BRA Day was recently held at Juravinski Hospital.
Breast Reconstruction Awareness is an apt acronym; the day is a chance for women to find out what’s happening in the medical field, ask questions and try to ascertain their best course of action. It’s also an opportunity for some of us who have already trodden this path to doff our tops and put a face and a voice to the experience.
I stood there wearing just jeans and boots, and I was not the brave one. My prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstruction had headed off a bad outcome. My experience is not a stitch on those who are forced into the treatment trenches, battling a vile disease that continues to take too many too soon, and forces the rest to scale mountains nobody is equipped to tackle.
The women I spoke with who thought I was baring my soul, as well as my breasts, will never know they were showing me so much more. In the midst of the swirl of uncertainty, fear and overwhelming damned sadness, they were revealing the core of who we are and how we move forward.
I stared into eyes of women young enough to be my daughters and I had no words. I wanted to hold them all, to fix them all, to swallow their fear and their pain and do that thing that parents do, that women do, of mopping up the broken glass, sponging up the spilled blood.
I looked at women my own age and wanted them to know if I could do this, they could do this. I looked at women older than I am and wanted them to know strength often comes from surprising places. We all have it.
Breast cancer, and the threat of breast cancer, attacks families but ultimately it is up to a woman to face it down alone. Your body. Your mind. Your emotions.
Doctors deal in the actual blood and guts and I’m grateful they do. To hear them speak about what qualifies as a good outcome and to know they’re considering a woman’s sense of self, her sexuality as well as her survival, is a tremendous affirmation that we are more than the sum of our parts.
We live in a country that gives us choices — overwhelming choices, at times — but choices. In other countries, including the one to the south of us, too many women must wither before they are allowed to take charge and decide for themselves. It is often too late. We suffer from choice; others suffer from no choice.
I spent too long trying to defend rebuilding my body as a vanity project. I could convince myself I was allowed to live, but it took far longer to decide I was worthy of living a version of myself that made me feel whole.
Surely breasts, long past their physiological need at my age, could be lost without recourse. I considered removing them and moving on. Some fabulous women have done just that, and they look amazing.
But the same way they could choose and celebrate that, I wanted something else. I wanted some semblance of who I used to be, even if I had no way of knowing what that would actually look like. Every woman is different, and surgeons can only guess at outcomes.
Two other women shared the room with me that day, both happy to show and share what some of those outcomes can be. We’re on the other side of the bridge, hoping only to reach out a hand to those beginning the journey.
No matter what we look like on the outside, these are warrior hearts beating beneath.