I have a personal mythology that I grew breasts overnight. It's most likely that it's just that: a myth.
But—if you believe the words of the disproportionately male horn section of the middle school cadet band of my youth—something changed about me.
And it changed quickly.
Little did I know, when I chose to play trumpet in fifth grade, that a few years later when I was flung into puberty I would also be hurled into a pack of wild hyenas. That is, tween-age boys.
It was just me and Becky amid a swarm of corduroy-clad beasts whose surges of testosterone would erupt in unfettered verbal assault. I'm not sure which of us was unluckier: Becky, who was taunted daily to the tune of "Don't You Want Me (Baby Becky)," or me, who was now called "Stuffer." As in "bra stuffer." The ring leader may or may not have been called Brad and we may or may not have both been vying for first chair.
That this was a coup to unseat me was not out of the question. It was a long time ago, though, and fine details have been forgotten. But the notion that one day I was flat and, seemingly, the next day I had a bustline stuck with me.
For the record, there were no tissues involved.
Today, when I get ready to go out and mingle in polite company, I do stuff my bra: with a prosthesis. And I sometimes laugh that I have finally earned that juvenile nickname. I don't have to go out with a matched set—and I don't always—but years of see-sawing weight earned me a hearty, unshrinkable DD cup.
Before my surgery, it was hard to notice me without noticing I was generously endowed. Now, it's hard not to notice when half of that bounty it is not there. So, I stuff—not to attract stares, but to avoid them.
You know what else has become hard not to notice? How much breasts play a role in identity.
What some women can wear and look perfectly demure in, I always managed to make look a little naughty. I couldn't escape the body I was given, nor could I deny the attention it received. Having big boobs was part of me. I would sometimes think aloud, as I twisted and turned in front of the mirror, "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way."
I was once a Jessica Rabbit.
And now? Hmmm ...
I have drawers full of lingerie and closets full of plunging necklines that I'll never wear again. I mourn them a bit as I do the possibility of cleavage, but I'd rather let go of them than my life.
There isn't even a negotiation there.
Now, gazing in the mirror is filled with curiosity, gratitude and a little sadness. Not a lot.
I look at that lone breast—which was not the favorite, by the way—and I thank it for not betraying me like the other one did. I ask it to forgive me for not loving it as much; I promise I'll be a better host in the future. I run my hand over the scar and try to remember what was there.
It's surprising that I could live with a body part for so many years and within a month of its removal, forget what it was even like.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early January 2019. I had a single mastectomy, without reconstruction, in February. I learned recently, after several tests and scans, that the cancer metastasized to my bones. While it makes me stage 4, there is still plenty of hope for longevity.
I am fortunate to live in a city with state-of-the-art medical care and an astonishingly attentive team of experts. There's no place I'd rather be.
I started this series for West Michigan Woman with the goal of helping other women. I'm pretty sure it's more helpful to me, as I sort through and process so many emotions. As I've been writing this post, on a topic I've planned for a while, I've wondered what I want the takeaway to be.
I've settled on this:
Don't begrudge your breasts for their largeness, smallness, lopsidedness or whatever negative -ness you can conjure up. They're one of the miracles of the human body and they are a part of what makes you, wonderful you.
And don't take your body for granted. Celebrate it for all it can do. Appreciate it for its flaws as much as its beauty. Treat it well, keep it active and fill it with good things.
Allison Kay Bannister, a West Michigan resident since 1987, professional writer since 2002 and GVSU alumna, recently launched her own freelance writing business. Allison enjoys travel, art, dance, food and exploring world cultures—and, of course, writing about all these and more.
Photo courtesy of Allison Kay Bannister.