Dear Right Boob,
This is your Dear John letter. I don't think it will come as a shock to you, but I didn't want you to leave without a proper goodbye. You've taken the ability to control my life, out of my hands, so we're doing this one thing, my way, a walk down memory lane through our life together.
Full disclosure, you may not like what you read, because on reflection, you've swung wildly from fun side-kick to being annoying and quite frankly this last wee while, you've been deadly. But you've always been there, except, now in a short while, you won't be and we need to talk about that.
Casting my mind back, you were pretty innocuous until I was 12. That was the year you decided to spring to life. We went from budding to buxom in 3 short years, but more on that shortly. My period arrived in Mrs Bowker's sewing class and along with it came small buds for boobs. Nana and Mum made a fuss of the period starting and I felt like I had joined a new kind of club of femininity.
Soon after, Mum took me shopping at Bendon for my first bra. I skipped the training bra and went straight into an A cup. It was a plain TShirt bra and I had never felt more elated in my life. I wanted to show that bra strap off at every chance I could. Unfortunately there weren't many opportunities.
I can remember keep tabs as my boobs grew and would sometimes stand side ways to the mirror to see them peaking through my school jumper. There was a sense of achievement.
Fast forward three years to being 15 years old, nearly 16. My besties (still my crew today thank-god) and I had versions of the same swimsuit, in one pieces and bikinis and in different colours. They all had ruching on the boobs. We were on summer holiday at the beach, staying with a friend's parents and thinking we were invincible and cute as hell. That's when you decided to make your first public appearance and totally crash the party. This incident has gone down in folk law with my friends and I. Let me paint the picture for you; a bunch of boys we liked were on the beach and my girlfriends and I were frolicking in the waves (actually quite big surf), jumping up and down to stop them bowling us over. Up and down we jumped (you may guess where this is going), until one particularly big wave came and tossed us around and pulled us under. We all spluttered as we came up from the pull. Laughing hilariously at the fun we were having. Well I was. My friends were laughing at the one boob - that's you right boob - that had decided to embrace freedom and make a run for it by slipping out of the tog's cup and was just sitting there for everyone to see. I continued to jump up and down in the waves for a moment, until I looked down and caught the rogue breast having a moment. It was genuinely funny (and mortifying) but perhaps it was a foretelling of what was to come, you always wanted more.
Ages 16 to 32 years were full of people (mostly men, but a few women) telling me I had a great rack and that I was "lucky" to have big boobs. But you were starting to stand out and on one memorable-for-the-wrong reasons, after a night at the pub, a male friend, behind my boyfriend's back, held both of you and "honked them" like a car horn. Because they were there and he felt he could. I was furious of course, but it may have also been my first inkling you were almost 'other' from other boobs. Maybe hindsight gives me that. Regardless, this moment lives rent free in my head.
Then things start to get even more interesting, do you remember?
I'm 32, freshly married and quickly pregnant. I'm about to step into my most important role, as a new mum to our first born. But he's early, I have pre-eclampsia and end up having a Cesarean that was not on my birth plan. That's where you really let us down. You decide that this is NOT your problem and simply refuse to feed him. My darling boy and you can't even bring yourself to help. You literally give me a droplet, where in fact you should have been offering the full tank. You disappointment me so much that I feel like a failure of a mum. I give up trying to breast feed after a couple of months of pathetic night feeds that always have to be supplemented by formula. Don't even get me started on the whole palaver I had to go through to get my baby fed in the hospital with formula. The whole experience leaves me feeling completely depleted and a failure.
Thankfully, you don't really feature much for the next two and a half years, until I give birth to our second gorgeous son and surprisingly, you decide to show up with milk. Albeit, with a lot of coaxing and coaching, two breast pumps and Domperidone - the champagne drug - that encourages milk flow (and wouldn't you know it, stops nausea during chemo, how poetic). Together we coax milk out of you so successfully, I even have enough to pop some in the freezer from time to time. Hallelujah! I notice for the first time after losing a lot of baby weight that you don't really lose your size. I'm in my mid thirties, I don't mind.
I learn to style myself around you, often showing off my assets with cleavage. Wearing V necks and calling you my best feature, my assets.
We have a wee scare with your boob bestie on the left, sometime in my late 30's with a lot of breast pain, but nothing sinister is found. All is well and I am now on the register to have annual mammograms, which I dutifully do.
Then a funny thing happens on the way to midlife, a rogue Ovarian Cyst torts around my left ovary and fallopian tube and causes some painful havoc that requires emergency surgery and the loss of said fallopian tube and ovary. The fallout from that is kinda nuclear, but in a nutshell it brings on early onset menopause at 43. That's when you start to really shine and not in a good way, more like the shine you don't want on your makeup.
