Breast Cancer: My Love/Hate Relationship With My Boobs
I was the pitcher for my class in the fourth grade dodgeball tournament, rolling slow balls for all my friends to bunt, and super-fast-curveballs for all the boys that were "beneath me." I went to take a water break after a couple innings, and joined a group of girls comparing hair scrunchies and gossiping about the drama we didn’t cover during lunch. My friend Jane motioned me to break circle so she could tell me a secret that was too precious to be said over instant messenger:
“I’m wearing a bra.”
She slid her top over her shoulder to reveal its satin tan strap. And that wasn’t all…she received a pack of thongs in her Easter basket. I went behind a tree and looked down my Sugar Lip tank top only to find that my mosquito bites hadn’t further developed since that morning. I saw the way testosterone-filled boys glared at the straps that fell ever-so gingerly on Jane’s shoulders, and envied the confidence she exuded as she crouched behind home plate. The next week I wore a Petit Bateau spaghetti strap top underneath my Sugar Lip and had everyone fooled that I too was sporting some upholstery for my little nips.
I got my period when I was thirteen on Rosh Hashanah and my body instantly metamorphosed. In the 9th grade I got 60 likes on a picture of me in a Victoria Secret pink bathing suit that I stole from my cousin who stole it from her friend. Everyone commented “( . )( . )” and “booOooOOoObs,” “you really tied your bathing suit top well”. Had I made it? Had I finally entered the titty committee: a world of girls that filled out their v-necks and wore two sports bras? It seemed far more glamorous when I was a sweaty fourth grade girl on the pitcher’s mount wearing David and Goliath and a side ponytail. Yeah, maybe they looked hot in the tight dresses I wore to sweet sixteens, but they looked super weird when I lay down, pancaked out on both sides of my torso. I had these little water balloons of flesh that jiggled when I poked them through the gaping spaces of my sleeve holes. Sometimes they hurt when it was my time of the month, and all of the time my mom was super adamant about me wearing a bra in public even though I protested that nippleidous was “euro-chic.”
A place exists that has more estrogen than tofu and that’s summer camp for girls. As most girls know who religiously attend summer camp two months out of the year, half your summer is spent naked. Since our earliest summers, my friends and I have always fought over a spot in front the mirror, seeing if and how our bodies changed overnight. Emma was the first one of us to develop breasts, which we all expected because she was the tallest. She was fawned over at socials and was the first of us to “hook up” with one of the boys from across the lake. It took the rest of us the following summers for our chests to develop past that of a prepubescent boy.
While we were mesmerized by the idea of boobs, stuffing our shirts with unmatched socks, Emma was unperturbed. And my naive self attributed this to the fact that homegirl rocked sports bras while the rest of us sat in a circle and said hymns to awaken the puberty spirits. She answered our endless questions about “what it’s like to have boobs” like it was NBD. Which it so obviously was…right? Boobs are hot and fun and make us feel powerful, womanly and pretty.
It would be Emma who taught me that you can have killer boobs or boobs that kill—and that it was all up to a luck of the draw.
Before any of us to could comprehend death, Emma lost her Aunt to an 11-year battle with breast cancer. I had recognized her as the woman with a bald head and a bare-chested fragile frame, weighing no more than 80 pounds in a pictures thumbtacked above Emma’s bed. Her aunt was the only one who wasn’t wearing a bathing suit on vacation, but was still smiling in the presence of her family before a Kodak flash.
This is what a picture can tell you. What it can’t tell you is that her husband will leave her when she needs him the most, or that her illness will ultimately tear her family apart.
Emma’s grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30. She passed away on January 15th, 2016. Emma’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer on January 1st.
Boobs. A physical feature that was a source of empowerment and confidence now serves as a daily reminder that Emma could be next.
“My mother would never let me go on birth control no matter how many times my gynaecologist said I’d be fine. She always went for mammograms more than most women I knew, and my sister (24) was getting check-ups before all her friends,” explained Emma. “ I kind of hate boobs now, ya know? Because of what I’ve seen and what my family had dealt with and continues to deal with.”
Emma is getting a breast reduction this May. “No one even had them when I had them. When I was 13 and 14 it was cool but now I’m just over it. The reduction also decreases my chances of getting breast cancer (slightly), which is obviously a huge proponent. It doesn’t decrease it enough to justify the surgery, but my boobs will be less in my face all the time, and more of an after-thought.”
Though Emma’s mother, Roberta, is doing extremely well with treatment, Emma shutters at the prospect of watching breast cancer continuously invade the lineage of women in her family. “She’s strong,” explains Emma, “but cancer strips your identity, physically and emotionally.
1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
A women’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has first degree relative who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
One of the most significant risk factors for breast cancer is gender.
Simply being a woman puts you at risk.
You can have killer boobs, or boobs that kill, and sometimes you can even have both. So to the girls with triple D’s and double A’s, know this:
It’s not the shape, size or color of your boobs that make you a woman, but what you carry in that heart of yours that rests between them. If you can fill your heart with love and passion, and surround yourself with strength and high spirits...it doesn’t matter if you can fill out your new Calvin Klein bra.
It just doesn’t.