In Voices - Inspirational (and sometimes funny) Stories from Breast Cancer Survivors

Laverne and Shirley…

I really thought I’d finally completed all parts of the puzzle that is breast cancer. I am now a new and improved version of my old self. Well, one puzzle piece is, anyway. And I must say, while everyone was reverent, sympathetic and respectful when speaking about my breast cancer, they were, at turns, outspoken, opinionated and forthright about the size of my future, cancer-free spare parts.

I am, by all means, extremely open about my entire life, and breast cancer was not an exception. I know that some people may decide against sharing their story with the PTO, the crossing guard or the guy that was snaking my toilet, but for me, talking about it at every opportunity is the way I roll. And, to the woman in front of me at the grocery store– sorry that I gave you a blow-by-blow description of my mastectomy, when all you asked was if the cantaloupe was ripe. To know me is to…choose another check-out line, I guess.  Sadly, I inserted my cancer into every possible scenario and conversation, and this made the whole mess much less terrifying for me.

The next step in the process was Rack Reconstruction. I have to say, everyone from my father to the gas station attendant had an opinion about the size of my future cupage. It’s amazing how forthcoming everyone is with advice about my body parts! But, I made it very clear to everyone that my new additions would be more the size of kiwis than, say, grapefruits. If this was my one chance to have something appear young, perky and untouched by childbirth, then, by God, smaller fruit was the way to go. My father was so disappointed in me. “I don’t get it.”” he would say, head shaking slowly from side to side. “Don’t you want something a little more substantial? I mean, this is your chance to get a good pair of aces!”  “Dad!” I screeched,”Yuck! Stop talking to me about this! I told you – small and perky. Small and perky, dammit!” 

No one really understood my preference, but that didn’t stop random acquaintances from gesturing and declaring their hypothesis on the situation. Or, I imagined everyone did, anyway. The poor man at the corn-on-the-cob stand, for example. He was merely putting corn in a bag for me, yet I imagined he was weighing-in on my perceived size!  And, I yelled at a Little League coach as he was examining errant baseballs: “Hey! That’s too big! Too big for me!”  The poor man was simply doing what every man does; innocently holding his balls. My brother, sisters, cousins, hairdresser and the lady at the dry cleaner all offered their unsolicited measurement advice; some creepy – some helpful. Even my surgeon was skeptical about my decision. I doubt that in his entire career he has never had a woman walk into his office and ask to “go smaller”. It was a novelty. I was concerned that implants don’t even come in the size I envisioned: XXsmall. They may have had to special order them from the Land of Oz, but thankfully, that is what arrived on Implant Day: the perfect kiwis. 

The surgery went swimmingly. Except for one small detail. Due to the damage to my underlying  tissue, the surgeon had to utilize a little something they call ”donor tissue”, which fills the space left vacant by my old package. I didn’t want to know from where this donor tissue originates. Is it animal? Mineral? Vegetable? Can I wear it in my hair? Do I dare? Does it come from a face? Or outer space? Was it last attached to a dog? A cat? A frog? A pollywog? Can you buy it at a store? The shore? Will it make me snore? I know it made me sore. (Perhaps this tissue’s donor was a direct descendant of Dr. Seuss.)  At any rate, it may very well be tissue from a swine. So, if you see me at Agolino’s sporting a snout, a curly tail and bleating – just ignore me and hide your bacon. It may hurt my feelings.

Lastly, I’d like to plead to all my wonderful female readers: please, please high-tail it to your yearly mammograms. Remember, we can either be proactive and save our life, or be lackadaisical and risk our life. Early detection saved my particular life. And…by the way…my new girlfriends have names. I toyed with a few ideas: Lucy and Ethel, Veronica and Betty, Ginger and Mary Ann, Cagney and Lacey, Thelma and Louise. Trust me; it’s much easier to get through a mini health crisis when you attach names to your body parts. Don’t ask me why, or I would have to make-up an explanation. 

And, I am doing alright. The girls are all alright. Laverne. Shirley. And me.

About the Author:

Maria Jiunta HeckMaria Jiunta Heck, President of Green Gables Enterprises, designer and owner of the Breast & Chest Buddy™, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and underwent a bilateral mastectomy.

As every mastectomy patient knows, our bodies become difficult to maneuver immediately following surgery, and simple tasks, such as driving a car and fastening a seatbelt prove daunting and difficult.

Because a mastectomy patient may go through multiple procedures over the next 8 to 12 months, it is imperative to cushion the delicate area where a seatbelt rests daily. A pillow is not the answer.

Since no one had ever designed a product like this at the time, she would. Thus, the Breast & Chest Buddy™ was born. Nine years and ten procedures later and Maria still wears her Breast & Chest Buddy™ every, single day.

No one understands what a mastectomy patient needs like another mastectomy patient.

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