Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A Tale of Two Breasts




Tonight is my last night with natural breasts. It’s also my last night with the cancerous tumor that invaded my left breast. My emotions rock from relief that something is finally being done to combat this deadly disease to deep grief to be losing a part of my body that has meant so much to me.

My breasts aren’t the sexiest in the world, but our standards for “sexy” when it comes to breasts are so absurd that it’s the rare woman who can meet them without surgery. Still, I’ve always been happy with them from their shape to the fact that they’re small enough that I’ve always been able to go braless to the pale pink color of my nipples.

My breasts have given me so much sexual pleasure. I’ve gotten emails from readers asking why there is so much “nipple action” in my books. Some women don’t have sensitive nipples. Being licked and nipped and sucked does nothing for them. It has always made me melt. But after tomorrow morning, that avenue for sexual pleasure will be gone. Permanently.

Yes, there are procedures whereby doctors can spare nipples during mastectomy, but it largely depends on the shape of a woman’s breast and how close the cancer is to her nipple. And even if a woman is a good candidate for nipple-sparing surgery, she will still lose sensation in her nipples, as all the tissue beneath them, including nerve tissue, is stripped away and checked for malignancy. Also, there are no long-term statistics about the case of recurrence in women who’ve kept their nipples, and some surgeons refuse to do the surgery on those grounds. I will lose my nipples tomorrow morning.

My breasts went bare in Europe on beaches and public parks in Denmark and elsewhere. The feeling of sun on my bare skin was wonderful and so liberating. We have such a bizarre attitude about nudity, particularly breasts, in the US. But I was able to enjoy being young and beautiful in the sunshine without wearing a bikini top or shirt. That rocked.

My breasts also fed my children. Nursing babies is the purest, most beautiful expression of love I’ve ever known. It gave me time each day just to hold and cuddle my babies, time to relax and have eye contact, to smile and babble and coo together. I wouldn’t trade those memories to save my life.

I breastfed both of my sons for a longer period of time than most women. My older son was breastfed for 15 months, my younger son for about a year until hospitalization for an ovarian cyst led him to wean himself. I was heartbroken to have that connection severed so soon.

Breastfeeding is without a doubt the most natural way to nourish a child. I never had to bring bottles or formula. My kids never tasted the chemical concoction that is formula. They had my milk every day from birth until they were weaned. This has made me a big supporter of breastfeeding, a “lactivist” if you will. Breastfeeding should be encouraged, facilitated, and supported.

The breasts I fed my children with will be gone tomorrow.

I am in mourning for this. I think I’ve been in mourning since April 21, the day the radiologist walked in and said, “It looks like we have an early breast cancer.” He might as well have struck me in the head with a sledgehammer.

People say, “A woman is more than her breasts.” I know this, of course, and don’t need to be reminded. My breasts didn’t run the newsroom at the papers where I was editor. They never wrote a story or edited copy or did a single interview. They didn’t do homework with my kids or clean the house or plant rose bushes. They didn’t push for the bill that ended the shackling of pregnant inmates here in Colorado.

But my breasts are mine. They are a natural part of my body, a part of my sexuality, a part of what has always made me feel feminine and womanly. And I’m going to lose them forever. For months, I’m going to walk around with slashes on my chest where they used to be, long scars over skin that has been stretch flat and stripped of all underlying tissue.

There is no way to feel good about this loss, no way to gloss over what losing my breasts means to me. I am mourning for my mammaries. I am heartbroken, and I am angry. I hate this.

I know that one day they’ll be replaced with reconstructed breasts, either silicon implants or tissue from an abdominal flap (which also means a tummy tuck). But those breasts will be designed only to fill out a shirt and give me a normal appearance. They won’t feel anything. They won’t be capable of feeding a child. They won’t feel like mine.

They won’t have cancer either, and, yes, I know that. I’ve waited an unbearable and unforgivable 45 days for surgery. I’ve had to worry every one of those days whether the cancer has spread. I won’t know until the final pathology report is back whether this awful disease has sneaked its way into my lymph nodes. Those are questions that touch on my survival, my very presence on this earth.

