When Breast Cancer Strikes

breast cancer

My family just found out that my mother-in-law has breast cancer. My grandmother died without her two breasts due to the cancer that ravaged her small frame. As a child, I accepted that her one-piece, terry romper would fall down revealing her flat chest riddled with the scars that were supposed to save her life. When she put on a bathing suit, I would stare amazed that her chest suddenly had two, well formed cups. Her body was an oddity we rarely spoke of, but loved nonetheless.

A few years ago, my mother told my sister and I that she had tested positive for mutations in her BRCA test; which is a type of DNA analysis to figure out if a woman is at a greater risk of developing breast cancer. There was talk of my mother undergoing a double mastectomy followed by breast implants. My sister, for a time, considered the same.

The stark reality is that the breasts I love will probably kill me. And, with the new diagnosis of my mother-in-law, the breasts that my daughter does not even have will probably kill her too.

Maybe. I am not a doctor. But the odds, if this was a poker game, are not in our favor. 

This is not breast cancer awareness month and there is no Komen walk coming up. Breast cancer hits every woman when we least expect it: yesterday, today and tomorrow. It’s always there. Always.  Pink ribbon or not.

My partner and I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law in two years. Sometimes – actually a lot of the time – families do not get along. There are fights and cruel slights, harsh words and hurt feelings that feel the size of the Grand Canyon – to let them go would be like trying to jump over its deep crevice with a pogo stick.

But cancer?

If nothing it is an equalizer of emotion, of seriousness. Things like right and wrong fall away. Anger melts and concern grows.

Calls that haven’t been made in years will be dialed and answered. This is what you do when you love someone that has breast cancer. Even if that love has been strained and, at times, forgotten. Lost.

I think of my body without breasts. What would I do? Who would I be? I can think of myself without a leg. Even an arm. I could do that. But my breasts? How did my grandmother ever do it? How do so many women? My mother in law: what will she do?

Without breasts, who are you as a woman?

When I think about my grandmother, I don’t think about her breasts. I think about her bubbling white cheddar macaroni and cheese, Merit Ultra Lights and whiskey. She was a fierce old broad that smoked in bathrooms until the day she died and stood guard as I swam in the pool. I think about her fluffy baby blue robe and sparkly turtlenecks, beige purse and matching sandals.

I think of who my grandmother was, not what she lost.

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Who we are as women, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends are more than our breasts. Cancer cannot take that.

No, no way. 

Image via Flickr: afunkydamsel

What do you think?

When Breast Cancer Strikes

Liz Henry is the irreverent voice behind the award-winning blog The Six Year Itch. She lives with her daughter and her partner, Slasher, in Philadelphia. That's not his real name and that's not her real hair color. Her soft middle is totally real. Liz graduated summa cum lazy with a degree in English literature, which means she knows how to write properly, but rarely does. She loves Harry Potter and Luna is her favorite. ... More

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2 comments

  1. I cant picture myself without breast. Even though theyve never been ‘big’ (til now during pregnancy) I cant see them being completely gone.

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