For Love of Our Breasts
I’ve been thinking about women’s breasts a lot recently. Just yesterday I was contemplating what and when I would write about breasts. I love women’s breasts. I am a lesbian and I love breasts; but more personally I loved my own breasts, they were my favorite body part. Then only today I read two different articles about women’s breasts. Both on other writers’ blogs. Both very good articles that I recommend reading.
The first http://www.butchwonders.com/1/post/2013/06/butches-without-boobs.html is an excellent article written by KJ, who discusses getting “top surgery” by women who face that decision for multiple personal reasons.
The second is a magical story by a butch who had a serendipitous encounter with a woman preparing for breast cancer treatment. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tristan-higgins/lesbians-pay-attention-to_b_3374007.html
I was only nine years old when I developed breasts. I will never forget the shame and embarrassment I felt when my mother told me I needed to start wearing a bra. It was the way she told it. She called me over to stand by her chair, then took hold of the sweater top I was wearing and tugged the bottom a few times. “I think it is time you started wearing a bra”, she said. I wanted to die and the shame I felt was familiar. From the time I was 4 my mother decided I needed my food managed for weight control. This was not the first time I felt shamed by my mother about my body. She made it a life project to try to keep me on a diet and prevent me from gaining weight and being fat. Well, guess what? I wasn’t fat, chubby at certain ages, yes, but not fat. However I grew up with the deep seated belief that I was fat, something was wrong with me, and nobody like me because of my “fatness”.
In spite of that, I was fascinated with my new breasts. My teeny younger sister and I were “caught” one day dancing, or bouncing, back and forth in front of a mirror and watching our breasts. My bounced, hers hadn’t started yet. It was my stepfather who “caught” us and I remember feeling humiliated and shamed by the look on his face. I guess I have a lot of breast stories, but they can wait until another time.
Today I am concerned about breast health.
- Mammograms don’t always detect cancer, nor do ultrasounds or doctor’s exams.
- Men get breast cancer, too.
- Breast binding, if not done properly, can be dangerous to ones health.
Usually breast cancer is diagnosed by mammogram, followed by ultrasound. There are now MRIs for clearer pictures of dense breasts.
I have had breast cancer twice. Two different types, one in each breast at 5 years apart, thus they are unrelated to each other and both are primary cancers. The first time, my doctor did the usual manual exam and found nothing. One day, not long after, I was showering and felt a firmness just beneath the outside of my left breast. On closer inspection I discovered the firmness was really there, and it was quite large. I immediately called the doctor, had the mammogram and ultrasound and was told 99% chance of cancer. Then I had a needle biopsy with indefinite results. Then the surgical biopsy, followed by lumpectomy and treatment by chemotherapy and radiation, also naturopathy with herbs and homeopathy, daily Reiki sessions, healthy diet and good self-care. This was an invasive stage 2B ductal cancer. Ductal cancer is the most common.
The second breast cancer was an enigma. This time it was in my right breast. I could feel a small hard bouncy lump about the size of a dried lentil right at the edge of my areola. The doctor could feel it and didn’t think it was cancer. The mammogram did not show it, nor did the ultrasound. The radiologist confirmed the lump by palpation. A surgeon did a biopsy under local anesthesia, and reassured me he got it all and he didn’t know what it was but it didn’t look like cancer. We all waited together for the lab to call with the results. Cancer. I was devastated. For various reasons this time I went to a larger Medical Center and consulted with a breast specialist. She reviewed all my tests and did some further of her own. She tried to do a lumpectomy but could not get clear margins so had to end that surgery so she could consult with me about the next step. I was told the grim details. Lobular cancer. This type grows in steps or streams like pieces of seaweed and branches throughout the breast. My breast was full of it. Lobular cancer usually shows up in both breasts. I was already at high risk. The usual detection methods failed. I was very large breasted with dense breasts. I opted for a bilateral mastectomy. My surgeon had given me all the options and left the decision up to me, as she should. She was relieved when I chose the bilateral mastectomy. I didn’t want to lose, or give up, my breasts but wanted to give myself the best chance for a full recovery and decrease the chances of a metastasis. After the surgery I went on hormonal therapy for 5 years. Both times I was very proactive, did the research, made all my own decisions. I made the best decisions for me, and would do the same if I had to face it all over again. No regrets.
Breast cancer doesn’t have an “all clear” date, as with other cancers a person is considered to be healed or cancer-free if no recurrence after 5 years. With breast cancer a recurrence can occur any time, even up to 20 years. Both times I was stage 2B, both times I had one positive lymph node. The second cancer was 13 years ago and I am still cancer free, and healthier than ever before in my life. Breast cancer is not always a death sentence, by far. But early detection is essential. Self breast exam is the best way to detect changes in ones breasts. Start early, get to know your breasts well, then you will be able to know changes.
Men get breast cancer, too. http://ww2.cancercenter.com/breast-cancer/types/tab/male-breast-cancer/?source=ROOGLPPC&channel=paid%20search&c=paid%20search:Google:National%20Search:Broad:mens+breast+cancer:Broad&OVMTC=Broad&site=&creative=8469476961&OVKEY=mens%20breast%20cancer&url_id=129175947&adpos=1t1&device=c&devicemodel=&gclid=CMTk-rHWzrcCFVKf4AodsWgAfA
Should the above link not work, I found info at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, male breast cancer. This quote is directly from that page “Any man can develop breast cancer, but it is most common among men who are 60 – 70 years of age. About one percent of all breast cancers occur in men. About 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, with about 450 deaths due to male breast cancer occurring each year.”
Breast binding, if not done properly, can endanger one’s health.
I have some personal experience with this as a personal friend has shared with me. She always felt male. Since she was humiliated by her mother at a young age about her chest she hated being female and hated having breasts. Having grown up in the south she was accustomed to playing outside without a shirt when she was a young girl. One day she was working under the hood of a car with male relatives or friends when her mother screamed at her to get in the house and put a shirt on and never go out of the house again without one because “it wasn’t proper for young women” to go without shirts. She was about 9, skinny as a toothpick and flat as a pancake at that time. She was angry and humiliated. From that moment she hated being female. As an adult, she bound her breasts at times; she considered top surgery. She has since come to accept her womanly body and breasts and no longer hides them or wants to get rid of them. Update as of June 11, 2015 – she has an ongoing process and still considers top surgery at times. Since Caitlyn Jenner “came out” I’ve done more research and contemplation on the issue of being a woman and I hope I’ve become more compassionate to my transgender sisters who struggle. I can’t possibly know what it feels like but I care about human suffering – and I believe we all get to decide who we are according to ourselves and with what lifestyle we are most comfortable.
I knew nothing of breast binding so researched it on Google. It is imperative that binders be used properly. It they are too tight or worn too long at a time permanent damage can be done such as nerve damage. If the skin becomes open, or if circulation is blocked or impaired this can lead to infections, even life threatening infections.
I love my butch lesbian friends and have compassion for all women who have breasts that they want to bind or hide, or even remove, for any personal reason at all. If binding is chosen it must be done properly for safety and good health.
I found a lot of info on Google, also @buzzcutbustier I found this link with tips for breast binding. http://buzzcutsandbustiers.com/2012/09/06/our-bodies-our-binders-an-introduction-to-chest-minimizing-magic/
This is not meant to be a scholarly article. Other women’s experiences may be different. I am not an expert. I am sharing my personal knowledge out of concern for others who may face similar situations. If any of the info on this page is helpful to even one person I will be grateful. thank you, Lesbianne Free
photography by BBW, artist Richard Carlson