Category: Breast Cancer

Questions No One Should Answer

Telling Knots has a great post on the thoughtless questions people ask of breast cancer patients and how people try to find reasons for illness and/or death.

Somehow we think that if we can assign blame and identify what the patient did to get cancer, we will know what dumb things not to do and therefore we will be safe from a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent recurrence. This also extrapolates to any other randomness of biology and whatever accidents one can imagine. 

Her blog is very apropos for October's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, because over 40,000 breast cancer patients still do die every year. No way is it their fault. 

And most breast cancer survivors do hear many of the things Telling Knots has heard. You will be very interested to read her post. She nails it. 

What I liked best was her conclusion that the tactless questions others direct at us actually say more about them than they do about us. And instead of answering, perhaps we should say, "Why do you ask?"

This makes me think of the afternoon that my Uncle Bill called, soon after my second mastectomy. After some small talk he got right down to the nitty-gritty and asked: 

"So they cut off both your tits? What will Les do now?"

I did not write a poem about the incident. If I had, should it have said

Good grief
Beyond belief
Should I debrief?

What are some better ways to relate to your friend who has been diagnosed with breast cancer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem for My Flat Chest

In keeping with my recent posts on whether or not to reconstruct/replace one's breasts after a mastectomy, I offer one of my poems:

Double Amputee

I have looked this way
before–
flat-chested, pencil-thin

when I was ten

Strange it is to seem
a sexless child
again

(Too bad about
the graying hair
and slightly sagging chin)

(Excerpted from Fine Black LIines (c) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

Reconstructed Breasts?

On my birthday last week, Nancy published a guest post that I had written for her. It was an especially nice thing for my birthday. I include an excerpt here:

I missed my left breast mightily. I struggled for days, weeks, months to make my front look okay. I stuffed the empty side of my bra with crumpled paper; my bosom rustled. I stuffed it with socks; they lumped. I tried filling homemade bags with rice; they sagged more than my right breast.

It was a bit easier after my second mastectomy fourteen months later. Whatever I tried, at least the two sides matched. But by then, lymphedema had set into my left arm and torso—wearing a bra was not an option, although I did try. I bought a mastectomy bra and two heavy matching prostheses. I wore them once, but I was so miserable that I donated the whole contraption to another woman.

Besides, something within me rebelled at hanging an uncomfortable harness on my frame—so I could put something uncomfortable in it, so that those around me were not uncomfortable. God forbid they should be reminded of their mortality.

What to do?  

Read the rest of the post here:  Nancy

And how did you handle a breastless chest?

 

Sexualization of the Pink Ribbon

This week I read a cogent post on NancysPoint dealing with how the pink ribbon has been commercialized and is now being sexualized as well. (She has some great pictures.)

As a survivor of breast cancer, I have lived without breasts or reconstruction for twenty-two years, It's almost to the place where I see breasts on others and feel puzzled. What are those funny-looking things? Why are there mounds of fat tissue on the fronts of women? Why are they placed at so many different levels?   

And then I wonder why, in this current societal climate, is it mandatory that we see almost the entirety of the  funny-looking things? It's almost impossible to buy clothes that aren't scooped out deeply. I see old women with crepey upper chests that should be in turtlenecks.

We don't proudly display the rolls of fat around our sides. Wait, I'll take that back. I've seen plenty of rolls. And muffin-tops. 

But to use sexy poses of breasts to commercialize the pink ribbon? Is it more important to save "boobies" or to save lives? I loved my breasts, but I'd rather be alive than to have saved them.

Do check out Nancy. And also go to http://www.xojane.com/issues/what-next-in-the-name-of-breast-cancer-awareness also. This post may curl your hair a bit, but it will also enlighten you. And xojane says, "…a lot of “awareness” campaigns make it sound like the great tragedy here is not that people are dying, but that funbags go away." What a great quote! And what a crock.

 

Just Stay Positive?

"You will be just fine" has long been a problem for me. No matter what horrendous circumstance one is facing, what one needs is support and validation, not cheer-leading. Discounting a person's feelings and implying that everything can be solved by being positive does a great disservice to the ill or injured or depressed or bereaved.

But at one time or another, I suspect we have all said it. I know I have. Do we say it to reassure others? To reassure ourselves? To deny what's going on?

And beyond that, there is "Just stay positive." Another soul shrinker that:

  • implies you caused your own cancer with your negativity
  • burdens you with being in charge of getting well
  • causes infinite pain if cancer eats at you until you die

I have a poem to share with you:

You Will Be Just Fine

Please do not trivialize
my suffering.

You who are healthy
You whose mortaility is as yet
Only dimly preceived–
Please do not say
"You will be just fine."

I may well be–someday–
But I do not know…
You do not know…

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, (c) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad. All rights reserved.)

And tell me why you think we keep saying, "You will be just fine."