Aiming to dodge the breast cancer bullet

I started wanting breasts when I was about 11, mostly because all my friends were getting them. I was still rocking an undershirt as they moved into garments that had to actually do some work, and my mother finally swallowed a smile and bought me a bra when I was 12. My sister took one look and said I was just wearing a cut-off undershirt. Maybe, but it had a little bow on the front, and everybody knows when you have a little bow or a rose on your cut-off undershirt you are now a woman.

I should have kept the thing. Two weeks ago, I had a preventative double mastectomy. The ache from losing my mother to breast cancer 14 years ago has never lessened, and when a sister passed 5 months ago from the same thing, I decided to take aim on the disease that has drawn a bead on my family. There was certain a pragmatism to my decision: I am a freelance writer, and I can afford to be dead, but I can’t afford to be sick.

Making the decision was not difficult. We have a medical system which, for all its downfalls, offers lifesaving options my friends to the south can only dream of. I consider the outstanding people at Juravinski Hospital my pit crew – you’re lucky, Hamilton.

Telling my sons was another thing. Breasts are not arms or ears, or some other body part that can be discussed without emotion. As I wrestled with the implication my decision would have on how I felt as a woman, my sons recognized the true paramount concern: they would have to acknowledge their mother had breasts.

“You know, you won’t be able to lift anything,” explained Christopher, 22. True to form, he’d been Googling things and would now take charge of my care. Well, not the actual doing anything part, but the knowing everything part. Previously, if I’d worn a push-up bra when I went out, he’d raise an eyebrow and ask, “gonna get me a new Daddy?” at which point I’d zip up my jacket and feel like a fallen woman.

Ari, 19, learned his lesson in grade 10 when he Googled images for herpes and nearly scared himself blind. He was happy to get his information from me, and relieved that his role would be yard work and running errands. Christer’s girlfriend Pammy, 22, reminded me why it’s nice to have a girl in the house, and my sisters and friends have been spectacular. Food would be dropped off, and I’d hear Ari say, “should we save some for Mom?”

I decided there would be celebration in making a big decision. Together with two great friends and a patient photographer – and wine – I had goodbye to boobs pictures taken on my 50th birthday. I begged for gentle lighting and lamented I was doing this 30 years too late. You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone, said every poet and every songwriter, for a reason. We laughed a lot that night.

I filed work ahead with my newspapers, and took two weeks off from my TV show. I was back writing by day 6, and as I write this just shy of the two week mark, I’m fine. I don’t feel brave, but I do feel strong. My mother didn’t lose to cancer. She fought back with all she had for as long as she could in the face of an unfair fight. I could never put that heart and that hope in the loss column.

There may be less of me, but there is more to me.

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11 responses to Aiming to dodge the breast cancer bullet

  1. Pat says:

    Again, you are one of my heroes.

  2. Beth says:

    I agree with Pat. Angelina Jolie made headlines for doing this because she is Angelina Jolie. You make our hearts swell with pride because you are an amazing gal.

  3. Lorraine Lorraine says:

    Thanks guys…for the record? I think Angelina handled it the only way she could. She controlled the message, wrote that one piece in the NYT, and then left it at that. She got the conversation going for a lot of women, which was really important. She didn’t make a complicated issue less complicated, but she made it more clear, if that makes any sense.

    I told my doctor I wanted to do this over a year ago. She flipped up an eyebrow, but when Angelina ‘came out’ a few weeks later, it helped.

    But, you know me. I always wanted to be one of the cool kids…

  4. Sandy says:

    i have a good friend who reads your column and knows that I spend time in Lorrainia with the rest of the ‘idiots’ ( I showed her the comments after that 50th b-day pic….if we had only known you really were topless!)
    She texted me yesterday, and I quote
    “WOW, Lorraine Sommerfeld. Big decision. Amazing column. Please tell her she looks amazing to me. And yes, I can’t see her, but it doesn’t matter, She looks amazing!!!”

    Do we dare to ask where Roz & Gilly sit on the issue?

  5. SloppySue says:

    Lorraine, I have never met you, but I love your writing, and I love you for what you have so bravely tackled. YGG (you go, girl).

  6. Sandy says:

    Just saw your tweet about the pathology report.
    I don’t know what else to say.
    It is just so scary.

  7. Mitch says:

    My Mother in law died of breast cancer at 61. My wife who is now 65 thinks and worries about it all the time. I just do not know what to say to her. She does live a much healthier life style tan het Mother.

  8. Cynthia says:

    “Life”had gotten in the way of me enjoying your writings, but today I’m back and to you, once again, I shout THANK YOU! For sharing your most personal experiences you are helping so many, including me who lost a treasured friend who was already Stage4 when diagnosed with Breast Cancer… She fought hard for 6 yrs but if only had had those girls removed years before might be still hugging her 3 teenage girls…. Who may soon face this same decision you have chosen…. BRAVO to you…. Good health to you…..

  9. laura burton says:

    Your emails are so inspiring. I have the brca1 gene and am having my preventative mastectomy in a few weeks. Although I know I have made the right decision I am so very nervous.

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