In acknowledgement of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, I thought the focus on survival would be an important point to celebrate. Breasts affect the chance of survival for a baby (without the presence of breast milk substitutes), and the budding of breasts at puberty will determine how you are viewed — in a womanly or flat-chested way — which I think is related to a woman’s eventual body image.
However, with breast cancer, all bets are off. There isn’t a choice of whether or not to treat, but rather a compulsion to take up arms and commence the fight of a lifetime. Some are fortunate to detect abnormalities early, especially through regular or routine breast self-examinations or just random or scheduled checkups. Others, though, are not so fortunate. No woman goes into the doctor’s office fully expecting to have a life-altering discussion and immediately having to shift from the normal activities of life to the intense focus of preserving that life.
I want to focus on the heroes who have to make the hard decision to do a mastectomy. That is a life-altering decision that forever changes a woman’s body and how she sees herself or how she thinks society will view her. Although a woman’s breast is her personal territory, the celebration of breasts is a man’s world, evidenced by their frequent use as a marketing tool. A running joke at the food service line is “What part of the chicken do you prefer?”; a male-dominated response is “Breast is best.”
So my concern is, do we see women who have only one breast as lesser beings? How about no breasts at all? What about those women who may not have access to state-of-the-art prosthetics? Does having an uneven display seem more acceptable than being flat-chested? Do survivors primarily feel some semblance of pressure to belong, or is the need to look like an anatomically correct female driving this need? Having the girls front and center is seemingly just as important to one’s self-image as anything else.
Loving your body parts now and tomorrow is a good rule to live by. To all survivors, no matter what choices you make, I applaud your courage.