As a teenager growing up on the not so mean streets of Hounslow, a BMX was a type of stunt bike ridden by parka-clad pre-pubescent boys mourning the closure of the local skateboard park. However, in the parallel universe inhabited by the cancerous we discover that BMX is breast cancer bulletin board shorthand for bilateral mastectomy. Shame – I was looking forward to joining the kids over on the dirt track in Brockwell Park now that the sun’s shining.
I had planned that this next blog would be a pithy missive on the surreal experience of shopping for one’s own coffin. For the moment we’re hoping that it’s not too urgent an item on the shopping list so hold your breath and I’ll get back to coffins another time. However living with cancer means that you have to get used to changing direction when you least want or expect to and my most recent meeting with my oncologist finds the goalposts, yet again, on the move.
Firstly, it was a pleasure to see him: we’ve known each other a while (thirteen years since my first diagnosis) and formed a good patient-professional working relationship based on plain talking and mutual respect. We’ve also worked together over the intervening years with me as breast cancer patient advocate and him as patient champion and critical friend. Despite my having been a thorn (perhaps a needle allusion would be more apposite for the NHS) in my local Trust’s side for most of that time, the multi-disciplinary team’s not so much holding it against me as taking me under their collective wing.
So it was a bit of a shock when he announced that he’d like to look at treating me / the cancer (we are fairly indivisible from the point of view of medical intervention) more aggressively. We discussed chemotherapy, but as we both agreed, it’s a therapy that works by destroying fast growing cells and my tumour (whilst still intent on bowling me out) has, to date, been going about it at a sedate pace. Chemotherapy might not be the most efficacious treatment just now.
How did I feel about mastectomy? Straight up initial reaction? Surprised that I’ve got this far with my breasts more or less intact.
To be honest I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with my breasts. Yes, I’ve luxuriated in the womanliness that they confer, but there’s no doubt they’re inconvenient. Having narrow shoulders and large breasts means that I either look like I’m interviewing to serve behind the bar at the Rovers Return or more usually as if I’ve borrowed my Mum’s gear from the dressing-up box. It doesn’t help that fashion is best suited to 6ft beanpoles rather than dwarf pumpkins. I still wonder to what extent the reports of designers fitting their dresses on teenaged boys are apocryphal. The more literal downside is the gravitational pull that comes with age, despite a lifetime strapped into heavy, support bras. Sunbathing topless has always been a challenge because they sag so much that I end up with more white patches than had I been wearing a bikini top. Sex kitten? Moi non plus!
I managed to escape with a lumpectomy (losing about a quarter of my right breast) last time around, and have used the intervening years and the intervening bra space, not for a prosthesis but for tissues, phone, Oyster card and door keys (you’re now getting an idea of the sort of scale I’m talking about).
So in one way it will be a lot easier, but if I engage my emotional brain (not my default modus operandi as an INTJ) it will be a lot different. No oestrogen, no breasts, what’s left that makes me a woman? And don’t even think about sex because that got taken off the board with the oestrogen.
Left contemplating a front that’s flatter than Mr G’s, my biggest fear is of looking like a middle-aged man in silhouette (although minus the moobs). Perhaps they can take my midriff bulge and instead of using it for a reconstruction just dispose of it? Now there’s a thought.
For anyone who recalls the surreal days of the Ravenna chorus tours here’s a call to action: Sven, Russell – lend me your socks…………