This is by far the most difficult post I’ve ever had to write.
Not because I’m personally torn up or emotionally drained, but rather because I’ve been asked to “bring the funny” to a topic so far on the opposite end of the humor spectrum that it often goes untouched by even the most highly regarded masters of comedy.
It’d be a lot easier to write this if breast cancer was funny, but it’s not. When you consider the amount of fear, illness, pain, and procedures that one must go through as they navigate the path of the unknown, it’s hard to believe that smiles can even be extracted along the way.
But guided by both the request of a beloved reader and one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain, I’m damn sure going to try.
~ Mark Twain
First, allow me to share some of her request with you.
May 27th, 2012 - On June 18th I’m having a mastectomy and will need some serious humor (oxymoronic?) during the weeks after. So, muster your skills and come up with some sort of boob joke, would ya’? No pity, just a joke. I would be honored by a boob-littered post dedicated to me.
I am a 10-year survivor (so far) of breast cancer, but last time I didn’t have kids and only had a lumpectomy. Now I have a 5-year-old girl (adopted, joy of our lives, I’m sure you get it). I don’t mind losing the boob, which is why humor is a GREAT distractor, but I’m terribly fearful the cancer has spread, and I want to stay alive long enough to torment my kid when she is a teen. Besides, I’m fearful of how she’d turn out if only her father raised her. Yikes.
You have a great blog, and I appreciate your writing skills. Thanks for making me smile and laugh at a time when I’ve desperately needed to smile and laugh.
Reading this, how could anyone deny such a request? A 10-year breast cancer survivor? And one who is committed to facing such a frightening proposition with a humorous spirit? I sure couldn’t.
Ever since receiving her letter, I’ve been obsessed with her breasts. Not in the same context as a boob-crazed teenager, but as a writer tasked with writing a post that:
A) Makes people smile; and
B) Doesn’t give rise to an angry mob after broaching such a sensitive topic.
Where I thought I’d have three weeks to come up with something both funny and self-preserving, I received the following note from Terri last night:
My surgeon had a cancellation so I’m having my boob removal one week earlier. I don’t expect a boob-littered post tomorrow, mostly because I wouldn’t be able to read it anyway, being all high on pain meds and all, but also because I’m sure your work, like a fine wine, takes time. If I find out you are spontaneously witty in your writing, I’m going to be intimidated as all get-out!
And this brings us to today, where I sit staring at an empty slate wondering what to write. Wondering where that fine line is and wondering if, despite all my caution, I’d still cross it.
Well, here’s hoping I don’t. But even if some feel I do, understand that my post is rooted in the interest of therapy. For laughter is the best medicine, and even if I only have her as an audience of one, I know she’ll appreciate it. At the very least, I hope it brings a smile, because while words can’t heal in their own right, the reactions they cause just may.
It’s not every day that I can fearlessly tell my wife I’m having a hard time concentrating because I just can’t get a reader’s boobs out of my mind.
Yet there I was, speaking freely to her about Terri’s breasts. I’ve never actually seen Terri’s boobs, and after today, that window will be half shut anyhow, but I really don’t need the pre- or post-op visual to have compassion for what she’s about to go through.
At first, I wondered how the heck I could help considering I don’t have breasts myself, but after reading that men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer, I suppose I technically DO have breasts after all. They’re just woefully unattractive and completely different beasts.
Whereas a woman’s breasts could be metaphorically compared to chicken, turkey, or genetically-modified brontosaurus breasts, if I had to pick an animal that best represented mine, I’d have to choose an emaciated squirrel. Only I have more fur.
Because my breasts aren’t really breasts, at least in the way men would want to ogle them, the world would be oblivious if I had to undergo a mastectomy. Even with my top off, I doubt anyone would notice because I’m not the kind of guy you’d consider a “looker.” I’m more of a “look awayer.” To be honest, after seeing my pasty white skin and sporadic unkempt tufts of man-fuzz sprouting from various appendages, a winking breast plate could only be a visual treat.