I want to live. I want to make more memories with my grown sons. I want to enjoy lovers. I want to visit Paris and Denmark and Spain again — not to mention many other places. And that means my breasts need to go. Although the tumor is only in my left breast, I have chose to sacrifice both because women who’ve had breast cancer have a higher chance of getting it in the other breast than those who haven’t. I never want to go through this again.

My sister and I went into the back yard tonight. While I wore a sarong, she took some practice shots. Then I dropped the sarong, and we took photos of my bare breasts, trying to give me a way to remember them and all the life lived with them. I have a six-foot privacy fence, but I couldn’t have cared less whether anyone saw us. (I almost included the photos. I’m not shy, but some of you might be.)

I plan to do all I can to beat this terrible, brutal, violent disease, this sickness that steals so much from women. But I can’t deny the reality of my emotions.

In so many ways, life as I knew it ended on April 21, and I am just dragging along in pieces. It’s not just the loss of my breasts, but everything that will come with this — chemo, the loss of my hair, and ultimately the risk to my life.

I’m not sure I want this new life, but it is my reality now.

The fight begins tomorrow.


* * * 

I want to thank those of you who’ve sent cards, gifts, and emails, sharing your support. Your warm thoughts and prayers have sustained me through this terrible time. My mother and sister have been my heroes, enduring my mood swings, my wild raging emotions. My brothers, too, have been there for me in their own way, which is to say they’ve made me laugh a lot when I thought I no longer could laugh.

But a special heartfelt thanks goes to all of you who donated to the Good Food Fund that author and friend Thea Harrison set up. Almost $7,000 was raised to provide me with organic, homemade meals that will be delivered to my door during my recovery from surgery and during chemotherapy. There is no way I can send cards or emails to all of those who contributed, but please know that I read your messages. When I heard how much it had raised, I burst into tears.

Deep, profound thanks to those of you who donated to the Medical Expenses Fund. The idea came from author and friend Courtney Milan, who helped spread the word about the Good Food Fund, too. Right now, I believe that fund has raised $3,800, every penny of which will go to my cancer treatments. Although the food account is on hold now, anyone who still wants to contribute can send a donation to the Medical Expenses Fund directly via PayPal via this email address.

You all are helping to save my life. Thank you for making me feel loved in the midst of this nightmare.

* * * 

One last word before I get ready for tomorrow’s surgery. Please don’t skip a mammogram. And if you find a lump or a thickening in your breast between mammograms, get it checked and push for another mammogram.

This lump wasn’t found by my doctor. I felt a thickening, asked her to check it, and she said it was normal fibro-cystic changes. Months later, it shows up as cancer on a routine mammogram. If I had skipped this mammogram, I would be fighting for my very life.

Thanks again for your support, good wishes, and prayers.


39 comments:

Lori said...

Sending you love & prayers for tomorrow.

Diabolka said...

Sending you positive thoughts and prayers tomorrow.

Amanda said...

Sending love and prayers.

Nikki said...

You will beat this. Hugs, love, and prayers.

Kathy Dennis said...

Sending you prayers, positive thoughts, love and hugs for tomorrow and all the days of your recovery.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
krissy malott said...

I will pray for you. You are an amazing woman and I hate the suffering you have and will go through. Our hearts are with you. We believe in you. Be strong. You are a beautiful person with a wonderful heart and we all embrace you.

krissy
krissysbookshelf(@)yahoo(.)com

WendyB said...

Beautifully put. Please feel the strength of all the women across the world who are thinking about you. We send good thoughts across the miles.

tresa said...

Thoughts and prayers and positive energy

SonomaLass said...

Thinking of you, all positive thoughts for the surgery and after. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, eloquent as always, for those of us who care about you and want to follow your journey.

I hate cancer; it took my father, and has taken friends and former students and many people I cared about. But Mom beat it, and I know more breast cancer survivors than any other kind. I am glad that you are cared for so well, and I believe that you will win this one.

Charli Denae said...

