I called Nina yesterday. I wanted to hear her voice, and for her to feel my love. I wanted to offer strength for this journey that she is on; one that I have no experience with. She started the conversation with how busy she was. What keeps you busy the day before your breast is cut off? Paper work. Paper work for the insurance, prepping meals for herself that will be easy to warm up. Fear?
Don't worry about me, she said. I'll be all right. You don't need to reassure me, I said. You don't have to be strong for me. The absurdity of her natural impulse to placate me...
Draw strength from us - so many who love you, I said. I wanted to say more...how much she is treasured, that she is a warrior woman beyond reason. But, I didn't. I wish I had. What do you say to someone who is going to have her breast sliced off? That it will be all right? After a few minutes she broke down...I'm just trying to keep it all together, she said. I can imagine...I said. But, I can't...
Every day I sling my two breasts into a bra and go on about my business. Occasionally I admire my breasts. I like them. I always have. I remember the wonder when they began to grow, the first time they were touched by another person, and breast feeding my daughter with them. When my children hug me, they like to linger there...faces tucked into the softness they can feel through my clothes.
What's it like to have huge breasts? my son asked the other day. Everything is relative to a 9 year old boy...
I don't know. It feels nice, I guess, I said...skirting the issue.
But, what's it feel like? he asked again. With them just...sticking out?
They're just part of me, I said. I've had them for a long time.
My friend has resisted having her breast removed. She's fought hard to save it. Pure foods, supplements, chemo, radiation, and additional treatment in the Bahamas. Everywhere she goes she makes friends, and embraces adventure. Because, she is who she is - fun loving and lively, small, with a quick smile and rollicking laugh. A huge heart. I see her in my mind with braids - then and now, because she can get away with it. She's still cute at 51. Adorable. Lovable. The first one to reach out when a friend has fallen on hard times. Or hiding. That makes me smile. She's gifted at that, our Nina, knowing when a friend needs to be found and brought back into the circle of friendships formed in childhood.
She has fought it, until she can't. The pain is so unbearable that she is doped up on pain killers -yet, clearly sober with the realization that she will wake up this afternoon with one breast short. A blessing to be rid of a breast so riddled with cancer tumors that they had started emerging from her breast tissue, a malicious, bloody ooze saying FUCK YOU, I've got you!
Yes, I've got rage against the cancer machine. I haven't heard her rage, but I've got mine...Bloody, fucking cancer. Why her? Why anyone? Why...are you here? I feel so helpless.
For years she has held music concerts in her home - welcoming anyone with an instrument or a voice who wants to help fill a room with melody. Music that is so much a part of her being that she has written a song about having a mastectomy. Perhaps it can help other women who have to go through this, she said... Oh, my warrior woman friend. I stand in awe of your grace.
I am reminded by the clock that she is now out of surgery. My friend who chose a mastectomy, because there was no other choice. Except to die. Of course it was the right choice. The only one. Yet, that doesn't make it easy. Our breasts are not just body parts. They don't "make us women", but...they do define us in a way that sets us apart. Our breasts hold memories within the tissue: our first buds, our first bras, our first... We love them, take them for granted, curse them, and carelessly examine them, not believing that cancer will slither its way through our tissue, cell by cell. Until it does...
What happens when you say good-bye to your breast? I don't know...I have mine.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.