But as a woman, it has to be a devastating loss. Especially since everyone from the mainstream media to anyone with a Y chromosome beats it into the woman’s psyche that above brains, breasts matter. From puberty to the grave, breasts can get you noticed. Breasts can get you ahead. Breasts can get you free drinks. If one were to believe the mammary-obsessed, it’s breasts that define you.
Some may disagree with such a superficial assessment, but if this weren’t the near-universal truth, women wouldn’t find it necessary to enlarge their breasts with the cash equivalent of a Cadillac and the size equivalent of its airbags.
To try and get a female’s perspective, I asked my wife how she’d adjust if she were to have a mastectomy. Without a word she gave me an “Are you kidding me” glance and pointed to her fake boobs.
Understand that my wife doesn’t have fake boobs in the way you might think. To put it bluntly, her chest isn’t formed with bags of saline. It’s formed with bags of cotton. If she were to lose a breast, she’d aesthetically be no worse for wear. I suppose it’s just one more thing we have in common. Although her breasts are far less furry.
Heather has always been self-conscious of her breast size regardless of how many times I’ve assured her that I could care less. I don’t need a pair of boobies to be happy. I just need her. Two breasts, one breast, or no breasts, she’s my everything.
The only thing she isn’t, is a floatation device.
One of the happiest days in my wife’s life is when Playtex announced the arrival of their “Almost A” support bra. At least it was until she realized she’d need an “Almost Almost A.” Something that doesn’t exist unless you’re nine.
Because she has the chest measurement of a woman and the cup size of a Capuchin, she’s forced to use an assortment of puffy half-moon pouches and uber-padded bras to wear tops as mannequins intended.
Even though Heather wouldn’t need to make changes with regard to undergarments, it doesn’t mean the loss of a breast wouldn’t be catastrophic for her. Especially since it’d be the result of a far more serious and sinister diagnosis.
Quite obviously, women don’t have mastectomies because they’re enjoyable. They have them because their life depends on it. The unselfish sacrifice they make is as noble as it is necessary, yet for breast cancer survivors and the warriors determined to join them, the knowledge of such a valiant fight does little to quell the emotional toll a mastectomy can have on a person.
It’d be easy to tell Terri that she’s no less of a woman even without her twin boobies, but I know how I’d feel if I had to have a testicle removed due to cancer. While I’m sure I’d put on a brave face and write about how I’d chosen to “enadicate” my cancer and go up one full vocal octave, I know that deep down I’d be rabidly self-conscious after the procedure.
And this is with a post-op visual that no one would even see. Even in the tightest of Speedos.
But with a mastectomy? The post-op disparity would be easily noticed if not for specially formed bras and breast prosthetics.
One of the things I love about Terri is her attitude. She’s more of a “this bra is half full” kind of gal, and you just have to respect that level of optimism.
Sure, she may get half necklaces come Mardi Gras, but at least she’ll be around to revel in the celebration.
Maybe her Laverne will be missing her Shirley, but at least she’ll be around to keep on laughing.
And perhaps she’ll experience some angst when it comes to beachwear, but knowing her, she’ll make a fortune selling Pirate-inspired Uniboob bikinis fashioned after the eye patch.
“Look out fellas! Because here comes Terri modeling her latest design. Fresh from the ‘Lost Yer Matey’ swimsuit collection, this tight-fitting top says, ‘Who needs two when you can make one look so damn good.’”
If my calculations are correct, Terri should now be exiting the anesthesia stupor and entering recovery. While part of me wants to get poetic and tell her how sorry I am that she’s going through all this, I prefer to honor her wishes of “no pity.”
Truth be told, if I was going to pity anyone, it’d be her daughter. Because if you read Terri’s request close enough, you’d see that the motivation behind her decision is partially rooted in the desire to torment her daughter when she’s a teen. As a fellow parent myself, I can think of no greater mission and no better reason to extend our collective thoughts and prayers her way.
Terri, I’m truly hoping for the best and I hope I did ya proud. More importantly, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I wish you strength, health, and a swift recovery.
Now get crackin’ on those swimsuits.
There’s gold in them thar half-hills.