Thursday, April 4, 2013

The One Where I Talk About My Boobs

Tonight's cocktail doesn't fit on my Weight Watcher's count, so I can't drink it right now. The name is perfect for the post, though, so I had to use it. We're talking about the Buttery Nipple. Yes, I went there. You're welcome.

Today, I got the letter I wait for every year: the one that says I don't have breast cancer. I'm not a cancer survivor, but there's an above-average chance that someday I will be. At least, I hope I'll be a survivor if I get cancer. My mom, her sister, and my paternal grandmother have all had breast cancer, so there's a genetic risk. Until I hit my late 30s, I never really thought about it much, but once I finished the 3+ year period during which my body was continuously gestating or feeding my offspring, I started getting annual mammograms.

Every year, I get nervous and procrastinate making the appointment for a few weeks, because I don't want to find out I have cancer. Although I know intellectually that if I have cancer, it'll be there regardless of whether I have the mammogram, there's an element of magical thinking that suggests what I don't know won't kill me. Except it could. So I go.

The women's imaging center near me is oddly calming. It could have something to do with the pastel walls, warm lighting, ambient nature sounds, and lavender half-gowns (thoughtfully, you don't have to disrobe any more than necessary). They try to make it as much like an upscale gym as possible, complete with cheery locker room. It was just before Easter, and the tech who took care of me wanted to talk about Jesus, which was weird, because she was also feeling me up to make sure all the breast tissue was on the machine. Then again, I was part of a church youth group as a teenager, so being felt up in close proximity to God-talk isn't entirely unfamiliar. The strangest part, though, was watching a giant piece of plexiglass flatten out each breast. The pressure reading on the machine was 28 lbs! It didn't hurt, but it wasn't terribly comfortable. The whole thing took just a few minutes.

Every year when I drive home from that appointment, I do a little bargaining in my head. My breasts have been good to me - they're actually one of the few parts of my body I wouldn't change if I could. They fed my babies. They look good in sweaters. They've aged well. I'm grateful, and I don't want them to betray me. Also, I'm not allowed to die yet, and I don't have time to be sick. My kids need me, and I haven't finished my damned novel. So I vow that I will lose the extra weight I'm carrying, eat healthier, exercise more, and drink less alcohol (I know, but it's a risk factor for breast cancer). Sometimes I'm better at doing those things than others, but lately, as I tally the count of friends my age who've been diagnosed with assorted Very Bad Things, I'm feeling more motivated to take care of myself.

As moms, we often neglect our health because we are so busy taking care of other people. We absolutely have to stop doing that. All the little momentary decisions - eating poorly, skipping workouts, postponing preventative care appointments, not taking time to decompress - they add up in a big way. I'm not saying we have to be vegan gym rats, but rather that we should do for ourselves all those things that we wouldn't dream of neglecting to do for our children. We give them nutritious food, we make sure they get fresh air and recreation, we encourage their play, we take them for checkups and vaccinations. If they don't get those things, they will get sick. So will we, if we don't get them. How does that help anyone, especially our kids?

This applies equally to physical and mental health, by the way. I've read some great blog posts lately about moms and depression, and the wake up call for many of us to seek help is the fact that we're not being the mothers our kids need. Mental and physical health are inextricably related, so you can't neglect one without neglecting the other.

Look at it this way - imagine you were tasked with taking care of your mother at the age she is or would be now. To the extent possible, you would want her life as she ages to be like a Geritol commercial: water aerobics, playing with her grandchildren, laughing with friends, dancing with Sean Connery or the Dos Equis guy. You wouldn't choose dialysis, walkers, oxygen tanks, and nursing homes instead. Now imagine that instead of your mother, it's you, and that the choices you're making now dictate the quality of life you'll have in 20-30 years. Granted, old age comes for us all eventually, and we can't control 100% of our outcomes, and there are people who live to 100 despite a lifelong 2 pack-a-day smoking habit, but still. Our health choices matter.

Most importantly, WE matter. Not just because we're mothers and wives/girlfriends. We deserve the same love for ourselves that we offer other people all day, every day. This is the most fundamental way to express it. If it all starts with thinking about my boobs, so be it.


  1. Such a great post, Kathleen. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Wow, great post! We do neglect ourselves to take care of others, SO true. You just reminded me to make an appointment. Thank you for your Honest Voice ;)

    1. Thanks! Take yourself out for a latte or a manicure or a martini after your appointment!

  3. Excellent post! And I totally agree about taking care of ourselves, because in the end, that's HOW we take care of others. I wish I had pushed my mother harder to go to the doctor when she had a recurring condition. Thanks for sharing with Honest Voices!

  4. So glad you received good news!

    Linking up through Honest Mom/Honest Voices


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