September 19, 2014 12:01pm Bilateral???

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I was swimming in the ocean yesterday and felt someone watching me. “Good,” I thought, “I’m glad someone sees me swimming. Glad someone knows I’m out here. Glad that a man still notices me.”

And I wonder, what it will be like to navigate a breast-centric world without breasts. I was so certain in the beginning, that I wanted a bilateral mastectomy. Having assisted my mother with hers at 84 years, I was sure I could not go through that. So I answered with clarity when they asked, “Yes, take both.” Never thinking I might waver. Never wondering until I met with my surgeon and he started talking about the possibility of taking healthy nodes with the resection. Then the doubts crowded in.

Folks marveled, “You’ll have to have what my friend had, she had a tummy tuck and they took the fat and used it to make her boobs.” “You’re too young, too beautiful not to have reconstruction, Julia.” “Who’s doing the remake?” And on and on go the questions about reconstruction until I’m glad that I can’t have it for one or two years. I start to doubt my certainty that flat is beautiful and wonder if I will change my mind.

I remember the first time an old man made a pass at me. I think it was more to impress his buddies at the voter registration table. I don’t think it had much to do with me, but it made a big impression nevertheless. I was probably 47 at the time, still considering myself beautiful and young. Not possible for an seventy plus year old to wink, tell me a joke and then lovingly place a hand on my shoulder or back. His joke was awful so I can’t tell you because I don’t remember. But what I do remember as I walked away was, “Oh MY! that old man was flirting with me.” And the shock of it left me reeling. I had passed from one generation to another in those brief seconds and wondered.



I found that after menopause men found a way to speak to me, be close to me and converse. I had often wondered at the many paintings created by the Masters, hanging on the walls of museums and churches in Europe. The older women with three rolls of belly hanging while they reclined resplendent, surrounded by images of love, lust and ripe fruit. Hmmmm, I pondered, perhaps the lack of fertility is liberating, seductive in it’s own way. And the flirting and posturing continued as I paid little heed.



But as I observed the man on the beach watching me jump waves and slide in and out of the surf, I thought about life after October 7th, after a bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction.

“Grandaddy, why do girls have those big things on their chests?” a six year old asked. “Oh,” he pronounced, “those are breasts and they are for feeding babies.” “What happens after the baby is finished feeding? Are they just for decoration?” And the grandfather of course roared and repeated the joke to everyone he knew. He was a friend of mine, a child psychologist and behaviorist, we ran the Treatment Center together. Even then, twenty years before this malady struck and I consider life without breasts, I thought this amazing. What genetic response, what nurturing moment led this small boy to know his attraction, his lifelong instinctive over-focused reaction to breasts? I was amazed at his intuition and his curiosity.

So now as I skim over the waves, watching the fisherman watch me, I wonder what life will be like without these moments of appreciation. Wonder if after two years I will succumb to the knife and redecorate myself or if flat will be the new Julia and that will be sufficient.

boxedPIXThis column is dedicated to the many brave women who sleep while surgeons, mostly male, draw a line around their cancers and then cut and cut and cut away in hopes that they may live. Seeking our own garden of Eden, health where now there is none. That’s all we really hope for isn’t it, when we make this decision, unilateral or bilateral? And it’s all our families hope for too. Disappointment inevitably coming to the little boys who look at women’s chest for decoration or nourishment they find is not there for them anymore.


  1. There was no question for me. Lose the boobs – I want to grab onto life with all I had. I wanted to be there for my girls and my yet to be born grandkids. I had so much left in life to grab onto to worry about whether I had original boobs or not. Now they are an ostacle to living in my future. I can buy new ones that help my clothes fit better. They don’t look like the ones I had, but they had served me well and now were threatening my future. Good riddence – i choose my future and all that ir holds. All my scars anddifferences jusr showy strength in surviving and coming out on top. I am a SURVIVOR!! I have over come and have realized that what is important about me has nothing to do with the odd look of my new boobs. They are uniquely mine -a part of my story representing the strength that brought me through – that I didn’t know I had in me until I needed it to survive.


  2. Blessings to those two healing years, in which time the answer will come to you regarding reconstruction. I know you know that this is the most personal of decisions, a decision that all the busybodies in the world can’t help you make. It took my aunt almost 10 years to decide that she wanted reconstruction. I wasn’t privvy to the whys, only the jokes and laughter with which she and her husband approached every stage of that, to them, very bizarre series of events that gave my aunt breasts again. I’m sure others approach reconstruction with much more solemnity, but laughter was their way. As you know, others wear their battle scars as just that, and take solace from these physical signs that they won the battle. Prayers are with you every day, and my invisible hand will grasp yours on October 7.


  3. Julia,
    I cannot imagine all that you have been through in this process, all that you have experienced on this challenging journey. It was only recently I came to understand the extent and ramifications of your cancer. My sister is (approximately) a 10 year survivor. When I heard you had breast cancer I mistakenly envisioned a parallel experience. She did not have to experience the trauma of surgery. With us not having been a part of each other’s lives for some time now, I guess I just filed this away somewhere in the back of my mind and went on with my life. We know when looking back it is for the things we did not do that we regret the most. While other than offering support, I realize there is not much else I likely could have done. Yet, oh how I regret not reaching out just to let you know how much I care. So I take this opportunity now to reach out, tell you I care, and let you know I am here. You are blessed to have the family and support system you do.

    You will get through this and I know that with your sharing/writings, many will benefit from your strength. I am confident you touch many with all that you share, and I admire you for your willingness to do so. Through thought provoking words, more nourishment is provided than we ever realize. We are more than any body part, and I know you will make and accept the decision that is right for you.
    With love, always ….


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