Cancer 102 - Second Semester:
Some Breast Cancer Etiquette


First off, I’m fine, and I’ll be fine. After a routine mammogram last week caught cellular abnormalities, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since this is a reoccurrence of cancer in the same breast, I will be undergoing a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Thankfully, it was caught early. I repeat, I’ll be fine, I just have to get through the surgery and recovery process so I can put this all behind me and move forward. But first, a few words of advice...

People mean well, they really do, but I’d like to go over a little bit of breast cancer etiquette with the general public. (So I guess this is, in actuality, a public service. Feel free to share it with others and repost. Doing so may actually help prevent unnecessary injury to yourself or others at the hands of a pissed-off woman going through this process.)

When someone tells you they’re going to have a mastectomy/reconstruction, don’t tell them, “At least you’ll get a brand new pair of boobies!” or anything closely resembling this statement in a well-meaning attempt to cheer them up about a sucky situation.

I’ve told only a handful of people so far, and I’ve already heard the above nearly every time. It has the effect of making me want to punch them in the mouth, and I’m usually not a violent person.

I don’t want new boobs. Mine are just fine. They may be a little saggy, but so am I. I’m middle-aged; perky breasts don’t go with the rest of me and my, shall we say, slightly less than taut self.

Also, Lefty (aka Troublemaker) and I, we’ve been through a lot together. Twelve years ago, I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ with an invasive portion. It was caught early then too; I did my breast exams, thankfully. I went through a surgical biopsy, lumpectomy, and axillary dissection (lymph node dissection under the armpit to screen for metastasis). The end result was a breast with about a third less of its original mass, a scar, and one more scar under the arm. Lefty’s been a little trooper, though, right there along with me. (Husband has always treated Lefty with deference and care; maybe an occasional reprimand (usually ignored) when he got, um, ahead of himself.)

I’d rather have my slightly tattered breast than a perfect perky version. I mean, I was thankful just to have a breast.


In a few weeks, I’ll have a new one, most likely an implant filled with whatever it is they fill breasts with these days – shredded newspaper, pillow stuffing, pencil shavings – who knows? It’ll be strange and foreign; something I’ll have to get used to. Then, in a few months, I'll have yet another operation to match the "old" one to the "new" one. (So far, in the few days I’ve been getting used to this whole notion of my new normal, most of my efforts to get through this have been mental – staying mentally strong and focused, not letting myself collapse into a heap of tragedy.)

I’m doing pretty well so far. But don’t tell me about how lucky I am to be getting new boobs. I just might have to hurt you.

[Husband's note: After all of this, hey, at least she'll get a new pair…]

-- Margaret (J.C.)

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