This post was originally written for the Young Survival Coalition blog. It was published by YSC June 24, 2016.
Does anyone want to talk about foobs?
Sure, everyone wants to talk a lot about boobs. When am I going to get them? How big are they going to be? Some want bigger, some smaller, some have Instagram accounts full of selfies in body-con dresses with puckered lips and padded bras because hers are just right.
They are retweeted, shared and liked every October when college students go all Girls Gone Viral using their perky, healthy breasts as a catalyst for disease awareness.
But, Foobs are not boobs.
When you get breast cancer, boobs are (in general) lopped off and put out for pick up on hazmat day.
That is, of course, after lengthy discussions about exactly what to do with them. Should we keep one, get rid of one? Should we just get in there and cut the vagrant out, hoping what ails it does not spread? Do we rebuild? How do we rebuild? They are pressed flat between plastic, squeezed, needled, examined, pinched, lifted, drawn upon. They are touched by more strangers than heirloom tomatoes at a farmer’s market.
And then, radio silence.
Once we make that decision they are never to be spoken of again.
And I want to talk about foobs. I have wanted to talk about foobs since I arrived home with tubes and bulbous devices sticking out of my sides. I have wanted to discuss their squareness, their hardness, their alien presence underneath my Marshall clearance robe; the only thing my mom could find on such short notice.
Because, well, I didn’t know anything about foobs.
Because no one talks about it.
I suppose I shouldn’t say no one. Bring up the word reconstruction in a cancer klatch and everyone will begin to clamor about their experience or opinion on the subject. Bring up the word mastectomy in conversation on say the D train and watch how men and women who’ve never had to make such a decision (or known someone who had) instantly stand further away from you.
We need to be able to have these conversations. Not just between survivor sisters, BFFs and spouses, but as a collective societal whole. Because the pink ribbon, get on with my life breast cancer does not happen to everyone. Because even though global media has shared beautiful black and white portraits of women flat and scarred, social media bans images of reconstructed breasts. Because when I walk into a boutique looking for a summer sundress, no one can tell what lies beneath is nothing but silicone and skin, nothing but a sensationless, rock hard permanent prosthetic that likely won’t agree with half of the fashion options available to me.
I want women to know they are not alone. I want these women to know someone else understands that anguish, that feeling of loss and the nagging suspicion they are somehow a broken doll.
Of course, I get it, this is not a new subject, per se. But it is a clandestine subject all the same. We can talk about breasts (and see them) ad nauseum. We can celebrate scars and feel empowered by women who choose to remain flat, but reconstructed breasts seem to give people the heebee jeebees.
You see, I recently pitched my intimates line, AnaOno, to a room full of savvy, seasoned businessmen and business women. In previous such meetings, I didn’t always seem to get across the point that our bras served a very specific purpose, and that the wireless bralette dujour in the major market wasn’t always an answer for us reconstructed ladies. They were inspired and moved by my story, but they weren’t ready to pull the financial trigger. The need, pardon the pun, wasn’t sexy enough for them.
So, I made the decision to switch it up. A mastectomy is an amputation, and I was going to present what that looked like, and what breast reconstruction looked like. I figured people were still considering it a nice perky boob job by a cosmetic surgeon, rather than a radical amputation with a permanent prosthetic done by a plastic surgeon.
I can honestly say even I at first thought it was a little jarring; seeing the images purposefully juxtaposed within my presentation. And I lived through the ordeal! The stitches from a TRAM FLAP surgery and expanders with drains do resemble carnage. Because they are carnage to a certain extent. Body parts have been removed. Skin and tissue has been moved around. There is blood and scarring. I shudder because I remember the pain, the insecurity, the emotions and the fear surrounding my own surgery and brutal chemotherapy.
But to see this room full of men and women recoil and grimace at those same images, and constructively suggest I remove them from further presentations made me angry. Many of us have looked like those pictures, and it is not only what saved our lives, but it was also a decision we made as young survivors because it was what we wanted. No one questions an amputee if they choose to have a prosthetic, an implant or nothing at all. No one tells Aimee Mullins not to change her legs on a TED stage. Why is someone telling me to put away the foobs?
Why is Facebook telling women to put away the foobs?
Why is there backlash against women who choose to get foobs?
Why are we not talking about the exhausting process, physically and emotionally, a woman goes through to get her foobs? (And while we’re at it, that sometimes the foobs fail, the surgeries linger over years, the implant doesn’t take and the woman on the other end of the ordeal is scarred not only on her body, but along the lines of her fractured self-esteem?)
So I encourage you to talk foobs. To tell your story in the comments. To share this story on Twitter or Facebook and explain to others what your life is like with foobs and WHY you decided to get them.
In this process and life that is cancer, whether you are newly diagnosed, in treatment, in maintenance, stable, NED or still living with it as a chronic, terminal illness, we all start at the same place. Terrified and wearing an open-back itchy hospital gown. We continuously think about what, if anything, the future holds. And we go into warrior mode, and one day wind up searching for someone who can tell us, “Me, too!”
To all of you card-carrying members of the Friends of the Foobies club, I am saying to you “Me, too.” We started the conversation first on the Young Survival Coalition blog and Facebook page. Let's continue it!
So maybe one day we’ll be sitting in a movie theater or flipping through a magazine and we’ll see one of our celeb recon sisters brave enough to go topless or have a sex scene with her own body. And the audience won’t recoil in horror because we made the difference by starting that conversation and being the pioneers.
We want to hear from you! What do you want to talk about when it comes to life after breast cancer? What's missing from the conversation?
NOTE: All photographs in the post are every day women of all ages who've had breast reconstruction (FLAP or implant).
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Guest Post: Katharine Doughty
When I found a lump in my chest in early 2010, I was ten years into a series of 26 self-portraits with four 4 images to complete. A theme of reclaiming runs throughout the project: reclaiming of self-representation, of our personal and collective stories and the power of visual image. Be it ten years or ten minutes, the essential gift is the same: focused discovery and reflection via the arts allows us to be a witness to ourselves. To hear and respond creatively to our bodies with our bodies is to reclaim a role in the healing of our bodies.