Sunday, December 02, 2012

some thoughts on gender, boobs and belly fat

I stand by my promise not to turn this into Cheryl’s Cancer Blog, but I do have to share one of the weirder and funnier parts of this process so far: my visit to Dr. L, plastic surgeon. (Why does he get just an initial? I don’t have anything really bad to say about him, but in case any of my doctors Google themselves in their minimal spare time, I don’t want the surgical equivalent of a waiter spitting in my food, you know?)

Although I mentioned the exciting prospect of new boobs in my last post, I feel compelled to add that reconstruction shouldn’t be a given. One of Meehan’s friends was disturbed that doctors always mentioned plastic surgery before her health. And I just read this post over at I Blame the Patriarchy, about the compulsive feminization of women, breast cancer survivors like the blogger herself included.

But I’m getting new ones, even though Dr. L informed me they’ll have pretty much no feeling, which is totally unnerving (literally—ha!), because I want to look nice in clothes designed for girls. It’s that simple.

And not simple at all, of course. Given that my forthcoming chemo will be hormone-based and will shut down my ovaries, and that I have the BRCA-2 gene mutation and therefore a hysterectomy in my near future to lower my risk of ovarian cancer, and my body has already demonstrated itself to be ambivalent about getting/staying pregnant, any biological femininity I have is somewhat under attack.

Luckily I came of age in a community that believes biology is not destiny. Although of course all of this is happening because of my genes, so biology is some kind of destiny—just hopefully not the only one. If my trans friends can be intrinsically male or female regardless of their body parts, I hope I can be too. Right now I’m feeling kinda FTMTF.

This post was supposed to be about my wacky visit to Dr. L, but I seem to have digressed into philosophy and melancholy.

A nurse (receptionist? both? I wasn’t sure) took the first topless photo of my life; I stood in a very unsexy “before” pose with my arms at forty-five-degree angles. Then I put on a cheap silky gown embroidered with Dr. L’s logo, and Dr. L himself—who has maybe had a little work done around the eyes—came in and showed me dozens of pictures of before and after boobs.

There are way more types of boobs in this world than the movies or my limited sexual adventures prepared me for. And that’s just the befores. The afters were fine—plastic surgery is pretty advanced—although some of the in-betweens were a little rough. Not because they were hideous, not even because they had scars instead of nipples. Just because they were bodies that spoke to transition and hard times.

I’ve had hard times that were entirely invisible, and like a teenager who slices up her arms, the prospect of making pain visible is not entirely unappealing to me, even if the eventual goal is looking good in a halter top.

Given my type of cancer and my type of body, Dr. L recommended implants rather than “flap” surgery (was there ever a less appealing name?), in which they make boobs out of your stomach fat. He might need to borrow a little muscle from my back to protect one of the implants from possible radiation, he said, and I imagined a fig wrapped in prosciutto. But I was too thin for flap surgery, he said.

Implants as appetizer.

The breast cancer world is one of the few in which I’m repeatedly told I’m young and, now, thin. It feels stupid to be flattered by such things—I’m getting treated precisely so I can get old—but I’ll take whatever I can get these days.

“You’re very thin,” he kept saying.

It’s true that lately I’ve been on the Anxiety Diet, which is the exact opposite of the MacDowell diet, but I told him, “You say that, and it’s nice to hear, but I think I have a belly.”

When he finally opened my gown and looked at me topless, he grabbed a hunk of belly and said thoughtfully, “I could probably make a large B-cup out of that.”

Cathy pointed out that his comment was not unlike those of T-Mec’s vet in the strange-gauging-of-women’s-bodies category, although Dr. L wasn’t quite such a whackjob. We quickly returned to the implants option, though, because it’s less invasive and I want to be a C-cup, mainly so the rest of my body doesn’t suddenly look huge in relation to my boobs. Maybe I should be glad that people, even doctors, can’t figure me out just by seeing me with my clothes on.


Claire said...

Hey C, I've been thinking about you and hoping you're doing well.

I'm going to email you some notes I took yesterday entirely NOT about cancer which I thought you might find useful. So about writing then.

Hope you're having a good day!

Tracy Lynn said...

The weirdest thing about being sick is how uncomfortable everyone around me gets if I am not always Optimistic Olive. It's like no one wants to think anything negative or as I like to say, realistic, for fear that mortality is contagious.
I don't have the heart to tell them it's a fucking certainty that everyone dies at some point.
I wish I got new boobs. All I got was a blanket and a tote bag.

Cheryl said...

C: Please do send! Email 'em to the address I check most, if you don't mind: cheryl.e.kleing[at]

T: Trying to find the balance (in my own head and in public) between being Optimistic Olive and Debbie Downer and, uh, Realistic Rochelle is really hard. We all walk with death every day. Thinking about it is not a bad thing. Thinking about nothing else (as I've done at times) is not the best, but sometimes unavoidable. I always appreciate it when people like yourself aren't scared away when my dark side emerges. (I like to imagine her as gothy looking, with great tits.)

Sizzle said...

I realize how weird it is that I am now craving a prosciutto wrapped date.

Look at us, both facing forthcoming hysterectomies. This blows. I hate it this for you. It's such a bizarre roller coaster isn't it?

I owe you an email and I have a package to mail you.

Cheryl said...

Siz, are you coming onto me and my forthcoming fake boob? :-)

Sorry to hear you didn't dodge the hysterectomy bullet. But I have to admit it's nice to have a partner in crime. Eventually I hope we can exchange wacky stories of premature hot flashes and creatively acquired babies.

Claire said...

Hey Cheryl, Just saw this, so resent 2 emails to your gmail. Assuming the g after klein is a typo. If not, let me know.

Also, I don't mind your dark side either. I generally aim for optimism in my responses since it feels more constructive, but I in no way mean to discourage you from expressing what you feel.

If you wanted to make this Cheryl's Cancer Blog, I would still read. (I might comment a bit less if it got too trigger-y, since I need breaks from thinking about medical stuff now and again.) Don't stop writing though.

Cheryl said...

I'm refraining from making it Cheryl's Cancer Blog for my own purposes, but I appreciate the unconditional support. And I totally get the need to de-medicalize one's life. Sigh.

Sizzle said...

Oh yes, I was totally coming onto you. ;-0

Sandra said...

Although I've never had a prosciutto wrapped date, I definitely don't think I'll be seeking that gourmet experience out now.

And I think when medical issues surge up and surround you, like the Assyrian coming down on the fold, their cohorts all gleaming in purple and gold, you get to medicalize your life as much as you want.

Peter Varvel said...

I have missed a lot. I apolgize for being absent.
I'm hoping to tune in more regularly, again, for the good, the bad, and the in between.