Friday, October 1, 2010

My Life with Boobs

by: Hungry Dog Heaven

I've spent more than a decade submerged in the politics and practices of Public Health. I’m comfortable talking about bodies, health disparities and statistics. But…I do this work because it's personal. So today, the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am blogging about my boobs – perhaps the most personal blog I could write.


In the familiar tradition of family folklore, there’s a story that’s been passed down that tells the tale of yours truly, at the young age of six, insisting that my maternal grandparents take me to get a bra because I needed one for school. The reality is that now, even at the age of (almost) thirty-four, I could probably survive just fine without a bra and in fact, my biggest reason for wearing one is to take advantage of the miracle Victoria puts in her outrageous little numbers. ;)

But, also when I was six, my paternal grandmother was confronted with the reality of her breasts. The reality that, despite having seen the doctor many times, her cancer had gone undetected until it had spread and required aggressive chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. While I was pining away for a pink, frilly, little training bra, my grandmother was coming to terms that her new bras would be lead-heavy prosthetic-filled contraptions that bore emotional and physical reminders of the loss of her own breasts.

For eight years, my grandmother battled against the disease that took her breasts. During that time, it also took her hair. And her strength. And her ability to travel like she loved to. And eventually, it took her life.

Another eight years passed before cancer invaded my world. This time, it was my mom. My best friend. The woman I called when I was scared, angry, heart broken and confused. The woman who answered the phone when I had good news to share and made my favorite dinners when I came home from college. I wish I could say that I remember all of the details, but I don’t. In fact, I remember very little. It’s a coping mechanism.

I took a semester off from school and drove down to South Jersey to accompany my mom to a couple chemo treatments. I remember that we watched General Hospital on the TV in the sterile treatment room. I brought us lunch from Wawa and picked up a few magazines. She lost her hair – her hair that had been so beautifully straight and thick was turned to patches of peach fuzz covered by chic, stylish wigs.

A few months into her treatments, I remember visiting her in the hospital, rather than a treatment room. Her immune system had been depleted by the aggressive chemicals she was receiving to fight the battle against the enemy inside. The very drugs intended to save her life were taking a tremendous toll. She lay, more defeated by the chemo than the cancer, in a stark isolation room unable to enjoy the warmth of my hand or the caress of my kiss on her cheek. I visited her in this room for many weeks and feared that every visit would be the last. She confided in me that, if she were to be diagnosed with cancer again, she would not choose to endure the pain of treatment again.

Thankfully, she eventually left the hospital and returned home and tried to piece together a familiar life under new realities. The reality of gray, curly hair where shiny, straight hair once grew. The reality of emotional/mental/spiritual wounds that would take a lifetime to heal. The reality of the physical scars that serve as daily reminders of her courageous journey.

I don’t clearly remember the first time I saw the scar from her mastectomy, but even now, thirteen years later, I can recall the image in my mind’s eye. An uneven line of scar tissue and concave flesh where a breast used to be. An uninvited battle wound from a victorious war. Unlike my grandmother, she seems to have beaten this thing. For now. That’s the thing about cancer - you can never really rest assured that the war is over. The fear of the enemy lurking in the dark shadows of cells and tissue is always there - the impact of her isolation-room-confession weighing heavily, even as we celebrate over a decade of "life after cancer".

I know many of us dream of a cure for breast cancer. I do, too. But, I also dream of finding the cause of breast cancer, because finding a cause means less physical and emotional scars, less fear and more smiles. Because, selfishly, finding a cause means that someone like ME might not have to fight the same war so many before me have fought. Finding a cause means there is the chance that cancer might elude me and never make me confront the fear of leaving my child and husband behind.

For this reason, I have joined the Army of Women (AOW) – a non-profit breast cancer research organization which provides an opportunity for men and women to take part in breast cancer research studies aimed at determining the causes of breast cancer – and how to prevent it. The AOW is a groundbreaking initiative that connects breast cancer researchers, via the internet, with people who are willing to participate in a wide variety of research studies. The goal of the Army of Women is to recruit ONE MILLION MEN AND WOMEN of all ages and ethnicities, including breast cancer survivors and those who have never had breast cancer.

So, with Breast Cancer Awareness Month upon us, I ask that you help my dream become a reality. Sign-up for the Army of Women. There is no cost to join and the AOW is not asking for donations, just for volunteers who agree to receive information about a variety of breast-cancer research studies.

Be one in a million to find the cause of breast cancer and help us get closer to reducing the number of millions impacted by breast cancer.

To sign-up:



  1. I am very glad your mom is still with us and hopefully, you never have to go through this process, but if you do remember I will be there for you. You are on the right path of educating others about the need to stop breast cancer and its affects on the whole family. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Thank you for sharing... As I have lost one Aunt to Breast Cancer and am now trying to cope with the daily affects of another aunt having cancer (liver, kidneys & brain) - your strength helps me. As I always have, I admire your stength and courage. Have a blessed day.

  3. Thanks this poignant post! As someone who lost her mom to this disease, I agree that finding the whys is incredibly important.

  4. I wanted to thank you, for not only taking part in this, but for dedicating your time in making the world a better one. I have never met someone so dedicated and concerned about the problems that exist today in our society. You are someone who i truly feel has changed many lives, mine being one of them. You are an inspiration to many and i hope you continue on the work you do, because it is truly amazing.

  5. Patricia, I read this with tears in my eyes, thinking about the day I made that comment to you. I know now I wasn't thinking clearly and I would go through it all again just to have more time with you, and our family. Breast cnacer has come along way in the thirteen years since I had it, and I am confident that there will be a cure, and maybe even the break through to find the cause. I wish for you that this does happen very soon, so that you and others don't have to go through what I did. If it wasn't for the love of family and your support I don't what I would have done.

  6. Seriously made me cry. I always knew your mom would beat it, she's always been a strong woman.

  7. Hi Patricia,

    Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts. My grandmother died of breast cancer unfortunately..because of that I have alwyas had my breasts checked since I was 30 even though they say wait until your 40...and so far no one else in my family has had this experience with breast cancer...thank god.... I often wonder also what is the cause and would like to join this group...thank you for always sharing..continue to do so .. you always inspire me to be a part of change! Thank you


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