I am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis, Pamela. Cancer is a scary thing and effects anyone, and everyone. My thoughts and prayers will be with you during your surgery and recovery, and I am hoping, with every fiber of my being, that the pathology reports come back with no signs of spreading.

I, too, was diagnosed with cancer, stage 4 Hodgkin's Disease, when I was 19. I suffered through 13 months of brutal, bi-weekly chemo treatments, and would never want anyone to have to go through it. It's been over 25 years since I was declared in remission. I've since had 2 kids, something my doctors never thought would happen, and am facing my 50th birthday, relatively healthy. My doctor once told me that he didn't think I'd live 3 months, let alone go on to have babies.

The reason I'm telling you all this, is because I want to confirm to you that miracles do happen. I'm not going to lie, cancer is never easy but life is definitely worth the battle. The most important thing is to take care of yourself. Rest when you're tired, keep as hydrated as possible, and remember to eat, even if it's just some crackers or a piece of toast. The laundry can wait and so can the dishes. Your health cannot.

Best wishes to you and many blessings for a short recovery back to health.

Elena and Alex said...

My prayers are with you now and in the days and months to come. You are ground zero in this battle but not alone. So many people love and care about you...reach out if you need us; we care.

Ellie

Marianchu HT said...

Te envío todo mi apoyo y mi cariño.
Un millón de besos.

Lucy Abarcia said...

Will be thinking and praying for you, Pamela. Hoping everything goes ok

Jackie said...

This is just beautiful and brought me to tears. Your honesty and genuineness in sharing how you feel about your breasts can't help but touch everyone who reads it. I am so, so sorry you are losing them. It is wrong in every way - there's not a single thing that's okay about any of this. *hugs hugs hugs*

Leslie S said...

You are in my thoughts and prayers today and always. Sending love and hugs your way. You've got this.

Laura Diroff said...

Beautifully said. I have the same attachment to my breasts, from the sexual pleasures to the breastfeeding memories I wouldn't trade for the world. I have not, however, had to fight the fight you are about to embark on. This disease scares me to my core. It's very personal and can be very devastating. I wish you the very best of health and speed in your recovery. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

duskrider3740 said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. Unfortunately, it never truly hit home for me, until I read this post. It's really brought home the feelings and journey you now have to face. I am so very sorry that you have to go through this, and I pray that the cancer is well contained and you will be free of this awful, robbing disease.

Marci Kline said...

Sending healing thoughts and prayers your way. Thank you for sharing.

Laura Kaye said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm thinking of you and wishing you all the best.

Norah Wilson said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes, Pamela. It will resonate for all women, but especially for anyone who has undergone or is undergoing a similar experience. And when I read about your sister taking the pics for you in the back yard ... I just want to hug you both. Praying fervently up here in New Brunswick.

Sara Humphreys said...

Pamela--This was the most moving piece I've read in a long time. My mother went through this over 20 years ago and thank goodness, she's still here. Like you, she's a fighter. I'll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. God speed.

Pat F said...

You are amazing sweet friend, and in my thoughts and prayers today. I never thought about my breasts much, until your beautiful blog post. Thank you for sharing!
xo

DeAnna Felthauser said...

Sending you love, light and heartfelt prayers of healing.

jenniferator said...

I had a mammogram yesterday and it was not pleasant. It included an ultrasound at the end. Best of luck to you tomorrow. We are praying for you.

Patty Mckenna Van Hulle said...

My heart hurts for you and all the pain, anger, grieve and the devastation of your body. Nothing I can say will make it batter, but my close friend, Tonya, who past away from breast cancer, said this to me 4 days before her death, "Patty, I have been through surgeries, chemo, hugging the toilet and cancer HADES, but I got to see my son begin kindergarten and it was worth it!" I hope you get that unexpected smile or giggle when you need it! My prayers and good wishes are with you!

Sharon said...

Sending thoughts and prayers your way for strength and a speedy and complete recovery

Winnie Lim said...

