Torn Between Looking ‘Normal’ and Being Myself: A Cancer Survivor’s Newfound Breast Envy

A breast cancer survivor describes how preparing an outfit for her son’s upcoming wedding and seeing social media photos of other women sparked body envy within her for those who have not been affected by breast cancer surgeries.

Since my son is getting married this summer, I decided to locate my silicone prosthesis. It took a few tries. I looked in all the logical places, including in the pink container it came with and the bathroom closet. I looked inside a drawer where I keep my lymphedema sleeves and handkerchiefs. Where was it?

Finally, after going through all possible alternatives, I found it gathering dust on the floor of the bedroom closet. I guess it had fallen, propped too close to the edge of the shoe storage shelves where I had put it years ago. Do not even begin to ask why I had not put it back in its container. I do not remember, having worn this fancy prosthesis no more than five times over the course of its life (a few of these times in the privacy of my home to see if I could bond with it).

Now the prosthesis is neatly tucked in its pink container, suspended on mesh, waiting for the special day. Or not. I will have to try it out some more. I will have to pick a dress that works with it. I will have to see if it works with the dress. I will have to buy a bra in the appropriate color. The list of worries goes on and on. Is this what I should be thinking about as I anticipate an event of a lifetime, the wedding of my one and only precious son?

The thing is, I do not wear a prosthesis very often. When I do, with something slinky, I prefer the microbead form. (But I think of it shape-shifting in wedding photos!) I may even not wear one to the wedding. I am torn as I plan, though, between who I am and looking “normal” for the photos.

Truly, if I take a deep breath, I know that I do not need a prosthesis. I am in the “happy to be asymmetrical” camp. Yet there is something about this impending formal event that has me wanting to blend in. I feel bad about that because, given who my son is and who his future wife is and who our family and friends are, (a) I would blend in with just one breast and (b) I am feeling vain.

I hate to feel vain. I hate to feel covetous of breasts and cleavage. That never was what I was about. Or who I am. I am supposed to be an intellectual. Probing my ennui, I think the issue is that I am entertaining an inner 13-year-old who perhaps was living in me all along without my knowing it. Probing deeper, I think this started when I got a new Facebook friend whose profile picture shows off her two very large breasts, nipples included.

I almost unfriended this person after having to stare at the photo for days. She is not somebody I will likely meet, just one of those random people you end up knowing via Facebook. Also, I could have unfollowed her to avoid seeing this photo and even more as she is fond of showing off her breasts to their advantage in the right clothes in natural light. Even though I sense she does this for feminist reasons, not out of a need to look like a Barbie doll, I feel a bit daunted.

Until I began fretting about this new Facebook friend’s photo, I did not think I had it in me to be jealous of another woman’s breasts. (I mean, they are just mammary glands, right?) Triggered, though, I have started noticing my envy of other breasts. I think, in fact, that my phantom breast is envious of its mate.

Sometimes I look at my remaining high-risk-for-more-breast-cancer breast in the mirror and think, “Age has been good to you! A little droop is sexy.” And then I imagine in this same mirror a body that has two droopy breasts.

I guess these thoughts as I look at dresses and bras (and shoes I will not fall in) to get ready for the wedding are developmental. Perhaps I am a late bloomer. Perhaps after all these years, it is time to mourn the loss of something, rather than just to celebrate the fact that I am alive — even if that makes me feel a little vain.

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