On Losing My Nipples: One Breast Cancer Survivorís Journey

Laura Yeager, breast cancer survivor, reflects on her journey and life as a survivor in her prose poem “On Losing My Nipples.”
BY Laura Yeager
PUBLISHED April 07, 2017
Because of the cancer, they took everything, including the nipples.
 
No longer can I feel myself chilling up, my nipples turning into stiff red points; there’s nothing to register cold anymore. No longer can I feel the first stages of arousal; no outward sign under my t-shirt that I dig someone. No longer can my lover suck on my nipple, the beginning of lovemaking. Out of habit, he moves his head in to excite me, but there’s nothing there.
 
I could get them tattooed on, but that sounds unnecessarily painful. I will simply live without them. And anyway, nipples exist in three dimensions, not one.
 
The doctors saved my life, but did they have to take my nipples?
 
The loss of my nipples is not the only loss from the cancer.
 
Now, the phlebotomists say my veins are ruined due to the chemo. None of them can find a usable vein in the underside of my forearm. They must bring in the big cheese — the anesthesiologist. He finds a good vein in a heartbeat. How does he do that? Practice.
 
Blood tests terrify me.
 
My three-month checkups terrify me. What if my oncologist finds more cancer?
 
I’ve lost confidence.
 
I’ve lost faith.
 
Youth.
 
My nipples.
 
The breast prostheses have fake nipples and I suppose I could find a bra with built-up fake nipples. It’s just not the same. Those little pink buds were magic. They rose and fell and swelled and shrank. They were alive.
 
I’m not ungrateful. I’m not complaining.
 
I’m beyond “why me?”
 
But I have no good words for my experience. I am not grateful that I got the disease. It did not teach me anything. It did not make me stronger.
 
In fact, I am much weaker.
 
Yet I am alive.
 
They bring me out at parties and have me tell of my experience. You could say I am the life of the party. I tell my little war stories and people are mildly entertained.
 
“Eight weeks of chemo, six weeks of radiation and a double mastectomy…”
 
Maybe I could join a circus. Would people pay to see the scars of breast surgery? Would they pay to see breasts minus the nipples?
 
In many ways, I’m freakish.
 
Modern science has extended my life and stripped me of my womanhood.
 
Shouldn’t I be dead now?
 
Will the cancer return? Stay tuned.
 
Same time. Same channel.
 
So much pain for so little knowledge.
 
Is this someone’s idea of a joke?
 
I am not laughing, nor am I crying.
 
I am neutral, unaroused.
 
I am a woman without nipples. Plain and simple.
 
I am like Barbie, the perfect unadorned woman.
 
Yes, I am doll-like.
 
When I was a child, I used to have a doll that talked when you pulled a string. “Will you play with me?” it said. “Let’s play house.” “It’s time to eat.” A doll without nipples.
 
I still have this doll. It sits atop a tall bookshelf in our bedroom. Funny, how we carry things from childhood into adulthood, as if they’ll somehow help us on our journey.
 
Disease is a journey.
 
Mine seems to be over, thank God.
 
I’m tired and thirsty.
 
Sit down, and I will tell you again what happened.
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