Memoir of a Breast Cancer Survivor

Being a stubborn Sicilian girl from the Bronx, the concept that one of my own breasts was secretly trying to kill me was incomprehensible.

“First, you must sign this consent form for your mastectomy today.” The pre-op nurse handed me a clipboard so I could read what (besides losing a breast) I was signing up for. The fatal risk list included possible blood clots, heart failure, anaphylaxis, and infection. Next, I got put to bed near a window, an IV sedation drip stuck in my arm, curtained in and ordered to relax. Relax? I decided to pray instead.

“Hail Mary-…” rolling Rosary beads between my fingers, each prayer bead rolled back time, until I found myself lost in a memory from childhood. It was the afternoon that nuns at Sacred Heart grammar school sent me home with a sealed note for my mother.

From that day on, I was girded in a ‘minimizer brasserie’ instead of the undershirt I had been wearing under my Catholic School uniform. Obviously, my mother took notes from nuns seriously.

The awkwardness of having large breasts continued during my teen years. Mercifully, as a grown woman, I learned to love my breasts the day I met my son for the first time.

The La Leche League, so-called ‘lactation advocates’ who promote breastfeeding to the point of a political agenda, were going room to room in the Einstein Hospital maternity ward where I had just given birth. They found me crying on my newborn’s head and coached me to nurse successfully.

For several months afterward, I felt such fulfillment whenever I lovingly breastfeed my son; like being in a state of maternal grace. Until he bit me.

Somehow, La Leche League showed up uninvited at my house. When I informed them that I had weaned my toothy baby, they called me a bad mother; shaming me for quitting on my breast.

My mother came to my defense by chasing the La La Ladies, (as she called them) brandishing a wooden spoon, (as it was Sunday) back to Larchmont, “where public breastfeeding was a sport and deodorant and bras optional.”

The memory of that day made me laugh. And laugh I did; until a lone teardrop escaped across my face, reminding me where I was. And why.

In confinement behind the curtain in the hospital’s pre-op, I tried my best to not cry whilst awaiting my mastectomy. “Hail Mary-… yawn.”

Fighting to stay awake, I looked out of the window at a wintry scene. A squall of balmy snow fell from a silvery sky, each snowflake melting against the windowpane like so many promises to keep.

A gentle lady leaned in close, her petal-soft voice vowing to keep my Rosary beads safe for me.

Vaguely conscious of being wheeled into the operating room, fluttery, goodbyes escaped my lips, goodbye my son …goodbye my parents… goodbye everyone I’ve ever loved…even if we… fell out… of… love.

My hand was on my heart. Sleep.

Goodbye,…my breast.

(Lisa LoCasio has been cancer free for over ten years and will be walking in the upcoming Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk at Orchard Beach).

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