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A Cancer Survivor to Her Breasts: Where Are You?

Losing breasts is often difficult for women to accept.
PUBLISHED July 26, 2016
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
It’s been two long years since I saw you. Since that time, I never gave thought to your fate. Where are you, breasts? Do you lie sectioned and frozen in a laboratory freezer somewhere? Were you sliced and diced for medical students to look at under a powerful microscope? Were you stained and smeared on a slide? Were you shaved into microscopically thin pieces and dipped into solutions only to be resting in petri dishes on a cold, hard counter? Were you examined and studied, talked about behind my back? Where are you, breasts? Or, after being used and abused were you casually discarded in a red biohazard container? Did you rot among other tissue samples in a landfill far away? I can’t help but wonder what happened to you. I didn’t even get to tell you goodbye. If I’d thought about it, I could have made a plaster cast to memorialize you or I could have taken beautiful photographs of you.  

I didn’t think one day I’d miss you, but today when I woke up, you were the first thing on my mind. My hand traveled across my chest to touch you and you were gone. That’s when I remembered. Could you have been saved? Did I speak too hastily when asked my preference by the surgeon? Should I have taken another route? Should I have opted for a lumpectomy and chemo instead of mastectomy and radiation? But if I had, would we still be here today but in a much more painful and prolonged way? Would we have started out small — a tiny incision and chemicals that poisoned you — only to eventually have you lopped off anyway? Should I have endured countless mammograms and months of testing in an effort to keep your mutilated form? Or did I do the right thing in taking the second choice presented, to completely remove you and discard you and pretend you never existed? Should I have let the surgeon cut you out and leave empty folds of skin to hold tissue expanders and later silicone replacements? Should I have allowed the fat deposits on my stomach or back to be carved into makeshift breasts to give me an illusion of normalcy? Could I have dealt with reconstructed breasts, mounds of flesh sewn into place devoid of nipples and feeling? Or was I right to just agree to completely remove you?   

Where have you gone, breasts? Do you lie in a pile joined by others just like you, some of them larger and some vastly smaller, of all shapes and colors? Do you wonder why you were tortured and abandoned and forgotten after all your years of service? I watched you grow from tiny breast buds at puberty into full, voluptuous friends that fed my children and satisfied my husband, and now you’re gone, missing in action, decimated, mutilated and all but forgotten, but I can’t forget you. I still remember you. You were important to me. Where are you, breasts?   

In your place lie two imposters, silicone forms devoid of nerve endings, blood flow or feeling. They have no semblance to you. They are smooth gel-filled pinkish blobs with tiny raised nipple-like impressions. They are much heavier than you. They require washing and drying, but only after removal from a mastectomy bra which holds them securely against my chest. When I walk, they don’t gently bounce up and down as you once did. They are firm and stationary. Some days I choose not to wear them. I leave them lying in their storage containers. I don’t want to look at them and be reminded they’ve taken your place ... poor substitutes for what God gave me. Am I bitter? To a degree, yes. Do I feel betrayed? Yes! I wish I’d known exactly what the future held so I could have made a more informed decision about surgery and treatment, but doctors don’t give you all the details. They don’t talk about the emotional trauma that comes with breast cancer. They don’t talk about those difficult days when your breasts are gone and it feels like the world has stopped spinning and you’re left standing alone stripped naked and bare. They don’t talk about the devastation, loss of femininity and lifelong changes that will occur. They keep it hush hush, a secret hidden in the dark. But we find out. And some of us do quite well with the change. Some of us make do and move on. Others struggle. Some days are good and some days are bad. But all of us wonder, where are you breasts and why did you have to go? Why? Why? Why?
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