options, about the best course of action. I threw up; overwhelmed with the amount of information that was being exchanged in the hum of dialogue, overwhelmed with the sharpness of the word cancer.

I was lucky; my cancer was completely removed with one surgery (a lumpectomy or breast conserving surgery). I was so concerned at the time with getting rid of the cancer that I didn’t care about the physical outcome. I had the mentality that the scars would heal. But the nature of scars is that they run so deep that they never completely go away. Scars never manifest themselves from surface wounds; it’s always from a deeper cut, a deeper ache, a deeper longing.

How do you begin to embrace your sexuality, when you can’t bear the thought of looking at yourself in the mirror, let alone the thought of anyone else looking at you? No words can describe how unattractive I felt when I had to explain to men over the past few years why I’m not as “well endowed” on one side as I am on the other. I suppose that I could have plastic surgery, and yet I don’t think that a bag of saline would be able to adequately fill the void. I suppose that feeling of wholeness can only come from my own acceptance, from being able to look at the scars that I have not as unsightly remnants from the diagnosis, but as reminders of my own endurance and strength.

UPDATE: check out Twisty's post "A few lite thoughts on people bucking us up"....... amazing!