If I’d known I would forget so easily, I would have snapped a photo. I could have easily locked the photo away for safe keeping. When I got the urge to remember, I could have pulled out the photo and looked, but would that have really been a good thing?
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.
I can’t remember them. I know they were a vital part of my femininity, but for the life of me, I’ve forgotten them. I can’t honestly tell you the last time I thought of them. Every single day, I look at my chest without breasts and it’s become commonplace. “It is what it is,” my grown kids would say. It’s my reality.
But there was a day when my breasts were most important. When I was transitioning from being a young girl into becoming a woman, they were everything. My breasts were my prized possession. I was proud of them. I wanted the world to know I was a woman. I wanted to stand on a pedestal and belt out a chorus from Helen Reddy’s song, “I Am Woman.” It would have felt so good.
When I was dating, my breasts helped me attract a mate. Men are visual, or so I’ve been told, and I think whoever coined that phrase was right. As soon as I started to develop, the boys flocked to me like flies on a piece of raw meat. My breasts were perky and the boys paid attention.
As a young mother, my breasts fed my babies. As they suckled, I felt complete. My body was doing exactly what it was designed to do. My breasts were not merely physical adornments. They were functional.
When breast cancer took up residence inside my right breast, I didn’t feel it for the longest time. It was silent, stealthy and covert. When I discovered it, my world changed. In the blink of an eye, I said goodbye to my breasts as I made the choice for life. Breasts, I could live without them. Although they were beautiful, soft and full, they were not vital. They were not me.
Three years have passed and I’ve forgotten what they looked like. I wish I had a picture of them. I could have had one taken, but I didn’t. If I’d known I would forget so easily, I would have snapped a photo. I could have easily locked the photo away for safe keeping. When I got the urge to remember, I could have pulled out the photo and looked, but would that have really been a good thing?
Two long horizontal scars slice across my chest where my breasts used to be. They are constant reminders of what once was. As I look at them, I run my fingers along the hard ridges that have formed there. I used to cry as I touched them but now, I marvel. I am still here. I am alive.
Yes, I have forgotten my breasts. I don’t remember the way they filled out my blouse. I don’t remember the way they pleased my husband. I. DON’T. REMEMBER. And sometimes I wonder why. Why don’t I remember? Do I not want to remember? Is it a protective thing that I’ve chosen not to remember? Should I remember? Do I really want to remember???
I stand in the mirror and look. I can’t imagine them. My breasts. Sometimes, I think I can feel them – phantom breasts, like an amputee must feel phantom limbs. For a fleeting moment, I almost remember them, and then the feeling is gone. Forever. And that’s OK. I’m still here and I’m alive.
“Oh yes I am wise, but it's wisdom born of pain. Yes, I've paid the price, but look how much I gained. If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman.” With or without breasts, I am woman. And I’m OK.