Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What Are Breasts For?

As October winds down and we prepare for Halloween celebrations tonight, I thought I'd share some final thoughts on the month. And on breasts in particular.


The librarian at Quinn's school is a friend. She was his music teacher in preschool, and now I see her when I'm volunteering as garden mom or at PTA meetings. All of which to say that we're Facebook friends, as well as real-life friends, and we often get fired up about similar things. Yesterday a few weeks ago (because I'm spending all my energy right now on growing a human and also a remodel project to add a nursery so these unfinished posts get stuck here for a month), I saw a post on my friend the librarian's Facebook page regarding a book.

The book seems to be about talking to boys about puberty and other coming-of-age concerns. Another mom had seen this, was rightfully pissed, and was asking whether our librarian knew anything about this series or why the editors had been such dolts (I'm paraphrasing).

Here is a screenshot.
First - girls have breasts to make milk for babies? No. Women do. Girls shouldn't be having babies, and we shouldn't perpetuate that notion in a book aimed at BOYS. But that is hardly the only thing that makes this page offensive. The second reason for girls having breasts, according to Alex Frith for this Usbourne series, is "to make the girl look grown-up and attractive," and virtually all breasts can do this. 

Hold on while I pick the keyboard keys off my forehead. 

Am I the only one offended? Is it because my real breasts have been gone for nearly six years now? DO I NO LONGER LOOK GROWN-UP?!

I've been thinking so much about my breasts this month. Not only because it's October and WE ARE ALL AWARE OF BREAST CANCER ALREADY, but also because I'm going to have a baby sometime in the next few weeks. Side note: both Pinktober and this remodel have seemed to drag on FOREVER, which is weird because at the very same time, this pregnancy has zipped by in what seems like an instant. 

When Quinn was born, I breastfed from the start, right up until I had to begin chemo a few days before he was six months old. I loved that bonding time with my baby boy, his little face turned up to mine as he slurped and suckled. I was lucky. Nursing didn't hurt. My nipples weren't cracked or sore. I craved Blue Moon and was thirsty all the time, but nursing was relatively easy for me. It's part of why I knew it was bullshit when my doctor told me the lump in my right breast was mastitis. 

I was in awe of my body and what it was able to accomplish. I GREW a human! And then made food for him for HALF A YEAR! It blows my mind what women can do. 

And again, I'm growing a human! I have the fatigue and tell-tale waddle and peeing my pants every time I sneeze to prove it. 

But my breasts aren't tender as they prepare to feed my baby this time around. I no longer have nipples. Even my doctor occasionally forgets and asks me about breastfeeding, but short of me regrowing a boob like a lizard regrows its tail, nursing from my fake boobs is not going to happen.

I have heard that there is a possibility some milk will still come in in the days after I give birth, and I might have painful lumps in my armpits where a few milk ducts may remain. If that happens, I'm tempted to ask for more surgical drains to be placed -- like I had after my mastectomy -- to collect some of that liquid gold. Brilliant, right? I am also so grateful I was forewarned. That would be one terrifying surprise to wake up to, a whole bunch of painful lumps in my armpits after five years of thinking I was going to die of cancer.

I've had some wonderfully generous women step forward to offer me their extra breast milk, and the hospital has assured me our baby will have breast milk while we're at the hospital. Also, while I know "breast is best" when it comes to feeding newborns, plenty of babies do just fine on formula. Still, it saddens me to my core that I won't be able to feed this baby girl the way I was able to feed Quinn. 

On the other hand: no excuses, Chris. Those middle-of-the-night wake-ups are FAIR GAME for both of us. Mama just might get some sleep this time around. 


Beyond my own breasts, October has been full of the usual tired pink crap, though I have a lot of adorable pink stuff coming into my life right now so I can't totally hate on the color itself.

Yesterday, my dad sent me an article about the frivolity of the pink culture that emerges every October, even as it is meant to say to us with or beyond breast cancer that we are celebrated and supported. The whole article is worth reading, but two lines in particular struck me:

"The association of femininity and breast cancer is pernicious, because it genders the disease, meaning that a diagnosis of breast cancer marks patients as women first, people second. It implies that our womanliness is diseased, not our bodies."

Like the article's author, I didn't initially associate my diagnosis and the ensuing surgeries (and chemically-induced menopause, and hair loss, and days on the toilet post-chemo, et cetera, et cetera...) with a loss of my womanhood, though as time went on, there were certainly periods when I felt less than feminine. Instead, like most people facing CANCER, I was worried about my life. Thinking I was metastatic for years didn't help, since stage 4 is the only stage of the disease that kills.

Being surrounded by the color of Barbie dolls and bubble gum doesn't feel helpful. I am so thankful for black, purple, and orange today. And chocolate.