Over the next few years, I notice that you get bigger and bigger and are actually much larger than your left hand breastie (do you like what I did there?). I start going up cup sizes and feel like I don't really know you, in fact you're outta control. Menopause makes you crazy, I get it, me too. HRT is great and all, but it don't do nothing about your size.
You play havoc from time to time with neck pain, tight shoulders and back pain. It occurs to me a few years ago that I might consider a breast reduction. I go so far as to see a specialist about it, but don't action it, it's not a priority.
Fast forward to 2021. Auckland is in the clutches of our longest lockdown and I discover I love getting strong with an online PT training camp. I feel the strongest I have in years, fuck menopause and midlife, I see an ab! Woo-fucking-hoo!
That's when you decide to make your presence felt again. In an ominous, insidious way. Honestly though, when I first learn what you've done, I'm most pissed off that the imminent treatment and surgery will stop me from lifting weights and boxing. Then the truth sinks in.
So there we are, on November 17 rocking up to my annual mammogram (a few months delayed due to lockdown), with a to do list the size of my arm and excited to see my first in-person clients the next day. But that's where life as I knew it stopped in it's tracked and everything became about you. What a narcissist you are.
"We found a mass", "we need more imaging", "let's get you into ultrasound", I'm sorry we're concerned", "you'll need a biopsy"
In quick succession my life became about dates, specialists, trying to avoid covid and compartmentalising my life, based on the next appointment.
I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer - Hormone Positive, high grade invasive ductal carcinoma-in-situ in the right breast (that's you right boob) on November 24th. The tumour was far back against the chest wall and wouldn't have been found by self-exam. An operation before Christmas would be required, to remove the tumour, further surgery and treatment likely, to be determined post Christmas.
On December 10th I had a Hook-wire partial mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy, where the tumour was taken out and we could breathe a bit over summer. There was no spread into the lymph nodes, but further testing confirmed that a full right mastectomy would be required due to the amount of DCIS riddled throughout the breast. You see Right Boob, you are a ticking time-bomb of potential cancer cells.
On January 11th after a slow start to the year, we meet with my Oncologist who confirms that the very expensive Mammoprint test (I am going to be forever grateful that we have private health insurance), that was done on the tumour following the surgery, has revealed that I have a high chance of recurrence and will need chemotherapy. It's a massive blow and rocks me almost as much as finding out I have cancer. You're really milking this Right Boob.
On February 8th I start chemo. I have six infusions over 18 weeks. It's a shit as you think it might be but not as bad as your nightmares. I work throughout chemo, having chemo week off and doing what I can during the in-between weeks. I also have an amazing oncologist who has a solution for all my side effects. I grin and bear it for 4 straight months. Chemo takes my hair quickly. It's gutting.
In April we find out that I have no genetic mutations and this means I won't need a double mastectomy. I tick this moment off a list of things I think about daily.
On May 24th I finished chemo. It feels like I should be having a party but the body is not up for that. Neither is the risk of catching Covid. I come home that day to a lovely home-made poster, a present from my mum and go to bed at 7pm. Party central.
And now we're here, it's early June and I'm writing this letter to you, two weeks out from having you cut off and do you know what, I don't whether I'm ready to let you go, even after all the shitty things you've done. I have to say that the blues have got me. I haven't spent time with my friends in so long, I have been keeping myself safe from Covid for so long and am now wearing a mask around home to protect myself even further from my family. I am tired, sad, scared and empty of much else and then there's you.
I'm bereft, awash in emotions and so very unsure of how I walk in this world without you. Breasts are such a symbol of femininity and I'm losing one of you. Of course we will have a reconstruction and perhaps end up with a smaller chest size one day and symmetrical boobs too. But I've been told that this doesn't happen with the Mastectomy surgery as I'd hoped. This coming surgery is about removing you and reconstructing you-2.0 from my stomach. It sounds fun but I don't feel any glee. I've deflected my hurt by saying what fun it will be, a new me by 48! It's all bluster. Autonomy of my body and life is out of my hands and I'm now now at the mercy of the incredible surgeons who will operate on me and my bodies ability to accept the new tissue and thrive. I'm learning the hard way that Cancer treatment is a varied and stepped process. Not one person I know currently with Breast Cancer, nor those who have gone before me, as had the same treatment plan. That's something I didn't know when I was diagnosed, just how different every person's diagnosis is. I'm learning that outcomes are slow to achieve and I'm in this for the long haul now, without you. There is another reconstructive/restorative third surgery due at the end of the year, I am almost hellbent on this cancer 'journey' being over in 2022. There is no happiness that I will ultimately have a "boob job" and a flatter tummy after all of this. There is just a whole lot of huge feelings and wondering where to put all the emotion.
I just realised what this is. You’re my toxic relationship aren’t you? My husband's great, so you decided she has to have a toxic ex, so you're it I guess.
I don't really know how to end this letter to you.
Except this. Please take with you every last drop of cancer cells and please, stay gone. We're done.