June 24, 2024

I just Want to Be Me—Boobs Not Included.

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I entered the low-light, windowless room as the breast specialist closed the door.

Taking in the space, I felt my body responding with resistance, silently reflecting, “How did I get here?”

My family didn’t have a history of breast cancer, my breasts were small, I wasn’t overweight, I ate organic, I kept environmental chemicals to a minimum, and I hadn’t had a drink of alcohol since age 33. I don’t even consume caffeine.

My lifestyle made my body feel good, but many, especially my family, misunderstood me. I was always perceived as being a whacko, so shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis, the family joke became, “Don’t follow Jenn’s healthy lifestyle—you will get cancer.”

Humorous? Indeed. Truthful? Maybe…

Not having any risk factors left questions unanswered, although history has to start with someone, and I was that person. For years, I deflected the ongoing remarks from my mom, “When you turn 18, we will get you a boob job.” Which I consistently disputed with, “I don’t want a boob job!”

So today, standing in this sterile room on the anniversary of my breast tissue being scraped entirely off of my chest wall, put into a pile, and shipped off for laboratory testing was ironic. This anniversary of my double mastectomy always began in prayer and gratitude, never taking my life for granted. I am one of the lucky ones. I am alive and experiencing life with my children.

The day already tender with emotion, I was also managing being six weeks post-op from the explantation of my silicone breast implants. Consequently, this breast prosthetic consultation, on my anniversary, rang the bell of all the trauma I had endured over the past five years.

I didn’t have any expectations going into the breast prosthetic meeting; nonetheless, entering the room with the full-length, wall-mounted mirror directly in front of me and seeing the flat and asymmetrical version of myself jolted my emotions.

Whispering to myself, “You are okay,” my eyes continued roaming the room. They landed on the three levels of shelving to the right of the mirror, playing host to many different odd-shaped forms. I wondered, “Are those the prosthetic breasts?” There were all kinds: dark skin, light skin, nipples, nipple-less, size one, two, or three. I swallowed and took a breath, underwhelmed with what I saw: lifeless blobs of foam and silicon staring back at me.

But there was more. On the top shelf, I spotted a bust mannequin with a bright white, wide-strapped bra flaunting imitation silk and a tacky flowered overlay. I could feel the poor taste growing as I noticed the big seam running horizontally across where the nipple was typically, and I blurted out, “I am not wearing that ugly bra; it reminds me of my grandmother’s bra from the 70s that matched her girdle.”

Gently, the sweet young woman helping me said, “We have more bras I can show you.” I thanked her and explained, “This experience is already difficult enough without walking into this room and seeing such an ugly bra on display. It doesn’t make this feel any better.” She responded with all the correct words learned in her practiced role play, “I understand this must be so hard, and I don’t like it, but it is one of our top-selling bras.”

I wanted to tell her to go suck eggs (my mom’s favorite phrase) and inform her that her top-selling bra is trashy, but I pulled myself together. This wasn’t about her. She left the room and returned with six different bras and three varied breast samples. Should I feel lucky that I have the freedom to pick the size and material of what I want my breasts to feel and look like? Well, I don’t feel lucky—not one bit.

I am standing there, touching the different materials of boobs presented and looking down at these bras while holding back the desire to run out the door. I am fighting the thoughts of being open-minded, engulfed with guilt, as this innocent woman is trying to assist and encourage me, and I want to scream into her face. My emotions are rumbling, flip-flopping between not knowing what to say and rambling on about how this implant I placed in my sports bra looks ridiculous. This is followed by a question I already know the answer to, “What will I do when I am scuba diving with my kids, and I get out of the ocean to turn and see my breast floating in the wave because it escaped my swimsuit?” She naively responds, “Don’t worry, we have an athleisure line,” and passes me an oval-shaped bag that reminded me of the bean bags used in the cornhole toss game.

I humored both of us and placed it in my sports bra, turning my breasts to her and asked, sarcastically, “What do you think?” I started laughing out loud again to cover the deep sadness in my heart. I looked like I put a bag of pebbles in my bra; it was jagged and wasn’t fooling any onlooker.

I wanted to howl out the deep grief living inside of me and start throwing all these manufactured things called “breasts” all over the room. I go back and forth from looking at the woman to looking at myself in the mirror. I try another shape and size for good measure.

Then something came over me: my heart opened, and suddenly, clarity and calmness. I stood there holding my right breast, staring at myself, all parts of me, even the beautiful but missing parts not present to the human eye of another. I wanted to cry but didn’t, and the words came out:

“I just want to be me. I can’t do this.”

Was I doing this for me, or was I doing it to make society feel more comfortable in my presence? Breasts are a way of letting everyone around us know, “I am a woman; hear me roar.” Currently, the world of breast implants building the illusion that we are more sexy and more feminine is making thousands of women sick—and many don’t even know it.

Those willing to listen to their bodies dig into research, ask why random symptoms are suddenly coming about, and trust their instincts when the medical professionals debunk their symptoms. This is a real epidemic. Currently, 40,000 women a year are getting their implants removed from a controversial illness called “breast implant illness,” and I, too, suffered from this.

Many doctors aren’t sharing that the FDA has branded breast implants with black box warnings. The black box warnings have to do with two issues: the link between textured implants and an immune system cancer that can develop in the scar tissue capsule that forms around breast implants, and the possibility that breast implants can cause systemic symptoms in patients.

Many women are more concerned with how they look than how they feel, and what these implants are doing to their bodies is low on the priority list. Sex appeal comes at a cost. Give me cleavage and make me feel pretty because it seems society has lost sight of the fact that our imperfections tell our story.

Our imperfections are actually the most perfect part of who we are and how we became the person God intended us to be. I want my story to be all of me, not some of me, and if that is being flat-chested with deformed-looking breasts as a single, 55-year-old woman, then so it must be.

People are most beautiful when they share the most complex parts of their story—when they are vulnerable, relatable, and authentic. So, instead of worrying about how others will interpret my flat chest or when I choose to date, I am fretting about what the man in front of me is thinking about my ta-tas.

On this day of my anniversary,  I walked away without prosthetic breasts but was given the gift of “just being me.” A woman who dares to do the hard things in life and who authentically shows up to share my whole story, which includes the desirable and deficient pieces.

But please be aware, boobs aren’t included.

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