I have a great deal to say about breast cancer. Excuse the pun, but I definitely have a need to get it off my chest, just like they did to one of my boobs.
I was considered too young for breast cancer when I was diagnosed. I was 45 and looked more like 35. My age was always being queried. Both parts of that sentence have now changed. Breast cancer is striking women at a younger and younger age, and 45 would not now be considered young because of the sheer number of 20 and 30 somethings who are being diagnosed. I feel for them. I feel for any woman of any age who is forced on this sinister journey.
As for always looking at least 10 years younger than my chronological existence on the planet…..well, chemo, steroids, surgery, radiotherapy, hormone treatments and being thrust chemically into an early menopause have seen the end of that. I used to be referred to as “that girl” when mothers with wayward toddlers told them to be careful not to run into my legs, but it rapidly changed to “that lady” when iatrongenically accelerated ageing kicked in.
Suddenly, I was being called into medical appointments as “Mrs Young”, instead of “Miss Young”, an assumption that can only have been made on my appearance of age. That pissed me off. I started to sound like that Dick Emery character, Mandy, I think her name was, because I found myself hissily correcting anyone who said it with,
“Miss. I’m not married. I’m MISS Young.”
It never did sink in with my local hospital, and one day they left me alone in a room with my notes. I pulled out a big black marker pen and wrote “MISS” in front of my name.
I went so far as to underline it.
But they still call me in with “Mrs Young, please,” and I still sound like Mandy.
Actually, now I look so much older, so much more decrepit (my hated rollator – a hideous yet handy wheeled trolley with a seat – only adds to the age-perception), I’m not sure which is the most insulting or depressing: I infer being thought of as old and unmarried, as opposed to young and unmarried, as the very definition of shrivelled spinsterhood, and I imagine the Drs and nurses do, too. The implication is that, despite my apparently advanced years, no-one has ever, in all that time, wanted or loved me enough to put me in a flouncy white dress and say so publicly.
I preferred it when they all thought I was young and single, the latter by choice.
Before my surgery, which was within 3 short weeks of my diagnosis, I was a UK size 8-10. Occasionally, when my then mystery illness – the fibromyalgia – was very bad, I was a 12. My weight bounced between 9 and 9 1/2 stone (times that by 14 to get the equivalent number of pounds if you’re in the U.S, and don’t ask me what it is in kilograms, but it isn’t much). I was borderline skinny. I modelled. I acted. I rode and trained horses. I danced. I had an athletic, boyish figure, and hadn’t worn a bra since the unfortunate incident of My Mother, The Washing Machine, And The Underwired Bra.
Let me explain that. My mother was notorious in our house for ruining clothes in the top-loading washing machine that lived in our cloakroom from the 1970’s onwards. Inevitably, being 17 and flat-chested, I had bought myself a glamourous bra with impressive padding and underwiring designed to boost my tiny ‘A’ sized assets. Just as inevitably, it went into the washing machine the second I brought it home, because “You never know who else has tried it on!”
I still don’t know how my mother did what she did to clothes; she practically invented wide, baggy cropped sweatshirts and tee-shirts at a time when fashion dictated they be long enough and skinny enough to be tucked into our baggy jeans and secured with ratchet belts. Anyway, I was smooching with a good-looking but not very tall young man in a packed nightclub one Saturday night, proudly sticking out my padded and underwire-boosted chest, when he suddenly stiffened – and not in a good way. He stood very still. Expectantly, I did the same. Was he about to kiss me? He was looking down with an unidentifiable expression on his face. Down to where something was visibly poking him in the chin. I squinted in the gloom, wondering what it could be. It looked like some sort of radio antenna…..then I realised in horror that it was one of my underwires. It turned out that Mother And The Machine had somehow shredded the fabric stitched over the underwire at the (non-existent) cleavage end; moorings thus removed, it had wriggled its way up and out towards freedom with every sway of my body. Until it hit something solid.
I was mortified! I hastily disengaged the wire from this poor lad’s dented chin, and ran to the Ladies loos, where I spent the rest of the evening whimpering with shame. I furiously ripped off my glamourous new bra and dispatched it immediately to the nearest bin. Not really what I’d had in mind for it.
And that was enough to put me off bras forever. Funny, that.
Luckily, because I never graduated beyond a ‘B’ cup, there was never very much for greedy gravity to grab a hold of, and I was active enough to maintain the natural bra muscle that we all have. I reasoned that, like any other muscle, if it wasn’t kept in full use, if it was let off work by virtue of a bra doing all of the support instead, then that would surely be the quickest way to get saggy boobies. I wore sports bras sometimes, but only if I was in the gym, or running, or dancing, or any other similarly strenuous activity that might give gravity more of a purchase and drag my perkies south. Of course, there were still the occasional recreational bras, worn to excite and invite, but I rarely wore ordinary bras, and certainly not every day. I thought them uncomfortable, inconvenient and unnecessary.
And it worked for me; at 45 I had almost zero ptosis, which is medical jargon for drooping breasts. Everything was still pointing proudly upwards, neither boob had tried to make friends with my armpits and I passed the pencil test with ease.
Now I can’t pass the pencil-case test. Not even the really big, jumbo-sized ones.
This will have to serve as an introduction to my breast cancer story. More to follow, but right now, I’m booked for my nightly sofa-snuggle time with my beloved. He doesn’t care that I have one saggy boob that needs major bra support in public.
But then I’ve never poked him in the chin with a suddenly freed underwire!