“Mommy, what’s that?”
This week, my prosthesis had fallen out of my specialty bra and fallen into Arielle’s line of vision.
Stay calm, I thought. I knew I’d eventually tell my daughter the truth about my having had breast cancer. I just didn’t think I’d have to peripherally broach the subject now when she was at the tender age of almost seven. Plus, I was pretty good at hiding my prosthesis….until now.
I knelt down, looked into her eyes, and put it in an age-appropriate way.
“Years ago, mommy had a boo boo in her breast and a nice doctor removed it. Because he removed the boo boo, my breast got smaller than the other one. So I got this thing called a prosthesis to put in my bra to make both breasts look the same size.”
“Oh,” she said, and I could see her mind working. “Does everyone have that pro-…pro- in their bra?”
“Prosthesis. No, honey. Many women do not have a prosthesis, but some do. Some women have different sized breasts because they had a boo boo removed.”
“But why is your breast smaller than your other one?”
“Like I said, a doctor took out the boo boo, and if a person removes part of a breast, it becomes smaller, right?”
I showed her my breasts so she could see the difference in size. For the first time, it seems, she noticed it.
“Do you want to touch the prosthesis? You can, you know.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” as I demonstrated how I put the prosthesis into my bra.
A few mornings later, Arielle watched me putting the prosthesis into my bra. No more need to hide my morning routine anymore. Once the bra was on, she gently poked where the prosthesis was.
Arielle is still mulling it over. And so am I.
Case closed. For now. I breathed relief. Until I later discovered she was asking a close friend if her breasts were symmetrical and whether she had to put something in her bra.
She doesn’t remember when she was four and curiously fingered my scars. Or does she? I don’t want her to remember this. I want her to think my breasts are my breasts. A tall order, I know, but it is my wish for now.
I’m not quite sure if I handled this mother-daughter situation quite right. Of course, there’s no right way to do parenthood, but I tried to explain the situation the best way I could to my child. But this conversation was a catalyst to self-reflection, and in the end, I have more questions than answers.
Why have I felt so much shame that I felt compelled to hide my prosthesis? I’m now angry at myself for trying to hide this part of me. I just felt that, prior to this conversation, she was too young to even hover around the truth of the tragedy that is breast cancer. Truth is, I didn’t feel I was ready to share this part of my life with her. At least not yet.
Why have I felt that I need two breasts to feel like a whole woman? I know better. There is no right way to do cancer. And there’s no right way to do reconstruction or not do reconstruction. Yet, reconstruction was the right choice for me. Having breasts are important to me. Why? I know I’d be no less of a woman without my breasts. Or do I really believe this?
Why am I so bent on having symmetrical breasts? I cannot stand being asymmetrical. Why do I need a prosthesis to feel beautiful? Am I inauthentic for wanting a prosthesis? After all, I wear an illusion daily. And what am I teaching my daughter? Symmetry is best?
Why do I not want to share my breast cancer story with her? I want to spare her the pain, but eventually I will be open about it. When she’s old enough. I’m not sure when that will be, though.
My nephew was 16 when I broke the news that I was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was just three years old. I did this because I felt compelled to. He had just added me as a Facebook friend and would potentially read my blog posts. I had to tell him. I saw the pain in his eyes when I broke the news. “You’re going to be alright, right?” he asked. And I said, “yes” with confidence, not knowing if I was actually alright.
Why have I taught my daughter to use the words breasts and prosthesis, but I use “boo boo” to describe the tumor? I’m skirting around the tumor talk for a long while. She’s not ready, of course. And that is okay.
So going into Mother’s Day, Arielle has learned that mommy is different. But, then again, in our family, we celebrate differences in people. As I always tell her, “Everyone is different, and our differences make us all unique and wonderful.”
Now I must learn to accept these words.
How have you explained cancer or any illness to your child/children?
How do you feel about having/not having breasts?
Tags: body image and breast cancer, breast cancer, breast cancer and body image, breast cancer and shame, mother and child, Mother's Day, prosthesis