My mom has breast cancer
©patronestaff / Adobe Stock
My mom has breast cancer
A short story of one daughter’s experience of her mom’s breast cancer, and why she doesn’t want a mastectomy.
There’s a lot to be said about breast cancer, none of it good. Even the possibility of diagnosis can have a massive impact on your life and for a good reason. Still, you can learn a lot about yourself and your loved ones when you’re staring cancer in the face, the way I did when my mom’s test results came back positive.
I’d never had a good relationship with my breasts. My mom has respectable B-cups, while I’d been cursed with DDD. How on Earth that came to be, no one can guess, and she gives me covetous looks to this day. I’d pawn the Dream Team off to her if I could believe me; back pain, special-order bras, trying to find a swimsuit in the summertime…
I wasn’t a fan of my endowment. Friends thought my plight was hilarious and respectfully dubbed them Jelly Bean and JigglyPuff, as this went down during the Pokemon craze in the 90s.
The BRCA test showed that my mom has breast cancer
Everything changed when my mom’s routine mammogram was flagged by the doctor, and she was signed up for the BRCA tests. This, needless to say, was a stressful time for the family. The potential results hung over us like dark clouds, draining our world to gray, lifeless anticipation.
During this time, my mom unconsciously took up the habit of holding her kahunas. Not strong enough to be a clutch, more, I suppose, of a reassurance that they were there. As you can imagine, I also ended up with the habit, and any given hour could find us both with our hands full of Jiggles and Bean, or my mother’s own Bonnie and Clyde. I couldn’t help but wonder whether they could sense how much I disliked them and were planning revenge of the worst kind.
I’m still not sure whether he was aware, but my younger brother also took up the habit, plastering his hand on his chest whenever a movie frightened him, or we ran out of peanut butter.
My mom has breast cancer: why doesn’t she want a mastectomy?
Much too soon but not soon enough, the tests came back. The doctors were recommending a mastectomy. Imagine, if you will, my mom and I at 2 a.m., halfway through a bottle of chardonnay and clutching our breasts as though they were likely to fall off!
My dad kept quiet for most of the action, tiptoeing around the house and respectfully not mentioning the boob-grabbing. He maintained that he’d love her either way, never once trying to convince or cajole. His steadfast support helped both of us through those weeks, and I’ll forever be grateful that my dad is such a beautiful man.
I’ll never forget the day she made her decision. She’d slammed her glass down on the counter, looked me in the eye, and solemnly declared “They’re not taking my tits from me!”
“For F*** sake! My mom has breast cancer. Why doesn’t she want a mastectomy?” I angrily muttered to myself. This is crazy. But before I had a chance to ask why doesn’t want a mastectomy, she started to talk about what her breasts meant to her. We then held a deep, drunken conversation on what it meant to be a woman, and whether or not boobs had anything to do with it.
She told me her breasts were an important part of her sexuality, an indispensable part of her identity. Her biggest fear was that she would somehow be diminished by a mastectomy, that she would never be comfortable with herself again. For the next few hours, we held a deep, drunken conversation on what it meant to be a woman, and whether or not boobs had anything to do with it.
At the time, tipsy as I was, she sounded like a sage of the ages. I’d nodded slowly, agreeing that it was preposterous they should try and take her lady bubbles away. A lumpectomy was insisted upon and performed, and my mother’s Golden Globes were safe. Anticlimactic, I know, but we switched gynecologists, which is traumatic for anyone, really.
I realized that it’s hard to separate self-worth from sexuality, especially in times like these. We felt the sting of our gender that day, to be sure, as well as a hang-over the next morning.
Nowadays, here in my family, we treat our breasts with respect. My paranoia never really goes away, though, and I’m still not ready for my own brush with cancer. Sometimes I feel like a ticking bomb, but at least I’ve got my built-in stress balls!
And yes, if you’re wondering, all three of us kept the boob-grabbing habit during times of fear or stress. The pictures from last year’s haunted house still make me laugh.
Jess Philippon is a ghostwriter by day, author by night. She lives for her two cats, Padme and Eevee, and harbors a sweet tooth unparalleled.