Monday, April 23, 2007

Unplanned/Desired(?) Body Modifications

I interviewed my mother to further understand her reactions to her own body modification journey. As a whole, I would say that my mother is against body modifications beyond ear piercing (one hole in each ear, females only!). She still reacts to my navel piercing even though it is covered almost all of the time. But beyond having her ears pierced, my mom does have other body modifications. First of all, she has birthed five children. Not having gone through childbirth myself, I would venture to say that this will modify one's body quite a bit. Second, my mother is a breast cancer survivor. I originally planned to interview my mother and some of her breast cancer survivor friends. They call themselves the Bosom Buddies. However, after one of their members passed away this past March after a reoccurance, I no longer felt it appropriate to reach out to these ladies, despite my mom telling me that it was ok. I am so proud of my mother. She is strong and courageous. Heck, when she broke the news to me and my siblings with my father, Mom was comforting us instead of vice versa. Sheila, my mom, has been five years cancer free this past March! The five year is exciting for my family because while it doesn't say that she'll never have a reoccurance, Sheila's chances of a reoccurance greatly decrease with each passing year. Besides being incredibly proud of my mother, I was also interested to hear her story about her cancer and her having a mastectomy. That's right, my mother only has one breast. She had the other one removed during her treatment. Breast cancer is scary for many people, but, for me, I will sometimes be very scared for my future and other times feel a little resigned to let fate go its course. My sister (and my brother since men can have breast cancer too) and I are in a high risk category for developing breast cancer in our life time. Whereas my mother has no family history of breast cancer, I now have this history on both sides. My paternal grandmother is a twenty-year survivor of breast cancer, and my paternal great-grandmother had a double mastectomy to remove lumps which were later found to be benign. I feel sometimes that I have my breasts on loan. I would not be surprised if I died without one of them. The idea is scary, but it's something I feel that I need to be aware of. So without further ado, I shall record for you this phone interview with my mother about breasts, mastectomies, and in the end what it means to my mom.

Amy: When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
Sheila: March 2002

Amy: What was your initial reaction upon learning you were to have a mastectomy?
Sheila: The mastectomy? Or learning I had breast cancer?
Amy: Both, why not
Sheila: I had a choice between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy. But Dr. Breaux said I had such little breasts and that he wanted to remove alot of tissue to ensure that he would remove all cancerous cells. So, in the end, my breast would have looked deformed. I chose the mastectomy because I wanted it all off. Let's see, I found out different than most people because Daddy called the pathologist at the hospital. I kept telling him don't keep anything from me. I was at the computer when he called, I remember that. I forgot the term he used, but I knew what it meant. You just go numb. I wrote it out and you keep looking at it. We didn't talk much. You're just numb; you're looking at it but you can't quite believe it. It's not real.

Amy: Do you ever miss your breast?
Sheila: Not really. No, not really. Paul Breaux tried to get me to do reconstruction. He wants me to every time I go in. No, I don't really miss it. I don't want to have my breast reconstructed. I have to be careful when I wear low cut things when I bend over. I think the biggest reason why I don't miss it is Daddy. Daddy have never blinked an eye, made me fell less than a woman. If I wanted it, he would support me, but he doesn't want me to do it for him. He let me make the decision between a mastectomy and a lumpectomy. But he was very happy I chose the mastectomy.

Amy: Does the mastectomy ever make you self-concious?
Sheila: No, but some shirts for some reason make me look lopsided, so I put extra padding. Otherwise, you can't tell. Self-concious maybe at first. I don't like to stare at it in the shower. I started to look the bathroom door after my surgery, and I still do today. I feel less self-concious in front of Daddy -- he never let on. Only thing is and that's come up from time to time if I can't wear my bra [specially made bra with a prosthesitic breast] I can't get it. I'm choosing to stay within the confines of the bra. I'm not a big fashion person, so I'm not going to pay the money for a new bra.

Amy: Do you believe your breasts compose part of your identiy as a woman?
Sheila: To a certain extent, especially when I was breast feeding and when I was dating and younger. [Overall, this researcher was under the impression that no, breasts did not compose part of my mom's identity as a woman, that her female identity was more than that.]

Amy: How long have you been cancer free?
Sheila: Five years and almost one month.

Amy: Does the place where your breast was ever hurt? Do you have phantom pains?
Sheila: No [phantom pains]. I never feel as if it's there. Now, sometimes I forget which side is the prosthesis. I'm trying to think which side so I can put on my pin and I don't want to puncture it.

Amy: Are you scared that your daughters will develop breast cancer?
Sheila: Yes, just because y'all are at higher risk. I viewed mine as a fluke.

Overall, it was a fun hour conversation with my mom. We were "off" topic quite a bit. The main thing I learned from this conversation is that I have so much respect for my parents. Their relationship is still so strong, and I'm so happy that my mom has a husband who is so supportive of her and makes her feel beautiful, loved, and desired. And, so by then end of talking with Mom, I just think my dad is a wonderful, wonderful man.

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