My daughter is getting married in July so I was out shopping for a mother-of-the-bride dress last weekend.
Beyond a calculated effort to conceal my middle-age spread, I had to find a dress that would camouflage my missing right breast, the one I lost to cancer two years ago. I surprised myself by settling on a royal blue chiffon with a V neckline, cut high enough to reveal the slight swell of the left breast and yet still conceal the void on the right a tricky tailoring task.
Angelina Jolie's announcement about her double mastectomy made the papers the next day. Needless to say, it caught my attention.
My first reaction was sadness, then admiration. I think Jolie's decision to go public with her surgery has kicked off a healthy discussion. That a woman so beautiful, a woman whose body is a global sex symbol, can tell other young women that losing her breasts has not diminished her femininity is powerful.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, my sister-in-law advised me to do what Jolie did, have both breasts removed, the healthy along with the diseased one. "Let's face it," she joked, "they aren't getting that much action anyway, not at our age." She was right about that. I will be eligible for Medicare in October.
But unlike Jolie, there was no history of cancer in my family. The risk of the second breast developing cancer was low. My doctors did not encourage me to have the left breast removed, and I had an abhorrence of cutting off healthy body parts. Tired of doctors and hospitals, and chemotherapy and radiation, and unlike Jolie, never having been a global sex symbol, I didn't seriously consider reconstructive surgery either. I just stuck a prosthetic device in the pocket of the special bras made for women with missing breasts and moved on with my life.
My recent shopping spree and the Jolie news has me focusing on my breasts again, and on cancer. I'm grateful that for me cancer struck late in life, that I still had cleavage in my courting years, that I was able to breast-feed my daughter and that I had a supportive husband who loved me unconditionally, with or without breasts.
Most of all I am grateful to be alive. The loss of the breast, the missing cleavage, is not nearly as important as the fact that I will attend my daughter's wedding and, God willing, may someday hold my grandchildren.