Editor's note: Some images below may be considered NSFW to some readers.
Removal of any body part for whatever reason is never an easy situation. For many of us, we were born with 10 fingers, 10 toes, arms, legs, penises, breasts, etc. So it was a daunting feeling knowing I was going to have both my breasts removed when diagnosed for the second time in a year with breast cancer.
It was a choice I had to make to remove all the cancer from my left breast. I was faced with the option the first time around and scheduled the operation twice but backed out both times because I was honestly too scared. I was not ready to let go.
This time around I knew I had to go through it.
In general, at least in my experience talking with doctors and women who have gone through a similar experience, a mastectomy becomes a sterile and automatic surgery option for women with breast cancer with very little attention paid to the human importance of breasts. It's a procedure done to get rid of a tumor, avoid further tumor growth or both.
Breasts are too often thought of as a sexual apparatus, objects of beauty and a defining part of a woman's identity. Personally, I feel there should be more emphasis placed on the fact they can help sustain life in our babies. Many mothers give sustenance from their breasts. This is universal among all mammals. I was able to breast feed both my babies. For me, my breasts were a true symbol of life, being a mother and being a woman.
I never felt my breasts defined me or who I was as a woman.
Rather, my breasts were a part of me. They defined my body as a whole, not a part. If I had to get my arm amputated, I know I would miss that arm. My breasts are the same way. I miss them. They were very good to me.
I also enjoyed them for what they gave me when intimate pleasure. There is no denial women's breasts can bring a great sense of pleasure while having sex. The thought of never feeling this again was unimaginable, really. Fuck cancer. It became my mantra to justify such a trying time in my life. It was not what I wanted at all.
I thought about it and knew I needed to accept and come to terms with it all. Fighting it, being angry and depressed would not help my healing process. I wanted it to become a positive experience because I didn't want it to work against me.
I enlisted my friend and sculptural artist, Amanda Timmons to forever honor my breasts. I felt I needed to create a lasting symbol of a very important part of my life. I wanted Amanda to cast my breasts in plaster. After my implant surgery and recovery, she will cast the "the new girls." For me, I felt it would be a visual timeline of my experience with breast cancer.
Cutting them off felt like cutting off a part of my life for me.
And I refused to let go of them thinking this way. I needed to give them the proper farewell they deserved.
My daughter, my two close friends and Amanda gathered together in Amanda's studio to honor my breasts and called it a "casting party." My best friend from high school, Patricia, made sure to document the whole night with a series of photographs.
It was especially beautiful for my daughter and I to share this time together -- and feel thankful my breasts helped give her life. I was touched she wanted to be a part of it and understood why I was doing it. She will be a mother soon enough and intends to breast feed her babies. Going through this observance with me helped her to not take her breasts for granted as merely "boobs."
Amanda carefully cut strips of plastered gauze and soaked them in water and then gently applied them to my vaseline-smothered torso. She had me sit in a tall stool and delicately created a cast of my front and then my back. We all cried, hugged, drank wine, ate cheese and crackers and most of all laughed through it all. I needed this to say goodbye to a part of my body that was actually very useful and I enjoyed.
Since the casting party, I have shared my experience with many women -- women who have had mastectomies -- who had wished they had done something like that. From my own experience, I can say that it felt like important part of my emotional healing. I needed to know that they were real and they were important and more than a photo. This was the only thing I could think of that would convey this to me, to put it at rest -- so to speak -- in a positive manner.
Losing my breasts has been a brutal process, but having the opportunity to honor that part of me in advance has helped me to move forward.