BYE BYE BOOBS

BODY IMAGE, EMOTIONAL, HEALTH

Anyone who follows Carly on Instagram (if you don’t you should) will likely be in awe of how she has emerged from what has been an extremely challenging chapter in a way that is inspiring to witness. On a recent post celebrating life post-chemo and post-surgery she wrote: “one small step at a time, moving forwards, growing, healing & living.” This is an ‘ode to her boobs’ ahead of a double mastectomy:

  • In 3 weeks I bid adieu to my boobs, bon voyage to my breasts, tata tits & it has taken me on a trip down boob memory lane.

  • After 6 months of gruelling chemotherapy following a breast cancer diagnosis, it is now time for radical surgery to ensure that cancer never returns due to having a BRCA1 gene which increases my chances of this happening greatly if I leave them in place. 

  • It’s only now with the thought of saying goodbye to them that I’ve found myself nostalgically remembering all that we have been through together.

  • I remember my first bra so vividly. A white training bra from Marks & Spencers with the thickest straps. It was more crop top than bra but it signalled to me a massive life change & I felt so grown up wearing it. I was no longer a little girl. I was 11. 

  • Even buying it had been an exciting expedition with my Mum. It truly did feel like a coming of age moment. Almost, like reading Forever for the first time but less Ralph and a little more innocence involved. 

  • My mum was flat-chested. Always joking about her opal fruits for boobs. And yet the excitement of getting boobs myself almost left me giddy. Perhaps the Baywatch Pammy effect of growing up watching bouncing bosoms buoyantly bobbing down the beach encased in that famous red swimsuit. 

  • Painfully it didn’t happen for a while. The early teenage years involved double wonder bras & Nike sports bras to try & achieve the “hello boys” cleavage of dreams, but with not much luck. Add a pack of Marlborough lights stuffed in the bra & a spritz of Angel perfume for added effect, we would be house party-ready. 

  • “I must, I must, I must increase my bust. The bigger the better, the better for the sweater.” No amount of chanting this mantra or chest exercises amounted to much though. What a titaster! 

  • It really was a disaster when I then realised in my late teens that I was a pear shape through and through & any weight loss I chased so desperately really just meant whatever boobs I did have would go first. Forever feeling disproportionate. Bottom heavy and really not enough up top for my liking at all. 

  • My boob dreams were not working out as I had imagined. Pamela Anderson, I was not. 

  • However smaller boobs did have their fashion perks. No bras really needed in my twenties at all. A little tit tape and gravity on my side, meant less to think about when dressing than some of my ample chested friends. Even able to exercise without a bra. They simply stayed in place and out of the way. 

  • Always wary of their space though. Aged 22, my flat chested mum now has breast cancer. Spotted by a puckering which then revealed a lump. A disease that killed her own mum. These fun bags aren’t always so fun.

  • Check your boobs, know your bodies. On repeat. Boobs can be deadly. Our beautiful mum died 5 years after her diagnosis. Heartbroken. Would my boobs become my enemy too? Impossible to put this thought too far from my mind, but my Mum and her Mum had cancer in their 50s. I felt like time was on my side. 

  • Pregnant aged 30 & marvelling at the human form. My boobs now a map of veins. Huger than ever before. So this is what big boobs feels like. Finally! Loving my pregnancy body – my growing bump. Nature working its magic for the start of a breastfeeding journey. Nipples darken so the baby can find them. No pressure on my part but an eagerness to give it a go. Feeling so close to my Mum as I embark on motherhood and all it entails. Motherhood helping my grief to heal whilst I mother without my mother. 

  • My breasts are now my baby boy’s source of life. A role so mind-blowing I spend so many evenings just staring as they feed a baby that grew within me. I watch him grow knowing I’m the source of that & it fills me with joy. Totally surprised by the ease we fall into our feeds together. 5 months of my boobs being his sustenance & then back to me…saggy & empty. But the feeling is freeing to reclaim this part of me, whilst also heartbreaking as we faced our last feed. The most bittersweet moment for my boob’s yet.

  • Round 2 of breastfeeding with my baby girl. Round 2 for my breasts to become the role of milk bearer. Not as easy though this time around. Reflux & allergies mean she solely depends on me but my milk seems to be hurting her more than healing her. Comfort from feeding but then in agony. Changing my diet to try and ease the discomfort but still my baby girl cries. Not the breastfeeding journey I’d hoped for. And then the heartbreaks again as I try to get her on to special formula in a bottle which she won’t take. Pumping round the clock to try and mix this in with the milk so it doesn’t taste horrendous. Feeling like a failure. Mum guilt taking away the comfort she finds from my boobs hitting incredibly hard.  

  • Maybe round 3, whenever that day may be, will be a smoother breastfeeding journey. Keen to hopefully have the chance to try again one day. 

  • “You have breast cancer.” No way, not me. Maybe one day but much further down the line, in my fifties at least. Not 37. These breasts are needed to feed another baby I so desperately wanted one day. That was my plan for them this year, not this. But 2020 mapped out totally differently.

  • In January 2010 we started the decade losing our incredible Mum to Breast Cancer and now at the end of the decade, December 2019, I end the decade with my own diagnosis. With a pesky lefty that cancer has made a home in. Time to uproot it and kick it to the kerb. 

  • Ironically my breast cancer is caused by a faulty gene which has absolutely nothing to do with the history of breast cancer in my family. It is from my Dad’s side of the family and presents itself at a younger age. The disease that I had always feared because it took my precious Mum from me, had indeed come for me but on its own terms entirely. How’s that for irony Alanis? 

  • I have BRCA1 which increases my chances of breast and ovarian cancer substantially (60-90% lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 40-60% risk of ovarian cancer). 5 months before my diagnosis my older sister was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. She too has the gene. We are BRCA sisters. It’s our pretty surreal superpower. More likely to get cancer, but also very responsive to the chemo we are given. 

  • 3 years ago I enquired about being tested for the gene but was turned away for there not being enough young cancer in my family. Trying not to live in the past or with regret but sometimes wondering what could have been as BRCA1 lay dormant within me like a ticking time bomb. Knowing I had it before my diagnosis I am certain I still would have chosen the preventative surgery which would lead me to this point in time. Saying bye bye boobs.  

  • My boobs are now going for good. A double mastectomy & reconstruction from my tummy tissue known as DIEP Flap. A grief has appeared around losing this part of me.

  • This grief has surprised me. Survival instinct means you do anything to survive when told you have cancer. I will do anything to live & be a grandma. Something neither my mum or her mum lived to be due to this disease. But losing my boobs before I’m 40 and knowing I will need to think about removing my ovaries too – before we had fully made the decision if we were finished with our family, feels cruel at times. 

  • Knowing that there will never be another 3am breastfeed just me & my baby. Knowing that my body will be a smiley face of scars moving forward, with reconstructed fake nipples. Knowing that I will be forever reminded by the scars left behind that my boobs could have killed me. But also knowing that they didn’t. That by checking my boobs I was diagnosed early. That by having this radical surgery I am reducing the risk of it returning massively. That my new boobs will have many an adventure ahead.

  • I’ve started to refer to my new boobs as tummy tits – marvelling at the science behind the fact that my reconstructed breasts will be made of my tummy tissue. It blows my mind that we can rebuild our bodies with our own bodies. In fact a cancer diagnosis really has made me reevaluate how I view my body. I truly marvel at all it can overcome. 

  • My old boobs may have the tales of my past but these new ones are going to see me until I’m old & grey & saggy & happy with little people calling me Grandma. So bye-bye boobs. Thank you for the memories. Tits been quite the ride together! 

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