Image isn't everything. Or is it?
Updated: Dec 3, 2017
I Love my breasts. I do! And I am not ashamed to say it. I've loved them since the age of 15, when they unexpectedly (after months of painful swelling), popped out in all their glory. Pre-cancer, they were size 34 DD, which according to some statistic that I read sometime, somewhere, said, was the perfect size?? I've run with that since then, and boy have I worn them well. Backless, bra-less, crop tops, crew necks, low tops, on the shoulder, off the shoulder you name it, my breast have always lived up to the expectation of being an asset to every look I hoped to ever pull off.
I currently stand at the height of 5ft 11 (and not the 6 ft that my not so little brother claims,) so tall. Having probably only grown 2 inches since the age of 11, I was way taller than anyone else (including most of the boys,) at that age, 'skinny' (and I mean, no hips, no bum) and completely flat chested. Boyish with lots of hair. Needless to say, along with the usual growing pains experienced through puberty to adolescence, and as well as the social economic hurdles faced growing up in 80's Britain, being "overly tall, flat chested and skinny" was not helpful or fun.
Lanky, giant, beanpole, were some of the kinder names that I would endure throughout those years. And although bearable, it also meant that I stood out like a sore thumb (as they say) and didn't qualify for the attention bestowed on other girls of my age. Words such as 'pretty,' 'cutie,' 'peng ting' (yes, that word belonged to my generation, along with a few others - Cheyenne,) were never yelled out at me, whilst used as compliments towards other girls and between other girls to each other. But never to me (where is a sad face emoji when you need one?) Clothes shopping only reinforced the law of unattractiveness. I was limited in choice as there was no 'Top Shop tall' back then, and no wonder bra to enhance my 'beanpole' shape. I didn't feel attractive, I didn't feel feminine. So, I dressed like a boy. I wore jeans and trainers, apart from when I was in my school uniform, and even then, where other girls rolled up their skirts to shorten the length, I kept mine long, and rolled down my socks to look more 'tomboyish.' That way, it looked as if I didn't mind not being regarded as feminine. (I promise you, I made up for all those lost mini skirt wearing years, later on in my life). I didn't do nails or make up like the other girls as I didn't want to attract anymore ridicule, (although to be fair, there was no way that my mum would have let me wear make up anyway,) and Instead spent my spare time hanging out with the boys, sitting on walls.
And then I turned 15.
My femininity arrived at the same time as my breast. It was a gradual process of realisation. It was the heightened glimpses and prolonged stares, the murmur of words such as pretty and good looking, creeping into sentences directed at me, or associated to my name. The name calling stopped and the compliments started. I walked with a straight back, held my head up, wore tighter jeans, started rolling up that skirt. I felt a confidence in my step. I met the father of my girls then. He loved me at first sight (it's a different story now.)
Attractiveness it seems was no longer an issue. I was complete, my breast had made me whole. I was female, I had received my powers. I was ready to kick ass and conquer the world. And that's what my breasts and I did, together. We've nursed 3 daughters together, we've climbed career ladders together. We've raved together, fallen out of cabs together. We've fought together, fallen together and gotten back up together. We've faced adversity and oppression together. We've faced recessions together. We've road raged together, we've fallen in love twice together. We graduated together. We've laughed, we've cried, we've always had each other's backs, constantly assuring each other of the qualities that make us identify as who we are. Whatever's happened in our life, whatever we've had to face, we have faced it together.
I have watched my left breast change dramatically in the months that have passed. The two biopsy's that I underwent pre-diagnosis, was the first major change to it. The needles caused the tumour to swell. The swelling blistered, burst, changing the shape of the tumour. This was worsened by the surgery that followed to remove my sentinel lymph node (and another for good measure), deemed necessary to check if at that time the cancer had spread, despite the results from the previous two biopsy's and CT scan, that showed that it hadn't. But better to be safe than sorry right?
I no longer recognise it, nor it I. It is being consumed and It may well be that I am powerless to change that. So, it sits there held to ransom by a cancerous tumour that is set on its mission to destroy the very thing that gave it life. It waits for the seemingly inevitable decision to cut it off (If I can't save it,) severing our relationship forever. And then what would I do? No more low-cut tops, no more compliments, no longer the perfect breast size, no longer female? It is said that we are not defined by our looks, that it is the pressure placed on both men and women by bred preconceptions in our society, reinforced by the fashion industry and social media, the notion to be perfect based on their perception of beauty, that causes us to think of our image and how we are perceived first and foremost. You can choose to remove, replace, and restructure most parts of your body these days it seems, simply by popping into your local supermarket. But, when you're forced to consider losing a part of you that seems core to your very existence, the question then becomes, "what is everything if not my image?" If it is who I am that defines my image, and If my breast is part of that image, then who am I without it? And would I be able to bear its loss even if it meant saving my life, as I would not have an image? Could this lifelong image easily be redefined and exist as me, and I as it, or would its loss in fact bring about a quicker demise as without my image I would have no will, so no me?
As my daughters stand by me through this and also watch my changing breast, I am conscious that my reasons for my actions at this moment in time, will impact their perceptions of their own self-image and contemplate who they are, or what stance they should take when faced with a series of 'image' decisions that will inevitable come at them in life.
The mind is a powerful thing. It has a way of manifesting your real believes and true feelings. As my Nan Nan ( a women of pure faith, who is alive at the tender age of 92,) always says, "belief kills and belief cures Ashea." I believe that I should stand by my left breast as it has always stood by me, and that if we stand by our convictions and fight hard enough, we can be cured together. And God willing, that image, is everything!
My Nan Nan and I (A truly voluptuous 'Bad ass' female!)