Last week, waiting for an appointment with my reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Singer, I sat across from a woman who was obviously of my tribe. I could tell because she was carrying the ubiquitous breast cancer tote bag that says SHINE! on the front with a star shooting across it. The UPenn health system gives the bag to every breast cancer patient. I realize it’s a thoughtful gift and all, but it’s not something you want to see the nurse carrying as she’s coming down the hall. Nooooo!! It’s the breast cancer tote bag! The bag comes packed with resources, pamphlets and stuff. A thick manual with diagrams and flow charts explaining things like the pros and cons of Biological Response Modifier Drugs.
SHINE! in my mind, is in the same camp as those retirement homes with names like Sunrise Assisted Living, and Summit Care Retirement Village, as though in giving them polar opposite names for what they’re really all about, they might fool everybody. Old age is not, in fact, when the sun is setting, but when the sun is rising. Who knew? Cancer is not reason for concern, it’s a reason to SHINE!
The woman across from me seemed happy enough though. She was wearing a knit hat. Ten years ago I would have called it a skullcap—one of those things skaters wear—but in light of the circumstances that seems an unfortunate term. Knit hat. She was wearing a knit hat.
Men can get breast cancer too, if you don’t already know. I think about that. What if the woman sitting across from me was a guy? Would he get the SHINE! tote bag too? That seems like rubbing salt in his wounds. Maybe prostate cancer patients get a tote bag only it’s more masculine, something athletic looking that could pass for a gym bag. If the guy, in fact, has breast cancer, they could still stick the breast cancer manual in there, and the pamphlets, but with the gym bag tote he could save a little face. It would give him that at least.
Yesterday I sexted my sister in law. I’ve been looking at breasts a lot lately and recently I was admiring a friend of mine’s upper half. I wondered out loud if I could bring her with me to my next reconstructive appointment. She smiled, and then hesitantly said, “I could take a picture . . .”
Since she obviously is the best friend ever, she snapped a couple front and centers and shot them over to me. I have a passcode on my phone, so I figured there would be no danger in our son or any of his friends accidentally seeing what they would have referred to as Mrs. ______’s breasts.
My sister in law has lovely breasts as well. Cute, small, and although the general consensus of my small breasted friends is that no, you still have to wear a bra for nipple obscuration purposes, I haven’t been detoured in my resolute determination to end up with smaller breasts.
When I sexted the picture of Mrs.______’s breasts to my sister-in-law she admired them but them reiterated the problem of the protruding nipple. She texted back You could just have a flatter raised bump nipple rather than a pea nipple. I liked that term, pea nipple. I would tell the surgeon I would like small breasts but please don’t give me a pea nipple. It would get the point across but not be overly uncomfortable.
As I sat in the waiting room I flipped through a copy of Good Housekeeping. Even though we never said a word to each other, I liked the woman across from me with the tote bag. She was young. She had two of her children with her, grade school kids. They pulled out homework from their book bags, sat next to the coffee table, and began working on math problems.
Behind the receptionist’s desk I saw Dr. Singer paging through files, doing things that surgeons do. He seemed pleasant enough, but I was getting nervous. How could I talk to him about this stuff? Weird, weird, weird, weird. But this is my life. This is my mangled chest. For heaven’s sake, I can’t even stretch my arm out straight anymore because I have lymphedema for the rest of my life, another term, like Biological Response Modifier Drugs, that’s explained in the manual in my SHINE! tote bag.
I must stand up for myself. I must be strong. I must be courageous.
I looked up. Three women walked into the waiting room wearing pink shirts, the color I’ve been eschewing since this whole saga began. One of the women had a pink ribbon embroidered on her pink shirt. They stood in line waiting to sign in. I liked them too, these women. We were a team, I thought. We were of the same tribe. And for the record, I welcome the occasional dude with a breast cancer manual tucked into a gym bag. I mean, we’re not talking about your nipples, but still, I get it.
I put down the Good Housekeeping, took out my phone and pulled up Mrs. ______’s breasts. I’ll be strong and brave about this and use the term ‘pea nipple’. After that I’ll run a few errands: grocery store, Target. Maybe Target will have a pink shirt that’s not too obnoxious, one that’s loose and doesn’t draw attention to my upper half.