As you all know, I have lost a LOT of dear friends to breast cancer. Chris lost his dad to pancreatic cancer. My dear friend and fierce advocate Beth is nearing the end of her life now, which is devastating our MBC community and ripping a hole in her young family.

This, I think, is the biggest rub when it comes to Pinktober: it's not about our breasts.

They might be fun for a bit or serve a very special purpose for moms who are able to nurse when they're healthy, but when our lives are on the line (and they are -- 113 American women STILL die of breast cancer every damn day), our breasts are the last thing we're worrying about. And they definitely aren't what defines us as women -- healthy or not.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Reclaiming October

In case you missed it, October is right around the corner is here. (One of these days, I may sit down and write a whole post at once, but that day is not today.) It's even feeling like fall (i.e., below 100 degrees) here in Phoenix. Break out the freaking Uggs and pumpkin spice lattes already.

September has been was a whirlwind, though luckily in Arizona, not a hurricane. Please go click that link to help if you can.

Over Labor Day weekend, I went to Spokane to celebrate my grandmother turning 80; I had a birthday, too; I walked more than I probably should have at 7 months pregnant in another Avon 39 walk; my mom and a few dear friends flew in from out of town while some phenomenal women here threw me a baby shower, where I realized just how much PINK is about to come into my life, whether I'm ready for it or not; and I'm still managing a remodel so we have a place to put this little child when she arrives in the world. Since windows and floors are on backorder until mid-October, my god I hope she doesn't come early.

My dad, me, my 80-year-old grandma, and my "little" brother. Life goals now include living until I'm 80, and looking half this good doing it.
Team Booby & the Beast 2017.
We've raised a lot of money.
These women spoiled me rotten and my heart is so full.
My stunning mama & me. We felt all the emotions.
So when I say October kind of snuck up on me, it's because I've been really, really distracted loved and celebrated over here. I've missed you guys, but at the end of the day, I can barely keep my eyes open to catch up on what madness our Tweeter-in-Chief has been up to, let alone put thoughts together here.

But with October I feel an extra responsibility to speak up. My friend Beth is struggling to keep her platelets high enough for whole brain radiation every day so she can have a bit more time with her two kids and her husband, J. Knowing Beth, also so she can yell at Congress advocate to get more research dollars funneled toward metastatic breast cancer so moms (and others) can stop dying of this disease by the thousands. On that note, if you're able, please donate blood -- especially important given the tragedy in Las Vegas today.

I walk the Avon Walk every year, but I struggle with the pink-ness of it all. With the "save the ta-tas" slogans and "free breast exams" signs held by men along the route, to which I want to scream, "Sure, take a look at these scarred and purple, cold and numb ones, you disease-sexualizing ass." And then I wonder whether my own blog (this one right here!) is part of the problem with Booby in its name. Am I also a disease-sexualizing ass?

In the Avon walks I also always see a teenager or two walking for their deceased mom or a man honoring his late wife or a woman in the midst of treatment, bald and reminding me that DAMN, WOMEN ARE STRONG.

At the end of the day, I walk because of Avon's mission to provide for both research and support for underserved communities. Because they lift up those at the margins who would be further marginalized by the bad policies our government seems to threaten on a daily basis. Because women of color -- particularly black women -- fare far worse than white women do when it comes to breast cancer outcomes, and I believe organizations like Avon can make a difference when it comes to these disparities. I was so moved by the speaker they chose at this year's walk, I wept as she spoke about her Stage 4 diagnosis that so closely matched what my story used to be. Her reasons for walking are worth hearing.

And now I also walk because I'm about to have a little girl, and while men can and do get breast cancer, it is primarily a disease affecting women's bodies. IS THIS WHY WE DON'T HAVE A CURE? If testicular cancer killed 40,000 men a year (it kills around 400), would we have this problem solved?


Quinn had "pink day" at his school last Friday, presumably to mark the (near) beginning of October. When I asked him if anyone had talked about breast cancer at school, he said, "No." Then added, "Well, let me put it this way. I didn't hear anyone talking about it." Later, I realized it's probably because they don't want to use the word breast at an elementary school.

On the way to school, I had asked Quinn if he ever talks about me having had breast cancer. He does not. "I don't even remember it!" he tells me, as if I'm ridiculous for asking. Oh, the sass of a six-year-old. And so I dropped him off looking like this, then cried a good portion of the car ride home.

I cried because I'm pregnant, partly, but also because something that was such an enormous weight for our family is but a blip in this little guy's mind. Because if all continues to go well (knock on so much fucking wood), his sister won't have experienced my cancer at all. I cried because we are not the norm; most families do not get a reprieve from metastatic breast cancer unless you count death. Because we can do better -- in so many ways -- as a country.

Please think of all that as we go into this "awareness" month. Please donate responsibly. Please learn about the devastation of metastatic breast cancer. Please understand this disease is about so much more than saving some tatas or the color pink, unless you're six and get to dye your hair fuchsia for the first time.