It’s not that I didn’t like my right breast.
It hadn’t really ever done anything “bad” to me, except for the few times when it wouldn’t keep up with the milk production of the left one during the months when I nursed my children.
I didn’t harbor any negative feelings for it. In fact, I didn’t think about my breasts much at all except to chuckle at the sagging that inevitably comes with middle age and three pregnancies.
But all of that changed with four words: You have breast cancer.
The cancer was in my left breast: I needed a mastectomy. But what about the “good” breast?
Note the popular lingo: the non-cancerous breast quickly becomes tagged as the good one– like a good child who behaves and does what it’s told, the non-cancerous breast has faithfully done its duty and stayed healthy.
The left breast?
Well, that’s the traitor.
I had a decision: what would I do with the right breast?
Toss it out in biohazard trash?
With four words, that part of my body became a liability. I didn’t want that breast anymore, thanks. I’d rather have no breasts than one. Mentally, it was much easier to me to part with both, not live the rest of my life in fear of what might be lurking in that tissue.
To be clear, surgeons and oncologists explained that in their opinion, my chance of getting cancer in the right breast was no higher than my chance of getting breast cancer in the first place; I wasn’t necessarily at increased risk of breast cancer on the other side.
I had already been a statistical anomaly.
I had gotten cancer at 37.
I was BRCA-1 and 2 negative (but didn’t know it at the time).
In my mind I thought:
Go ahead and tell me that, but I don’t believe you.
And so I heard their words.
I understood their words.
But I didn’t believe them.
And time proved me right.
I opted for bilateral mastectomies. And when the pathology came back, there was abnormal tube proliferation and some cell dysplasia. Things were awry in my right breast even though nothing had shown up on the mammogram.
Now, yes, eventually I would have found the problems when the cell proliferation got large enough to be detected on a mammogram or MRI. And maybe my chemotherapy would have gotten these cells anyway.
But are you really going to take that chance?
Body parts become liabilities.
My perspective about my body has changed so much in the last four years. My body itself has changed so much too.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that, like aging itself, the side effects of removing my ovaries one year after my mastectomies has changed almost everything about my health as I know it.
I went to the kitchen just now and pulled out my binder of cancer records to double-check my pathology report to write this blogpost.
And there it says, quite plainly, that my cancer was 1 mm from the deep margin (chest wall).
A hair’s diameter.
A grain of sugar.
It always takes my breath away.
So many people link their happiness to pounds, or inches, or dollars.
I think part of my future might hinge on that millimeter.
I’m counting on it.
And moving forward.