I have struggled with this issue since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. To be quite honest, I spent 8 years in the military so I have heard – and seen – some pretty off-color, politically incorrect shit in my time. I have also become an active observer of human behavior. Just when I think I have seen something totally outrageous or offense, it is usually topped by something else. I have had to take a step back in most cases and say: is it me or am I really surrounded by insensitive, uncompassionate people?
Before I got breast cancer, rarely did I not plaster pictures of myself on social media (mostly Facebook) in string bikinis. I fell in love with the beach about 3 years ago and I couldn’t help it: I wanted attention and I wanted everyone to see how much fun I was having. The pictures usually attracted an unwanted comment or two; however, usually the comments were very complimentary and I felt validated in some way. I was in love with my body, and I was extremely comfortable in my own skin – probably for the first time in my life. That all changed the day I lost my breasts…
A few months ago, a male friend posted a meme in the late hours of the evening that I just could not scroll past. It was a picture of a woman with bodacious breasts, and the comments centered around what I can sum up as “guy locker room talk”. The meme was not posted to me; it was put out for the general public viewing. The euphemisms that took residence in the comments really pissed me off. I joined in the conversation and asserted myself as a breast cancer patient who had a bilateral mastectomy (I never say “double mastectomy” since my surgeon corrected me that it was not accurate terminology). My comments were met with a bit of confusion and disdain…and also an invalidation of my feelings: this was not meant to be mean, or directed specifically towards me or any breast cancer patients.
Why was I so angry? Why did a meme – that I would have probably just scrolled past prior to losing my breasts – make me initiate an internal call to action? Why was I compelled to force my opinion on others that they should be more sensitive or compassionate to people who had lost their breasts? Why was everyone else having fun with this while I sat there with my blood pressure rising?
I should note that this “friend” constantly posts pictures that seem misogynistic or demeaning to women. This person is consistent, and most of the content he posts runs along the same theme. It never bothered me before breast cancer – why did it bother me now? It is me who changed, not him. I unfollowed his posts and apologetically told him that when I could come to terms with things, I would once again follow him on social media.
Should he feel bad for being who he is? The answer is no. Should he be compassionate to my own struggle and not freely posts what he wants? The answer again is no. He is not living what I am – I am the one who needs to accept others for who they are…even my breast-obsessed friends who gleefully decorate the news feed with beautiful women with well-endowed breasts. I miss my old breasts very much, and feel sometimes I am in mourning over their loss.
Sometimes we have to take a look at ourselves, rather than pointing the finger at others. We also need to internally reflect on things that make us angry or uncomfortable before we lash out at someone who’s intentions are probably not what we perceive. Perception is a big thing in social media: what offends one person makes another person laugh, and vice versa. I need to change my perception of my breast-obsessed friends, and toughen up my military mind a little bit.
Not a day goes by that my husband does not tell me how beautiful I look. He is pleased with the results of my reconstruction. I need to come to terms with how I look now – which I realized this morning – is not all that bad. This is my new normal. I need to stop mourning my old breasts, accept the “new” breasts I have fortunately been given, and move on with my life. My stitches come out tomorrow, and I’m sure mentally, this will have an impact on how I feel. Again, it is about finding the “new” normal and starting to love myself again…