A Survivor 'Chuckles' at Microagressions Toward Her Post-Cancer Body

A breast cancer survivor explains how a group of men made fun of her chest – which is flat due to a double mastectomy – and how she chose to laugh the rude comment away.

I was eating lunch with old friends a few days ago at a hip spot in town. This restaurant sells Italian cuisine, and many feel they make the best pizza in Akron. Businessmen and women stop in for a quick bite at noon; families bring their children; women meet for lunch with other women, as I was doing. Even jerks like to dine there.

Let me explain. In 2011, I had a double mastectomy when I had breast cancer. At that time, I had implants added to my physique and I was 10 years younger, still in my 40s. I felt compelled to keep up my appearance by having a semblance of breasts.

Then, in 2016, breast cancer returned in my right breast. I had to have surgery to remove it. At that time, they took the implant out and performed a latissimus dorsi flap operation to close the wound. Consequently, my chest on that side was completely flat. For years, I wore a prosthesis on the right side to balance out the look on the left side because I still had an implant there. Then, a year later, I decided to have that implant removed so I was “even.” Evenly flat.

I wore padded bras for a while, and recently, I chose to give it all up and go au natural. In July of this year, my oncologist “fired” me, her way of letting me know that I wouldn’t need her anymore because it had been 10 years since my first cancer and five years since my second – the second had been an angiosarcoma. The decision not to wear anything except a T-shirt under my clothes seemed to coincide with being set free from having to see cancer doctors.

So that’s the backstory.

So there I am sitting in this hip restaurant, and there’s a table of men sitting across from me. They were obviously on their lunch break and were getting ready to go back to work. It was warm in the place, and I removed my jacket. When I did so, the group, or at least one man in the group, checked me out. He remarked loudly, “I bet she wears a ‘Manssiere.’”

People who used to watch Seinfeld will remember this term. According to WikiSein, “The ‘Manssiere’ was a bra designed for men to help support their upper bodies. It was connected in the back by (Velcro) and made the wearer feel loose and free to move. It was created by the genius that is Cosmo Kramer, but the idea was originally conceived by Frank Costanza. They try to sell it to a bra company, but they are unable…”

That was the Manssiere, also known as “the bro.” What’s important about it is that it was for men, who are normally flatter than women. The guy was making fun of me and the way my chest looked. To him, I looked like a guy.

What a jerk!

This was the first time I’ve ever had a person poke fun at my flat chest. Most people didn’t even stare at me. They averted their eyes and avoided noticing that I didn’t have a “normal” chest for my rather chubby body. Most people certainly didn’t crack jokes.

My reaction to this stupid comment surprised me.

His microaggression made me chuckle.

Was my laughter a sign of liberation or a sign of the discomfort of domination? Perhaps, it was a reaction to the hilarity of the “Manssiere” Seinfeld episode so long ago.

It must have been a bit of all three.

What was important was I didn’t let the comment ruin my day. I was almost 60, and I’d been insulted by classier people than that jerky punk many times before.

Shortly after, the men left the restaurant and the table was replaced by a group of young women, who, by the way, said nothing about my chest.

My friends arrived and we had a nice lunch where we showed each other pictures of our children on our phones and caught up over the last 20 years.

A good time was had by all.

Sometimes, laughter is the best revenge.

Survivors, if anyone makes fun of the way you look due to cancer, don’t take it to heart.

Their wound is much bigger than yours.

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