In 2013, on Good Friday, I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Presumably so named because you don’t, don’t, don’t want to get it. There is no known cause; there is no known cure. They only told me to get my “affairs in order” like I was in a 1940’s black and white noir movie. My best girlfriend had come with me. They said, “You don’t have any time, we have to start treatment immediately.”
My relationship with my breasts goes way back. I once tried to nurse newborn pups because I watched the mama dog in our yard and wanted to help. I was 5. Men seemed to like to nurse them during sex. Later my children subsisted on their miraculous bounty for the first years of their young lives, and I was in awe when I learned their real purpose.
My breasts also embarrassed me. They were pointy, not round, and they bounced too much. It was like having a buoy tied to a marine line dangling from my neck. Out of control in the shipping channel of public eyes.
I thought them silly, like the term boobs. It’s what you call a dummy. So why would something called boobs hanging around my neck inspire admiration from me or anyone else? Well, they didn’t. And men, who admired my mind and work and accomplishments, would slyly make fun of them.
Other people’s boobs seemed lovely. They were either round, or flat, or perky, or ginormous. They were quite feminine. Even mine, through the embarrassment, seemed a little feminine. But the French had flatter, more spread out mammalians; LaPerla bras fit them. My breasts looked more German and perkier. Did that mean I had German in me? Damn, I was supposed to be French. And my boobs protruded, pointedly, and could not, would not be hidden.
As a model in Paris, I strapped them down with gauze or ace bandages. But then, that made my hips look enormous. I was like a sausage, flatten one section, and you’ve got bulging in the other. Designers hated my body. Gay dressers where aghast and would scream, “Do something with those!” Why did I even have them? I hated them and regarded them as traitorous boobs.
So not surprisingly, they decided to take a hint, and leave. Well, at least one. And one decided to stick it out on this human coat hanger made so frail by chemo and radiation. A single mastectomy. Was that enough? Had I suffered enough?
When you hate something, over a very long time, maybe it senses your animosity. Perhaps it resents the hatred back. It knows men used them, and then you turned against each, these separate blobs of fat. But you feel it was they who sold you out, right? Maybe your intelligence, honor, chastity, or proud self. Sold for a price. Men who brushed against, grabbed or wanted to possess you, only to hurt you later. All for the love of a fondle.
My breasts had overseen a war from within the moment they appeared. Breasts are divine expressions of biological evolution, in many different shapes. They feed and revel in their sexuality. Their mere existence can provoke an attack or the drooling of an infant. They smell of milk and womanhood and perfume and lust. They are your girls.
Long after you’ve come to accept and even love them, you might lose them. Or one. In my case, it was the special one, the right one, that produced the most milk. And it’s ridiculous pointy shape is markedly different now, as it houses a fluff of silicone pack, or whatever doctors deemed safe to make little pillows of as replacement parts on chests. The drooping lovely soft fluffy luxuriously weighty feel of them is different now.
As I was going under, I told the doctor, “Save the nipple!” The nurse said, “Let me get your surgeon.” The doctor, a tiny perfect woman, stood on a step to reach me, all serious with the unhappy task she faced, and said, “Ms. Mayeux, we’re going to do whatever we have to do to save your life. That’s the most important thing. I cannot promise you can keep the nipple on; it’s too dangerous.” I lifted my fist like a Black Panther and said, “Doc, just save the damn nipple.” And then I went under.
And when I awoke, in a fog of ice and pain meds, the first thing the nurse said gleefully was, “We saved your nipple!” Funny, it didn’t matter then. I was never going to be the same anyway.
I feel them often now, just to acknowledge their existence. I rub them unconsciously even in restaurants. Like men adjust their packages on a football field, with millions watching, I fondle my breasts. They are my beloved package now. For as long as I can keep them, I can touch them anytime I wish.
I wish more women touched their breasts in public. Not to torture men, but if it does, that’s okay. I want to pay homage to their years of duty and beauty, service, purpose and promise. Women should love themselves and their breasts more. I’d kiss them if I could.
Featured image: Annique Delphine Instagram.