My Mom was just about the age that I am now the first time she had breast cancer. She had to have had the lump for some time before she finally decided to go to a doctor about it. I suppose she hoped that it would go away if she left it alone. Things might have turned out differently if she’d had some of the information available to women today along with the breast screening programs now in place to help with early detection. As it was, she went straight from the Doctor’s office to the hospital where she was hurriedly admitted. Less than 48 hours later she woke from anesthetic having had a radical mastectomy.
I won’t say she had an easy time of it. She did raise an eyebrow or two on the hospital ward when she declared that she was as good with one boob as she’d ever been with two. Cancer terrified her and she was so relieved to have it gone that her breast seemed a small price to pay. She did not grieve its loss though it would have been understandable if she had. The Doctors recommended a whole series of radiation treatments and there were very few side effects apart from a lingering shadow of fear that the cancer would return one day. It tended to creep to the surface every time she had to go for a checkup.
Her wacky sense of humor tipped the scales in her favor over the years that followed. Laughter seemed to give her strength. In time she recovered enough from that initial surgery to be measured and fitted for a prosthesis that could be worn in a specially made bra. She was as delighted with her new “falsie” as a child on Christmas morning. The first time she tried it on she stood before the mirror in her room examining herself critically from every angle.
“You can’t even tell the difference,” she announced as she peered closely at her reflection. She gave herself a little jiggle to see how it moved and then tried a couple of quick hops. She grinned in satisfaction and came out to show off her newly restored figure to the rest of the family.
“I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell which one was which if you didn’t know,” she insisted.
In fact, much to our embarrassment, she was not averse to issuing that very challenge to anyone who asked about her surgery in the weeks that followed. More than one person would end up giving a red faced shrug before conceding that they really couldn’t tell which of her breasts was in reality a fake.
One poor fellow nearly choked on his coffee at dinner when she blithely asserted to the table at large that “It actually feels real.”
He wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly but her next words confirmed it. “Go ahead and give it a poke,” she offered with an earnest smile and a nod in his direction.
He hastily swiped a dribble of coffee from his chin and, darting a quick look in my Dad’s direction, shook his head vigorously.
“Why not?” she asked. “It’s not me you’ll be touching you know. I don’t mind.”
He glanced at his wife and then back at my Dad but got no help from either of them. They just sat there grinning at his discomfiture. Finally he reached out a tentative finger and gave the proffered breast a gentle prod.
“Not that one,” Mom snapped in tones of righteous indignation.
He jerked his hand away nearly toppling his chair in the process while my Mom broke into peals of laughter. The whole table was in an uproar.
“I’m just kidding,” she gasped. “I told you it feels real!”
“I guess you got me there,” he admitted with a grin of his own as he struggled to regain his composure.
Mom lived another twenty years. Eventually she lost her remaining breast…again to cancer. Her response was not unexpected.
“Well,” she shrugged. “Now I won’t need to bother with a bra at all. I never liked them anyway.”
There’s always a bright side if you’re willing to look for it.