In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in honor of all of the brave women who have fought this battle, WU World Changer Bernadette Rose Smith shares an intimate glimpse into her breast cancer journey.
Breast Cancer Bites: Kissing My Breast Goodbye.
I find myself on the merging ramp to a mastectomy and wishing to yield, for just a moment, before this breast becomes a blurred memory in the traffic flow of life. She is the part I must release to protect the whole, but she will not go without notice or appreciation for the space she held.
There is a body of experience in this sweet breast of mine. She and her sister were late bloomers. No doubt, I got that premature training bra because my mother was tired of fielding questions that always started with a whiny “When???”
As intimate partners go, both breasts have been first class beyond their champagne-glass classification. But she is the one that held space over my heart. For that, I grieve her loss. I would love to kiss her for all that we’ve gone through together – but she is not that large nor I that agile.
Our bodies are living, breathing temples that hold space for a fusion of body, mind, and spirit – from the most elemental level to the most sublimely sacred that life has to offer. And each part speaks to aspects of experience that leave imprints, clues as to how we maneuver through and integrate events from the significant to the mundane.
From the time she first popped onto the scene, this sweet gal of mine protected my heart from, as well as expressed it to, inexperienced curiosity seekers and seasoned explorers until she found the one who gave her no need to shield and every reason to expand into a union of body, heart, and spirit.
She is visible, palpable evidence of an evolving woman’s journey into and through the greater portion of womanhood, edging into a crone.
Granted, she does not hold the life-sustaining importance of a lung or heart, but she holds emotion-sustaining space for what works, and what doesn’t, in choices made to love and nurture self and others. Choices for expression, play, creativity, sensation, flirtation, exhibition, pro-creation, courage, pride, compassion, just pull out a dictionary and read on. You will find a piece of her on every page.
She never nursed a child but experienced the loss of two miscarriages. She was with me through betrayal, reunion, divorce, and death. She was present to those who honored and dishonored her, to those who gave love and withheld love. She registered the difference between body-to-body encounters and body-to-heart lovemaking.
Eaten away by cancer, she is not looking particularly attractive by today’s standards, but she is beautiful to me, for she kept vigil at the altar of my heart.
And she is taking the hit for the cancer of disappointment, grief and good old-fashioned stress. Her final act of nurturing is one of surrender, as she and I hope to contain the damage with her removal. She will be replaced by a re-constructed stand-in, made to mimic her and topped off with a knotted piece of skin and tattooed nipple. (Somewhere, I hear Joni Mitchell singing, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot … don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?”)
Trust me, though I joke, I do not feel flip about this loss, one that rides on the tails of an overlapping grief for my love, Ray, who lost his battle with cancer in March. (* link to article at the bottom)
Surely there is a ritual fitting for this part of my body that represents sexuality and sensuality, courtesan and Madonna alike? This part of me that society deems a symbol of my femininity, both object, and recipient of pleasure and sensual sensation that now speaks more to the simple pleasures found in life.
Right now, it’s hard to register how I will respond when this part of my body is no longer able to feel the hot water from the shower or the itchy sweat from yard work, the pressing purr of one of my kitties or the clutching ache of grief.
So much in this world carries on without notice or appreciation — body parts included — until there is a failure or challenge in the system. After which, maybe, we wake up and realize how much we took for granted and strived to correct with gratitude for what is left. (Kind of like people in our lives.)
Is this post self-indulgent? Perhaps. But you know what? I don’t care. Because, by now, I hope you realize that I am also casting light on LIFE and how we race through it with or without body parts.
There are too many precious moments lost in the flip of a calendar.
Too many fast good-byes, the depth of which doesn’t register until it’s too late. This is one goodbye that will not be lost in the blurred shadow of cancer.
Indigenous cultures offer rites of passage marking significant transition points, and this gal of mine is going to get one. I don’t know what other women have done to mark the point of life-before and life-after cancer but would love to hear any stories you are willing to share. And I mean that for any type of cancer or life-altering dis-ease.
For now, I will savor her, throw her this virtual party (as well as one at the local coffee shop) and kiss her a mindful goodbye.
She resisted gravity’s pull pretty darn good. I will strive to do the same without her. For every bit of love that she now hands over to her sister and me, for every woman who lost or is losing this intimate partner, as well as any other, I kiss my breast and yours for what space they held.
And, even if all your parts remain intact, take a moment to extend some gratitude with a little self-pampering, sweet ones.
Sharing is caring. If you found something here that inspired, you may know someone else who will feel the same.
* Life. Death. Breast Cancer. – http://enlightenedink.com/blog/2017/07/02/life-death-breast-cancer