The words, large mass on left breast, left me paralyzed with fear. Me, the woman who shrinks from nothing. I panicked.
Years ago when this happened, I remember praying to God that I not lose my breast. This time I prayed that I not lose my life. What a difference a few years make on a mindset.
I know I'm no spring chicken, but I have always counted on having a lot of living left to do. I share my life with a wonderful man whom I hoped to grow old with. Very old. Cranky old.
We have big plans for a big life left to be lived out. This put a huge chink in our future's armor.
There were ultra-sounds, mammograms, biopsies and doctor appointments. There was also a palpable amount of fear. For the both of us.
After all, the risk of breast cancer for a woman who is 30 years old is one in 277. Those numbers are bad enough, but when you do the same risk comparison for a women of 61 those numbers jump up to one in 28. I've never been a fan of shrinking odds.
It is also true that in the United States, breast cancer is diagnosed more often in white women than in African-American/black, Hispanic/Latina, Asian/Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaska Native women. For those of you who haven't noticed, I'm about as pasty white as they come.
I have also used hormone replacement therapy for nearly five years. Another thing that puts me at higher risk. It gets worse. Overweight women are more prone to breast cancer. Blast, this extra poundage and the Tommy's burgers that helped me get there!
It felt like the writing was on the wall and I could literally hear the clock ticking.
Suddenly my life was just as likely to have an early termination date as it was to go on another 30 years. Try getting a good night's sleep with that on your mind!
I got to thinking; why do breasts matter so much to women, and why do we worry about what our men will think of us if we lose one?
Breasts often portray our sensual side. And the attraction to men can never be denied. What is sexy about a one-breasted woman? The answer would be: plenty!
I realized that I was with a man who didn't give a rat's butt about whether I had one breast or two. That made me feel much better about my intelligence in selecting my forever partner as well as my own comfort in knowing that my sexuality wasn't located in my breasts. My sensuality is in my mind, imagination, vulnerability, wanting and sharing of unabashed bliss. It is fiercely attached to my loyalty and the love of my man. While I appreciate having them, I don't need breasts for any of that.
I concluded that if losing my breast could save my life, I would be a very lucky girl. Now all I needed was a little bit of that glorious luck.
As it happened, it found me. I was cleared of cancer. I was (this time), one of the lucky ones.
It left me with the appreciation of how beautiful my breasts are to me. I love them and appreciate their part in the sculpturing of my body. To lose one would be like losing a family member. It would hurt and I would cry. But if its loss meant that I could live a full and happy life, the loss no longer felt heavy.
And so, I get to keep all of me this time around. I am grateful for that. But even more grateful for the wisdom that was thrown my way by this life detour.
Life is worth everything. A breast is worth much less than that.
Visit the National Breast Cancer Organization for more information.