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.