I never thought there would be scars.
As I stood in the damp fitting room, surrounded by peeling posters of wig clad women in gay colored bathing suits, my mother slowly pulled her shirt over her head and turned slowly to face me. I stood staring at my mother’s violated chest, at the angry red gashes like gaudily made up lips. I was frozen with indecision. I wanted to hug her, to hold her. I wanted to scream and cry. But instead I just stood, staring at her irritated scars.
I should have been prepared. I knew that she would have to wait for her reconstructive surgery due to the extent of her cancer. But I imagined that the double mastectomy would return her to her pre-pubescent state, simply removing the breasts that had swelled with each of her pregnancies, as she gave life to me and my sisters. I had pictured the smooth chest of a young male swimmer.
Instead I stared at her ravaged chest, shocked by the violence of her mutilation, by the theft of her womanhood. I couldn’t imagine how she would have the strength to face the year to come – not only the chemo and the radiation – but also waking up every morning, knowing that such an essential part of her identity had been stolen from her.
My awakening to the harsh reality of breast cancer took place two years ago. I’m incredibly happy to say that my mother is healthy and in recovery, back to gardening and golfing in her house in France. Although she’s had her reconstructive surgery and no longer has to see those ugly scars as she gets dressed every morning, that vision still haunts my nightmares. I live in fear that one day they will mar my chest or my daughters’ chest too.
This blog past is part of the American Cancer Society More Birthdays Blog Chain. It is dedicated to my mother, my source of strength and inspiration.