Monday, April 21, 2008

Fairy Tales and Fairy Breasts

***TMI Alert*** Male readers may want to look away, or risk being blinded by reading about such incomprehensible things as body image and women's issues. :-)

I've been hanging out over at youngsurvival a lot the past two weeks, lurking on the boards, asking a few questions, trying to get a feel for what other young women with breast cancer are dealing with. It has been a great resource for getting a handle on what might be in store for me in the next few months.

One of the boards has photos that women have sent in of their reconstructions after mastectomies. Many women have been very brave and sent in anonymous pictures, from the neck down, in an effort to give examples of good, bad, and in-between results for other women to look at, and realistically assess what reconstruction can, and cannot, do for them. Beyond the sheer voyeurism of looking at the photos, there was a thrill to see things as they really were, no special lighting or edited photo book from a plastic surgeon. The results varied. Some women had absolutely incredible results, others did not. Some results were lopsided, or not quite what the woman had hoped for.

A common theme was: "They look great when I'm wearing clothes. Not so much without clothes."

As I paged through photo after photo, I thought about myself and what I would ultimately choose. Would I really not choose reconstruction? I have shied away from the choice because it means reducing or reconstructing my healthy breast so they would "match" know, like they were a pair of book ends or something.

I don't want to do that, partly out of a sense of leaving well enough alone, and partly because I value my breast as part of my body, and as part of my sexuality and intimacy with my husband. Do I want to sacrifice that intimacy, and the part it plays in our love life, for a matching set of "foobs" which look good in a sweater, but are anatomically useless?

Immediately, a tale leaped into my mind of Sir Gawain, from King Arthur's court, and his ugly bride. He marries a Loathesome Lady for King Arthur because she has granted Arthur victory over a giant through her knowledge. Her only price is that Arthur must provide her a husband from among his knights.

Sir Gawain marries her but is disgusted by her age, appearance, and lowly background. She defends her deficiencies and then is transformed before Sir Gawain, revealing a beautiful lady. She tells him she is cursed with her ugliness, but remains beautiful for only half the day. She can be beautiful at night, with him, or beautiful during the day, in public. Which option would Sir Gawain choose?

Through her persuasion to consider her feelings, Sir Gawain relents and allows her to be beautiful for others. That breaks the spell and the Loathsome Lady becomes the Lovely Lady at all times. This being a fairy tale, happy endings are all around as Sir Gawain gets to bed a beauty, and not some ugly chick that repulses him, because really that's all women are good for in Arthurian legends; to be either horrible witches or beautiful, powerless maidens waiting to be rescued and married. I'm so happy for you Gawain.

and this has what to do with reconstruction?

Well, it is certainly not to imply that DH gets to make this choice for me....cause he doesn't....and has no desire to. Although, maybe if he did, my breasts would be magically transformed into enchanted fairy breasts that would be beautiful at all times, and have super-powers.

Instead, as the Loathsome Lady lurched through my thoughts, I saw myself as Sir Gawain. Would I choose to have a certain appearance before others, for my own sense of well-being, or choose to save something that is meaningful and serves only a purpose in the shared intimacy between myself and my husband?

Will I choose illusion, over what is? Form over function?

I'll let you know....especially if I get super-powers.

This is not a judgement of anyone who has made/or will make different choices than me in this area. It's only my thought process, jumbled as it is by obscure English Literature with a touch of feminist ideology.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I read your warning but pressed on. Two paragraphs later, I wished I'd trusted your warning the first time. Do you attempt to have earnest discussions about this with your husband? Does he get a glazed look?

Hope whatever you do turns out fine.

terri said...


I am trying to be understanding and hope that perhaps I have misinterpreted your comment, but in spite of that, feel insulted and full of wonder about why you would leave such a comment on my blog.

Of course, I discuss this with my husband. He is a wonderful man whose eyes do not glaze over.

If my post so assaults your senses, then heed my warnings, otherwise please don't leave unfeeling comments on my blog.

Musicguy said...

Wow, AVI needs to relax.

Terri- you'll make the right decision for you in the end, I have no doubt about that (just from reading you and your comments for the last year). It's things like this that remind all of us not to sweat the small stuff. Your strength and faith will get you through this, shiner and stronger in the end. I don't think I'd be nearly as calm, cool, and collected.

I'll continue sending some positive energy your way. All the best,

terri said...

Thanks Mr. Musicguy! ;-)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I thought I had posted, but it's not here.

Please accept my apology. I presumed that I had the right to kid you, which is pretty intrusive of me. My mother died of breast cancer - a long twelve years - and others close to me who have had it include my son's godmother, my supervisor at work the last 5 years, and one of our closest friends. I am very used to serious discussions like this, but also to more humorous ones. I clearly used that tone at a time when it was hurtful to you, and I don't want to make your life any more difficult.

terri said...


Apology accepted.

In general I don't mind being kidded, but, as I have discovered in regards to this subject, I can never predict when a nerve might be hit.

I can suffer through endless talks with my doctors, without batting an eye, and then be reduced to tears at the strangest moments.

So...thanks for the apology. I appreciate it.