My heart goes out to you. Although I don't have breast cancer, I totally understand how you feel as my grandmother, mother and aunt all have breast cancer so I'm considered high risk too. I salute your courage to have both beasts removed. I saw the pain my mum went through removing just one breast and I can't imagine what it will be like to have both removed. Wishing you a speedy and complete recovery. May God's strength be with you.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Thinking of you, old friend. (((HUGS))) sent with prayers, love, and strength.

Daphne Bagbey Monaco said...

Pamela, praying with you for a good pathology report. I had my mastectomy last November. It was very early DCIS but moderate grade. No lymph node involvement....so no chemo or rad therapy was needed. I too breastfed my only child for a year. Why us? Maybe because we have the strength to walk this path? I received my cancer diagnosis on August 6th, which was also the last day of my Cobra health insurance. That was pure hell. I had to be referred to our teaching hospital & did not have the mastectomy until 11/11/2013. The waiting is hellish. Mourn the breasts but celebrate life, as your post certainly indicates. It seems that you are surrounded with loving & friends. That is so very important! I am a night owl & can always be a virtual friend in the dark owls. Rest! This is your time to be treated like a queen!!! If you have/ had lymph nodes removed, you might want to try step into clothing, like the Earth Angel nightgowns at JC Penney's which snap up all the way. God bless you!!!!

Beth Hyland said...

Pamela, that was a lovely and beautiful tale of two breasts. They've served you well, but they definitely don't define you. You're an amazing women, with or without them. Sending you lots of love today!

helpmerhonda72 said...

You're in my prayers Pamela. I hope your surgery goes well, and I wish you a speedy recovery in every way. (( hugs))

carlakempert said...

Okay, you got my attention. My last few mammograms have come back, "Fibro-mastic cysts. Nothing to worry about." I'm calling for my appointment today. Praying for your full recovery and lots of joy and wisdom to share for many years to come.

I'm glad the Big C isn't the death sentence it used to be, but as far as we've come in medical advances, we haven't come far enough. ::hugs::

Mona Kekstadt said...

Pamela, I'm crying reading this. My heart is going out to you. When I went for my first they said something that scared me that something wasn't normal to come back have another mammogram. I went back luckily it was nothing,.my friend went through the same thing and nothing. I'm setting up my appointment. I'm praying for you. Take care and sending big hugs..
Ramona

Nancy said...

As a child of a breast cancer survivor, you testimony today is the most honest remarks I've heard. You have strength and I bet you'll come though this. Today should be known from here on out as Pamela Clare Day for you are a hero.

Jane said...

Will be thinking of you, Pamela and sending good thoughts.

Deborah Favorito said...

Pamela, I to had breast cancer. I lost my left breast. I know it is stupid, but I still morn the loss sometimes. I cannot go into stores like Soma, I can't wear the bras. My cancer was in my lymph nodes.
Ladies, please, please if you find something that doesn't "feel" right please get it checked out. Insist on biopsy's.
My mother had breast cancer, hers was found by a new intern, she told my mother her skin didn't feel right. It felt like the skin of an orange. The cancer was so small that she had to have a needle inserted so they could find the lump. She was at a VA hospital, they didn't have the equipment to do an ultrasound.
In March I found a pimple on what was left of my breast. I was told not to worry. I insisted on it being biopsied. Fortunately, so didn't my Health Insurance. Yes the cancer had come back, 8 years after the first time. The scar is 6 inches long. My oncologist said only about 1% of the population has a reoccurrence on the same side. Now I cannot have reconstruction, I had an appointment with a Plastic Surgeon to have an implant done. I know that this post is long, but please don't let your mammogram pass. Once a year, insist on it. Exam your breast when you shower, when you are lying down with your arm above your head. Check all the way to your back.

Phyl said...

Praying for you tonight, hoping your recovery is going well.

Kym Lucas said...

Pamela,
Sending you positive thoughts for a speedy recovery. As a three-year breast cancer survivor, I've learned that everyone responds differently to both the diagnosis and treatment, which makes it important to share our stories. My hope is that someday everyone who is newly diagnosed will be able to find someone whose experience was similar and realize whatever they're feeling is okay. Thank you for a lovely piece.