How I prepared to say goodbye to my left breast

3 minute read.

I had the good fortune to have three full days to prepare myself mentally, logistically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually to say goodbye to my left breast.  

My surgery was on a Tuesday. The Saturday before, Molly and I went to the Korean spa.   As always, I love seeing people naked.  Without clothes, each person’s body is so different from the next, and each person is so perfect.  I think a lot of our collective body hatred could be wiped away if we spent more time being naked with each other.  Looking around, I felt a strong conviction that I will feel beautiful before, during, and after the process of losing my breast.  I found the other unique bodies around me beautiful, after all; and few of them conformed to mainstream beauty standards.

At the spa, I was conscious of every sensation in my left breast: hot water, steam, the ticklish froth of bubbles traveling upwards and over my nipple.  I knew I would never feel any of these sensations again.  I focused on the physical sensations, and enjoyed them.

In the red clay room, I held my left breast in my hand and directed my love there.  I felt a little self-conscious, but I persevered and did what I felt was right for me to do, in spite of any whispering internal voices judging me.  

On Sunday, my mom and brother helped me clean my apartment.  We washed all the dishes, deep cleaned the bathroom, swept the floors. We purchased a thousand pillows to prop me up after surgery, and we did mountains of laundry so I would have clean bedding and pajamas to avoid infection.

A doctor told me that breast milk ducts shed their lining often, like skin.  These shed cells flow out through the nipple.  If you look at a bra or garments worn close to the skin, you can see those cells: a small shadowy circle where the nipple pressed up against the cloth.

The grief of losing my breast reminds me of losing my father.  The grief is a specific longing for a specific body.  Bodies shed cells, stain cloth, leave behind shadows and traces.  We are taught to feel ashamed of what our bodies leave behind, but in grieving, we cling to these traces: we breathe in the fragrance of sheets, we cry over the dirty laundry a loved one left behind.

I looked at the shadow of cells inside the left cup of my favorite bra and felt sadness and awe for the processes that are happening constantly inside of my body, unseen, mysterious, holy.  

I grieved.  I sobbed.

Each morning, I did yoga.  I stretched my arms as far above my head as I could reach and felt the pure pleasure of my lithe and energetic shoulders, arms, armpits, pectoral muscles, breasts.  I knew it could be a long time before I would be able to move this way again.

On Monday, I wrote my breast a love letter apologizing for the things I feel sorry for: the times I didn’t love my body, the times I wished my breasts were bigger, my self-destructive habits, increasing my cancer risk by drinking and smoking.  No one who gets cancer is at fault – but I wanted to apologize. And I thanked my breast for the things I am thankful for: joy, pleasure, beauty, jiggling, sexuality, silliness, bonding me with the people I love.  

I wrote many pages in my journal, morning and evening.  I dwelled on grief and gratitude and above all, a deep reverence and love for my body.  

Throughout the three days, I thought, spoke aloud, and wrote these words to my breast: I release you with love and appreciation.

I did this over and over: morning and night, and throughout the day.  Silently, out loud, and written in ink.

I release you with love and appreciation.

A magic spell, an affirmation, a farewell.

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