Breast Cancer and Body Image 3

A Matter of Perspective

It was not until I had lost a breast myself that I began to notice how incredibly breast-oriented our culture is.

I couldn't open a newspaper without pages of lingerie ads staring back at me. I couldn't leaf through a magazine without seeing pictures of women who were scantily clad. I couldn't watch a television program without gasping for fear a bosom would fall out over the top of a dress.

Some days I look at women's breasts and think very detachedly, "Those are funny looking things. They are so foreign to me." If I had not taken pre-mastectomy photographs as part of my grand scheme to say goodbye properly and be done with it, I would not even remember what my bosom once looked like. Most mastectomy patients don't think to take such pictures. Some later wish they had, even though they know how painful it would be to see them.

On other days I think, "I would die to have them back." Then I laugh uncomfortably at the irony, realizing that I could indeed die if I had them back–particularly the one.

Did you take pictures? Pre? Post?

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, copyright 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

Comments

Beth Gainer 24-04-2012, 17:22

Very insightful, Lois. I really love this discussion of our breast-oriented culture. When I had my prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction, I was so disgusted with my “evil twins” as I called them, that I wanted them off, no photos to remember them by. However, I regret that decision because I would like to be reminded sometimes of what I was born with.

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hjelmstd 11-05-2012, 16:56

I felt the same way about my mastectomies – just get those cancerous boobs off. But then I remembered. It wasn’t my dear breasts fault. It was the cancer’s fault. However, I’m still relieved they are gone.

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Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC) 24-04-2012, 18:46

We live in a culture that worships physical beauty and perfection and breast cancer makes us evaluate our relationship to our bodies. We need time to mourn your losses, but then we need to focus on the ways that coping with cancer has made us stronger. I like to remind myself of a quote by Garrison Keillor “It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars” when I find myself losing perspective.

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hjelmstd 11-05-2012, 16:54

You are right, Marie. My scars of pain and grief make me who I am.

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Nancy's Point (@NancysPoint) 25-04-2012, 14:27

Lois,
What a timely post for me as I was just recently asking myself why I didn’t take photos before my bilateral. That was the last thing on my mind at the time. I wonder if it’s a good thing I didn’t… Are you glad you did? Do you ever look at them? Thanks for writing about this. I think women should give this some thought before undergoing breast surgery.

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hjelmstd 11-05-2012, 16:54

I am glad I did, although it pains me greatly to look at the pictures. But I do have the option to look at them.

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jelebelle 26-04-2012, 04:35

I had a photog friend of mine take before pics and am so happy that I did…one of them is the front page header of my blog. Though I believe we are more than the sum of our bodies, we also live, and have lived with our bodies so when the change is abrupt as it usually is with a mastectomy, the remembrance is nice to have in the form of photos. (at least for me). I have also taken post photos…posted a few of those as well. My photographer friend has helped me document this whole stinkin’ process. It is interesting to look back on the different stages…not just of the body, but the emotions on my face. Tomorrow I receive another photo shoot. I’ve always loved photography and wanted my storytelling to be accompanied by this way of exposing my real fears, emotions, etc…maybe emotions that I’ve yet to find words to match. Thanks for sharing, and asking our thoughts. Best in health to you.

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hjelmstd 11-05-2012, 16:53

What a good way to document the journey!

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ChemoBabe 27-04-2012, 01:02

i did more than take pictures (which i did do). i did a plaster body cast. i sometimes put it on to remember what i looked like. i also wanted my daughters to know what my unreconstructed body looked like so they aren’t comparing themselves to a surgeon’s artwork.

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hjelmstd 11-05-2012, 16:52

Bravo to you!

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Renn @ The Big C and Me 27-04-2012, 02:50

I have documented my journey every step of the way. Took pics of myself in the bathroom mirror the night before my BMX. Then, due to healing issues, I have been documenting the healing process of my right foob and incision for the past 14 months. What a joy! But seriously, I am very glad I did it and continue to do it, as it documents (sometimes down to the day) my progress, and that helps. Tip: Use the macro setting on your camera when shooting close-ups of incisions!

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hjelmstd 11-05-2012, 16:51

What a good idea and much easier now than when we had to use a “real” camera, take the film to be printed, etc.

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Ann 27-04-2012, 07:06

I remember saying to a male friend, that if we had bill-board pictures or newspaper and magazine photos of men with their bits falling out of tightly-fitting underwear, and women passing by saying “Phwoar, look at that!” and men knew they had a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of developing cancer of those bits, how would that make them feel?

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hjelmstd 11-05-2012, 16:51

What did the male friend say? You really nailed it.

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