My first breasts were cartoonishly big, and maybe the only two things about me even slightly aligned with the current female beauty standard where we’re all supposed to look like a video game animation.
They had their advantages, like getting me out of speeding tickets and scoring me free drinks. But there is a price to carrying the equivalent of a newborn around one’s neck. My big boobs could be a nuisance—eyes up here, Boss—and were hell on my shoulders. They made any high impact cardio an exercise in whiplash management. And there came a point in every day where I just wanted to rest them on a sturdy shelf and give my back a break, if only for one blissful pain-free minute.
Still, when I found myself in a plastic surgery office awaiting a breast reduction consultation, I wasn’t convinced I’d ever go through with it. I felt guilty for even considering altering my factory presets. I got my chestiness from my mom, and I worried what she’d think. We used to borrow each other’s bras and joke that my twins were basically the twins of her twins. I felt like I was breaking up the band.
Then the plastic surgeon found a lump that turned out to be an aggressive form of breast cancer, and my decision came swift and sure. Oh, I’d get a breast reduction, all right. Off with the both of them, the sooner the better.
I called my mother immediately.
“Damn straight you’re getting a mastectomy.” She said, “How soon can they do it?”
My boyfriend Ed took the news in stride too, even though I secretly worried that without the giant boobs to mortgage the rest of my various and sundry flaws, I would be far less appealing.
“I don’t care if you’re flat,” he said. “And you could get implants shaped like Chuck E. Cheese heads for all I care. I just want you to live.”
So did I. When a well-intentioned friend suggested I make a papier-mâché cast of my breasts to properly mourn and bid them farewell, I laughed. I would have sooner papier-mâchéd my middle finger in a high salute. I had no interest in crafting or mourning.
The morning of my mastectomy, my doctor marked me up with a blue Sharpie, mapping out the future me in dotted incision lines along my chest. Then she left me alone in the exam room to take a last look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t look for long. There was only going forward now.
I left the hospital helpless and in boob limbo, a strange flat place where my old chest used to be. My mother, my boyfriend, and my dear friend Jenee each took turns changing my dressings, and tending to the tubes I’d come home wired with. I cried every single time.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, over and over, horrified for them, horrified for me, overwhelmed by their tenderness. For weeks, I crumpled every time I looked in the mirror, stitches from armpit to armpit and temporary empty implants just beneath my skin, hard and alien. I couldn’t imagine the scar or the trauma of any of it would fade someday. But it already has.
My surgeon injects a little bit of saline into my slowly expanding limbo boobs every other week. Right now, they’re still teensy but they have their advantages, too. My vintage rock T-shirts fit me like I’m in The Strokes, and I can hug Ed so close I feel his heartbeat. I feel extraordinarily relieved, like I’ve had an incendiary device removed from my chest and disarmed in the eleventh hour by a bomb squad. If I’d chickened out and skipped the plastic surgery consultation, I might have put off a mammogram for years. And by then there would have been no saving me.
Six months from now, when I’ve finished chemo and radiation, I’ll have reconstructive surgery. I’ll swap the temporary expanders for average-sized implants. Nothing too Kardashian. Me version 2.0 will have bionic nipples and bespoke areola carefully rendered by a 3-D tattoo artist. I’m excited to finally get a tattoo Mom will approve of, and she might even go to the parlor with me. We live in strange and remarkable times.
For now, I don’t feel less womanly rocking my new training bras—I just feel lucky. I’m not my old boobs, my temporary boobs or my future boobs—I am alive. And if I mourn anything about my first breasts, it’s only that in all the years I had them, I never once thought to dress up as Dolly Parton for Halloween. But I don’t miss them, not even a tiny bit, and I don’t think I ever will. I wouldn’t miss anyone who tried to kill me.