After giving birth to Emma Clare, I decided that the process of pregnancy and childbirth pretty much strips a woman of her dignity. The sheer volume of people who need to check on something (usually involving stirrups) is crazy. Then having a small child who knows no boundaries– who feels like a closed bathroom door is an open invitation– surely that would strip away what dignity is left. Nope, enter the second pregnancy which required taking said toddler to the aforementioned visits involving stirrups. Gone yet? Nope, there’s more. A few more doctor visits and procedures related to the way those kiddos ravaged my body chipped away just a little more dignity.
But breast cancer? Surely there can be nothing left. I can’t even begin to count the number of people I’ve had to flash in the course of all my appointments. Let’s see– there’s a breast surgeon and her nurse– wait two breast surgeons, the oncologist, the nurse practitioner, the two plastic surgeons I saw and their physicians’ assistants, the three or four people involved in the mammograms, the radiologist who did the ultrasound and his nurse, the doctor and nurse in the second biopsy, the two different MRI techs, and I can’t even begin to imagine how many people involved with the surgery and post-surgery care. And for everyone post-surgery– the nurses, the plastic surgeon, the physical therapist– they all saw my scars. So did the woman at Nordstrom, Akeelah (love her!), who helped me try on a post-surgical bra while my drains were still in place. (Kudos to her– she was so gentle and didn’t bat an eye.) They’ve all been kind, and I can tell that helping me preserve my dignity has been important to them, but there’s only so much they can do about it. There’s no chance to get all self-conscious. It’s all survival mode. Strip down like there’s nothing strange about it and take care of business. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. There’s something freeing to be above being embarrassed. Seriously, if you have a question to ask, I guarantee you’re more embarrassed about it than I am.
Thankfully, a lot of my friends in the survivor community feel pretty much like I do. We realize that the whole experience stripped away our dignity, but for the most part, we don’t care, and we are thankful that it stripped away our embarrassment, too. I’m so thankful for those women who will answer all my crazy questions about what I can expect, whether what I’m feeling is normal. But I’ve met some women who didn’t want their dignity taken, and held on with everything they could. And I think that’s ok, too. There are some parts to breast cancer that are mandatory if you hope to survive. The chemo, the surgery, the radiation– if your doctor says you have to, then you have to. But how everyone deals with it is different, and some women just don’t want to answer all those questions. (So ask me, not them!)
My family went through a lot during this whole process, too, but they didn’t have to give up their privacy, their dignity. You can’t embarrass me, but there are some things that I probably won’t go into detail about here– where it can live online for all posterity– mostly for their sake. Already, less than a year from diagnosis, I’ve talked to several newly diagnosed women, sharing my experiences, giving recommendations for doctors, bras, and of course, passing along a lipgloss or two. I’ve found it reassuring to be able to talk to women who are a little ahead of me in this journey, and I consider it a privilege to offer the same reassurance to others. There’s nothing I won’t share with one of those women, really any woman. (Guys, well there’s a line. You know where it is as much as I do, so let’s just not cross it, ok?) But for the record, and for all posterity, yes, they’re fake. My real ones tried to kill me.