Guest Blogger -- Are There Bombs Strapped to My Chest?
“It’s not that I don’t love my breasts, I guess I just love me more.”
Friends and followers, today I bring you another powerful post by a guest blogger. Today’s post was submitted by a young woman who, as a middle-schooler, watched her mother battle breast cancer at 37. In this touching post, the author — Valerie Novack — shares how her mother’s cancer journey impacted her outlook and her very personal relationship with her own breasts.
Thank you Valerie, my beautiful niece.
There is something unique about being the daughter of someone with breast cancer. I know that, really, you fight cancer — like most things — alone. Even while surrounded by family and friends, love, support, and pink ribbons it is still ultimately a private battle. I think for some daughters, we are fighting a different battle at the same time.
I don’t remember life before I had breasts. I hit puberty early (started my period around second grade) and wore a B cup bra before I hit 5th grade. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was in 7th grade and I was learning about the power and sexuality that comes with having breasts, but they were still mostly an annoyance. Now, these things I had had before I knew the power they wielded were potentially going to kill my mom.
As I watched my mom look more and more the part of a person with cancer: the hair loss, eating popsicles and ramen on the couch after chemo, the pain, fear, and frustration, eventually the mastectomy, it was a constant duality of seeing both my mom and my future. It wasn’t just me that had accepted this as fate. At one point, I remember sitting my sister down and telling her about my search for birth control choices without added hormones so I didn’t further increase my breast cancer risk. She looked at me and said, “At least one of us is getting it, so who cares?” That cavalier attitude was not a shock. It didn’t make me mad; it’s the way we’ve talked about breast cancer since I was 13.
The feeling of inevitability I have had about cancer has given me a different relationship with my body than my mother as a survivor. My mother seemed to feel something had been taken from her. She had little choice, no answers for why, no miracle healings. I saw a woman fighting for her life and doing what she needed to do to win. This difference in perspective has caused tension between us when we discuss my body. I have told my mother many times that if I had the money or insurance would cover it I would have a double mastectomy without even a second thought. I’m certain I don’t want to birth children and would even consider a hysterectomy just to make sure. When I mention this to her, she doesn’t try to hide how upset it makes her. I think she is frustrated that I would give up something she had stolen from her. But to me, I see what almost stole my mom from me and I don’t care to let it threaten my life. It’s nothing I care to risk. I know that’s easier to say when it’s not a decision I’ve had to make, but my resolve is such that I made it a make or break in my marriage. I told my husband early in our dating I would cut off my breasts in a heartbeat at the first sign of cancer (and before if that’s an option) and if he felt that would be a problem that we could end the relationship then and there. There was no point in taking it further because this was going to happen to me.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate my breasts or the way a good bra makes me feel sexy or how my husband reacts to them, but that I remember the silent and anxious waiting for my mom to pass 5 years cancer-free, though we never really talked about it. It’s remembering her face the first day she wore a wig when I complimented her hair without realizing she had had to shave it off that morning. It is spending time with her now when I am only a handful of years younger than she was when she was diagnosed, wringing my hands waiting at each mammogram and religiously doing monthly self-checks waiting for the lump to appear. It’s knowing about all the long-term damage the chemo inflicted on her body.
It’s not that I don’t love my breasts, I guess I just love me more. And when breasts became my enemy, they became less a part of me that felt good and more a burden to bear.
As much as I try to fully understand what my mom lost, what was taken from her by cancer, I mostly see what I gained in having her around and what I stand to lose by walking around with bombs strapped to my chest. If my mom is my future, I want the future that’s been married for 30 years, that’s traveled overseas and decided to uproot her life in her mid 50’s, the future that enjoys seeing my family grow and grow up. No single part of my anatomy is worth risking that future. My mom loved her breasts and in a horrid and painful way had to lose one. But, it’s a sacrifice I’d make without question to ensure I am there for her in her old age and get to give back in taking care of and providing for her the way she did for me. She is a cancer survivor and my hero, but if I can be honest I’d rather just have a nice new set of fake boobs than follow quite so directly in her footsteps.
My mother and I may always differ on what character breasts played in her cancer story: for her, something precious and lost, but for me, they were the villain doing the taking.
I don’t know that other daughters feel so strongly and can only speak for myself, but even though my mom fought privately and quietly against cancer, her story and experience became integral to the relationship I developed with my own body. She might be angry with how that relationship looks, but I’m just really grateful I still get to upset her at all.
—Valerie Long Novack
Christine E Long
I love you so much Valerie! I get it