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.
Plucking a fat and juicy blueberry from a new mastectomy bra reminded this breast cancer survivor that life can still be sweet.
The day after my sixth cancerversary, I made a trek to Fayetteville to pick up my new bras and boobs. Every two years, insurance allows me to get four new bras and a set of new prostheses and I'm glad. After surgery, I had no idea silicone prostheses can degrade over time. Two years is the average life span with normal wear and tear.
Usually, when I drive to the little boutique that sells mastectomy bras and prostheses, I feel anxious. I don't know why I feel that way, but attribute the feeling to post cancer PTSD. This day was different. I felt elation. I was going to pick up a vital portion of my femininity.
Since having both breasts removed in 2014 and no reconstruction, the only way I felt feminine was with the addition of these simulated body parts.
Silicone breast forms are amazingly close to real human breasts. The shape, weight, and realistic features can trick the body and mind into believing what was once lost has been regained.
When I arrived at the shop to pick up my supplies, I noticed a sign on the door asking me to wear a mask. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, so many things had changed. Pressing the door handle to enter, I found it locked. Though I had an 11:00 a.m. appointment and was right on time, I wasn't able to enter. Pulling out my cell phone, I dialed the shop and connected with the owner. She explained they were keeping the door locked to prevent the possible introduction of germs by any unscheduled visitors.
In just a few minutes, the door opened, and the shop owner greeted me. Donning the mask, I entered was shown a hand sanitation station. I was asked to take a few minutes to sanitize my hands.
I'd taken the initiative of calling in advance and placing my order. Since there had been no physical changes since my last visit, there was no need for a fitting. Ordering in advance insured I'd have no wait, especially since visits were now by appointment only.
At the register, I was asked to complete a coronavirus questionnaire - Had I visited a country outside the United States within the last 30 days? Had I been running a fever? To every question, my answer was no.
As my purchases were tallied on the cash register, I couldn't help but focus on the total, $653.45. My 20% was $130.69. One set of breast prostheses was $556.22. Three mastectomy bras were $94.23. Post mastectomy products are so expensive.
Before leaving the shop, I asked about swim prostheses. I was pleased to find they did sell them but insurance did not cover them. Inquiring into the cost, I was told each prosthesis would be $50. It didn't take but a few minutes to rationalize buying the lightweight, fast drying prostheses. What was another $100 plus tax added to my already mounting credit card bill?
I left the shop with two large pink and white shopping bags in hand. My husband smiled as I came out the door. He'd seen these bags before. The closet in our guest room was full of them. They were a high-quality vinyl product and had been recycled for many a family birthday gift.
As we left the shop, I checked my phone messages and found one from a local farm I'd visited two weeks earlier. It was a family run farm that sold vegetables and fruits. Today, the message said, the farm was selling off some of their 13-year-old, well established blueberry bushes.
Turning to my husband, I asked in my sweetest and most convincing voice, "Honey, could we run by the farm and dig up a blueberry bush?"
I had no idea what he'd say. It was well over 90 degrees and very humid.
"Of course, we can," he said; and, so we did.
It took about half an hour to dig up the huge plant and get it to the car. When we opened the back of the van to stuff the bush inside, I had to laugh. My bags of bras and boobs sat just at the top of the blueberry bush.
As we worked to push the large plant in far enough to close the van door, some of the ripe berries fell into the bag with the prostheses. Watching them fall reminded me how quickly I'd lost my breasts.
For 42 years they'd been attached to my body and in an instant, they were gone never to be seen or felt again.
The blueberries, on the other hand, would be plucked from the bag and added to the ones still clinging to the tree. I'd make muffins, pancakes, and jams with those. We'd enjoy them for months to come. Their plump ripeness a sign of the summer harvest.
We left the farm with our van full of bras, boobs, and blueberries. The day had been productive and satisfying.
While hubby was busy transplanting the new blueberry bush into the ground, I went inside to try on my new bras and prostheses. Tucking the molded silicone into each side of the mastectomy bra, I noticed something wedged inside one of the boob pockets - a nice, fat blueberry.
Plucking it from the bra, I quickly popped it into my mouth letting the sweet juice explode there.
A huge smile spread across my face. Bras, boobs, and blueberries. What a combination! And that's when it hit me. I wasn't crying. A feeling of joy had replaced the past sense of sadness I'd always felt after coming home with new bras and boobs.
All it took was a blueberry. One fat, juicy berry to remind me that life can still be sweet, even after breast cancer.