I’m attached to those things!
When I got diagnosed on February 28th I was sitting in my breast surgeon’s office with my sweeetheart Cliff and my “adopted” mom Barbara. I heard Dr. C say that my tumors and lymph nodes tested positive for cancer. She said it in some less-than-blunt way, first about the tumors then the part about the lymph nodes. But those words got consumed by my brain, which by that point already felt like it was under water, and went abruptly to the trash file instead of the memory. I do remember vividly, however, her saying that I needed to have the Brac-A testing because if I had the breast cancer gene then I should have both breasts and my ovaries removed because chances of cancer in the as-yet-unaffected areas was 60%. I remember the thought of that being as devastating as my having cancer in the first place.
It has been five-and-a-half months since then. I tested negative for the gene. I have made it through all my chemo. It was the hottest fire I have walked through, but I made it to the other side. As I approach surgery in nine days (not that I’m counting) I find myself not at all ready. Many of my fellow cancer babes have expressed that surgery was a relief for them because after surgery the cancer is OUT. I have been wondering what the hell is wrong with me that I don’t feel that way. Instead I feel so mournful about losing my breasts. Funky cell arrangement or not, they are mine. I know I’ll get fake ones, re-built ones, that are perky and will make my silhouette look wonderful. And I’ll even get a tummy-tuck out of the deal because they’ll use part of my stomach for reconstruction in the spring. But I don’t really care about that. I’m quite literally attached to my breasts, and I think they are beautiful.
While journaling this weekend I found myself writing that I felt sorrowful about surgery because I have nursed my babies with these breasts. I reflected back on that moment when Dr. C said that I might have to have my ovaries removed, too, and I think the reason that was so upsetting is because my ovaries provided the eggs for my children and my breasts loving nurtured them through five years, if you combine all the years we nursed. In one fell swoop she was talking about cutting all of those parts away. I know I can live without them. I know that I don’t intend to create more children or nurse more children in this lifetime. Those parts certainly aren’t even close to all that make me a mother and I don’t need them. But I am sentimental about them.
I think of all the times I looked down at a baby nursing so happily at my breast, and the sweetness and love that I felt surging through my body and into theirs. I remember the first moment that Grace nursed, when she was two weeks old in the NICU. I had begged and pleaded with the neonatologist to let me nurse her instead of giving her bottles of breast milk fortified with powder, which she promptly spit up every time. Sure enough, the moment she started nursing was the moment she started growing and thriving and it was the thing that taught me right out of the parenting gate that nobody knew more what was best for her than me.
That is the reason I mourn the loss of these breasts and nipples and milk ducts. I might find relief after surgery that the cancer is gone. But I am certain I will have the memory of those sweet nursing moments long after my breasts have been replaced. And I AM grateful to keep my ovaries!