The Breast Cancer Club
"I hate my implant!" one blonde woman whispered to us in another
waiting room. "I feel like I can hear it sloshing around, and it's getting
lumpy and pushing its way up to my chin." Within moments, the woman shyly
ducked behind a plant but eagerly lifted her shirt to show us.
"My implants are awful too!" another survivor interrupted from
across the room. "I exercise" — again, whipping up her shirt — "and
see how my pec muscles are squishing them? You should definitely get the TRAM
The TRAM flap involves pulling muscles and fat from your abdomen through
your body and shaping them into breasts. The surgery is serious, and the
recovery is long and painful, but that day, both women recommended it. And they
were shocked that Robin had decided to do nothing.
Robin's attitude might have come from not being validated by the male gaze,
but I know plenty of lesbians who are profoundly attached to their breasts.
Robin's sense of womanhood just wasn't threatened when she lost them.
Not that losing breasts isn't awful. It just isn't, for some women, the
biggest issue. The day after Robin's mastectomy, when she was still in the
hospital, we were talking quietly about what our lives would look like now, how
we would face the chemo, how I would be the caretaker. Suddenly, an older woman
in a print dress whispered her way up to Robin's hospital bed, armed with
pamphlets and a bra fitted with two mango-shaped blobs of cotton stuffed into
panty hose. She handed it to Robin.
"I know you're all bandaged up now," she said, "but as soon as
you're walking around, you might want this."
For many women, the bra might have been a comfort, a way back to their old
selves. But Robin wasn't going to be her old self, would never be; we used the
panty-hose inserts as puppets.
The other thing the woman gave us was directions to a place called My
Secret, the store to go to in New York City for breast prosthetics. The
rack of bathing suits held one-pieces with skirts and gold-leaf palm fronds
splashed across the girdled torso. There's something matronly about the
breast-cancer club, even though more and more women, like Robin, are diagnosed
in their 30s.