Friday, October 24, 2008

More about breasts (and wigs).

Specifically, to whom do they belong? It seems to me that we spend a lot of time treating breasts as the property of people other than those to whom they are physically attached. I'm surprised when I hear women's male partners being made part of the equation of whether or not she should have breast reconstruction. It's not that I don't understand that he loves her breasts and will miss them, and that there will be some adjustment period for both partners without them. It's that I see this as similar to a partner gaining or losing weight over time; cutting or growing hair; even losing a limb. These are things that happen. Whether or not we adopt cosmetic responses to these things depend on a lot of factors. I'm certainly not going to say that no one should ever use prostheses for cosmetic reasons. But I do think a woman's decision to have reconstructive breast surgery should not be driven by her male partner's desire for her to have breasts. This is a deeply personal decision. The male partner's role in this case, from the perspective of my admittedly short experience as a woman with breast cancer, is to say, "I will love you no matter what. You will always be beautiful, with or without breasts." (If that's not true, then ladies, you married the wrong guys.)

And you know, I'm sure that this kind of thing happens in lesbian relationships, as well, but when I think back to the Lesbian Nation of radical lesbian feminism, I somehow can't quite envision these discussions taking place in these ways. I can envision women challenging the medical establishment's treatment plans and looking for alternative healing, but I can't quite imagine such focus on breasts on the measure of a woman's sexual worth.

I should also say that I don't really have anything against breast reconstruction. I could argue that I'm a purist, and that it seems disingenuous to me to hide the breast cancer epidemic under implants. But it's not really that for me, although I do think there's a grain of truth there. No, it's more that, while I thought about a boob job a few years ago, it never really seemed worth it to undergo the risks of surgery and anesthesia for something cosmetic. I still feel that way. I may not feel that way in five years - I don't know. But for now, it just doesn't seem worth it to me.

That's kind of how I feel about wigs. I don't really want to wear a hot, itchy wig every day. Mostly, I want something that will cover my head and look good. Hats and scarves fit the bill, as do partial wigs (falls?) that peek out from below the hats and scarves. If I can feel good and avoid scaring Bean, then I'm ahead of the game.

I think what this boils down to is two things: 1) I'm not necessarily looking to pass (outside of certain situations). This is what it is, I'm not the first woman with breast cancer and I won't be the last, and I don't feel I need to make myself look like everyone else to hide it; and 2) I don't want to spend unnecessary money or take unnecessary risks. (I'm more than happy to take reasonable and necessary risks, and to spend money on things I really want, though.)

You know what made me really happy today? My hair is nine inches long in some places, and the wig stylist said that she thinks they can use it for wigs for kids with cancer who have lost their hair permanently. My heart soared when she told me that - it just felt so wasteful and sad to throw my hair away, and I will be so happy if someone else can use it.


Renegade Evolution said...

when i cut off my hair, that's what I did with it (gave it over for wigs), I figured, 22 inches of hair? Better use for it than ending up on the floor.

A relative of mine got no reconstructive surgery after her surgery. Her theory was she'd been through enough medical bs as it was, and if people had issue with her, they could kiss her ass.

She wore hats a lot, and got a tattoo on the side of her head.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Well, there's that, too - I'm not really in search of more medical bs. I'm not even in search of any more needle sticks, frankly, but I'll deal...

CrackerLilo said...

That is so ridiculous. Doctors actually ask you to get your male partner's opinion on this stuff?

I'm glad you're not letting yourself be pressured into making decisions about your health and appearance for anyone but yourself. Not that I expected otherwise, it's just that I never really thought of that kind of pressure as a problem that went with cancer. But I guess it's really almost every woman's problem, though it takes many different forms.

~*~Esmerelda~*~ said...


I wanted to check in and see how you are feeling. I hope that you are getting your chemo treatments in the same type of setting as my Dad had his. They put all the patients together in a big room. You could bring family and friends if you wanted. It was like impromptu therapy. To be with other people in the same situation for both the patients and thier people.

You and your family are in my thoughts, and I hope those mavericky maverick cancer cells lose the election.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Yes, it's crazy. This is where I think the radical fems are absolutely right - what does it tell us when a woman in this situation needs to worry that her male partner might have problems with the appearance of her breasts? And as you say, this is an issue that many women face, cancer or not cancer.

Yep, big group setting, tvs and reclining chairs and warmed blankets. Very nice, very positive! And I am feeling good, thanks!

Anonymous said...

I thought of this the other night when we were watching a show about a woman attacked by a mountain lion. They actually threw it in there about what her husband would think of her appearance. Just be glad she's alive, sheesh!

Octogalore said...

PF -- thinking about you.

I think you're making these decisions in a realistic and healthy way. Not carving out moralistic, prematurely fixed territory, but letting your gut drive you and allowing yourself to go with the flow. Much more gracefully than I can imagine doing myself in a similar situation.

I just read your earlier post. I am very sorry. Even though this will never really be in the past in total, it will be in the past someday in many ways. You will still be beautiful, or even more so.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Octo -
Thanks for both your comments - they are much appreciated!!

Green said...

Just wanted to let you know I'm thinking good thoughts for you. I haven't commented because I don't really have anything to say (though I wondered how you told Bean about what's going on, and how he's dealing with it).

If I lived closer I would bring you over dinner and leave flowers on your doorstep and stuff.

David said...

I just left the hospital room of my wifes in Toronto where she gets daily radiation and a daily dose of chemo. We have been battling this this blood cancer for over 4 years. Two years ago they asked her to consider a stem cell transplant as they could not defeat the rogue chromosomes. They asked her to bring me in to the discussion. She questioned why? "My husband does not have ownership on what I do to my body" she told them point blank.
Every medical decision is "discussed" with me after she makes the decision. She then fills me in on why she made that particular choice or chose that particular chemo regiment.
This is how it should run.
Her body, her choices!

Plain(s)feminist said...

I love knowing that you are here with dinner and flowers, in spirit! Re. Bean - well, as much as the grown-up members of this family have been through in the past month, the reality is that everything they are telling me is positive. So that's what we're telling him - that I'm sick, but that I'm going to get better, and that the medicine they're giving me is so strong and go good that it will also make my hair fall out and make me tired and not feel well sometimes. He seems to be handling it well. I'm sure that he'll have some reactions after the hair comes off, but he will get used to it. He doesn't like it when I'm tired and under the weather, but last night we resolved this by having him just crawl into bed next to me to fall asleep. There are definitely worse things!

Your wife is lucky to have such a supportive partner. Please tell her there are lots of us sending her love and support and prayers.