The Journey Of My Breasts
The Journey Of My Breasts:
A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Memoir
By Melissa Berry aka Cancer Fashionista
My breasts. They first started growing (or as my Mom would say “develop”) when I was about 11. I woke up one morning and felt these funny hard things just beneath the surface of my nipples. I thought something was wrong with me!
When I confided in my Mom and asked her what the heck was going on, she smiled with so much pride and said, “oh honey, you’re starting to develop.”
Since “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” by Judy Blume was the hottest novel among my peers at the time, I felt a sigh of relief knowing that I was likely on the fast track to becoming a woman.
Once my breasts began to appear through my t-shirts (with my name ironed-on in metallic rainbow letters in true early 80’s fashion), then it was time to get fitted for my first bra. Yes, my Mom insisted on taking me to a “professional.” An old Russian lady with bifocals came racing towards my new “developments” with her big, scary hands. I must have gasped when she began to take my measurements!
I vividly recall the moment that my breasts were touched by a boy for the very first time. For the sake of anonymity, I won’t mention who, where or when. We had kissed a few times before so I knew that “second base” was next. I was scared out of my mind but when it actually happened….well…..since my parents will likely read this, let’s just say it was a positive experience and leave it there.
I always had small breasts, but I was always satisfied with my cup size due to my petite frame. They filled out my pretty pink prom dress just right. And were propped up nicely with a beautiful white strapless bra on my wedding day.
I nursed both of my babies with my breasts. So many sleepless nights, but I did love the incredible bond that it created between me and my newborn daughters.
Speaking of bonds, I joke about my Mom but we’re incredibly close. I often tell her that she gave birth to her sister. As I approached my mid 30’s she strongly encouraged me to get tested for the BRCA gene since there was a decent amount of breast cancer in my family (she was treated for it, her mother had it, her mother’s sister, her cousin, the list goes on). At first, I was apprehensive about it but I decided it would be better if I knew whether or not I had a breast cancer gene so I could take the right precautions. I was about 35 when I went for the blood test. Learning that I was BRCA positive SUCKED. No other way to describe it. But at least I knew ahead of time that I was at risk.
I was seeing some sort of doctor every 6 months for an MRI, clinical exam, mammogram, etc. Always under a microscope. In a strange way, I felt like I was surrounded by this force field of protection because I was so closely monitored. Until one day when I was in the waiting room for my mammogram. Anxious to get the hell out of there because I had a million things to do that day. I’m a busy fashion publicist, there’s always a press release to write. An editor to call. A new business meeting. Always. So. Busy. When I was finally called into the examination room, I was greeted by one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. She felt my left breast and discovered a lump in my left breast. She put a sticker on it and I said, “I’m sure it’s nothing, I just saw my doctor.” She gently patted me on the back and sent me off to have my mammogram in the next room.
The biopsy revealed that I did indeed have breast cancer. When the doctor shared this frightening news with me, I swear I saw the room spinning around me. Just like you do in the movies. So surreal.
Fast forward, I decide on my course of treatment which included a bilateral mastectomy. Alas, I had to say goodbye to my lovely lady lumps. This is crazy that I’m even sharing this, but I intentionally took my last shower with them. I knew it was our last goodbye.
Modern science is pretty amazing. I was told I would wake up from surgery with “small mounds” as a result of the implants that would be inserted during surgery to begin the reconstruction process.
I had to take several hits of mind blowing chemotherapy treatments before I could really dive into full on breast reconstruction. It was definitely a long road. And a long mourning period over the loss of my little small-but-perfect-for-my-frame breasts.
It’s over 6 years later and I’m happy to report that my reconstructed breasts and I are doing just fine. I’m still me. I WILL NOT let this disease change who I am. The difference? I have a very slight scar going across each of my breasts. I used to catch those in the corner of my eye in my mirror and hate them. Hate what happened to me. But as time marches on and my survival is evident, I see them as a sign of strength. Like a stamp on a passport, it shows where I’ve been.
My breasts. They are me. They are beautiful.