The Boob Fairy

About 14 years ago, when a dear friend of ours got pregnant for the first time, her husband commented ruefully, “It’s like the boob fairy visited. She looks great! But I can’t touch them. She’s too sore and too grumpy.”

My husband and I chuckle about that periodically over the years, especially when the boob fairy visits me during my own pregnancy a few years later.

I’ve got news for everyone: The boob fairy is not just for women who are preggers. The boob fairy has definitely sprinkled her pixie dust on me. Or maybe, I’ve sprinkled it on myself. A quick lap around medical websites informs me that after the trauma of surgery, blood and fluid can collect around the area that was cut away. Swelling is pretty much the order of things after surgery. So how to avoid swelling? Well, the websites say, don’t be a total slug. If you don’t move at all, you risk fluid pooling and blood clotting. But, if you move too much, that can irritate injured tissue. And, guess what, that means you risk fluid pooling and blood clotting. I love how clear medical recommendations can be.

Sitting still has never been my particular talent. In our last garden, in Brooklyn, my husband used to challenge me to sit in a patio chair for 10 whole minutes without jumping up to pull up a weed or dead-head a flower. I’m not sure I ever won that challenge. It’s two weeks out from surgery, and all the breast surgery timelines on and etc. say I should be back to normal by now. My discharge papers say I can lift things heavier than 10 pounds now! I can resume exercising!

So this week, I jump back into life full throttle: cooking, driving the kid to school, sweeping the floors, walking the dog, working, folding, cleaning, all my day-to-day normal activities. Maybe my normal is not actual normal, though. After one day of this, my left breast swells a little. At my post-op appointment, the doctor says I’m swollen, but not to worry.

Yesterday, as I get the kid to school, have coffee with a new friend, work for a few hours, pick up the kid and a classmate, drop the kids, drop by the temporary place, pick up the husband downtown for back-to-school night, and go to back-to-school night, my left breast begins to twinge. Then it swells. Then it swells some more. I pop a Vicodin at the back-to-school night reception and hand the car keys to husband Pete.

By the time we pick up the kid at her friend’s house and get back home, I am so sore, even with the Vicodin, that all I want to do is get horizontal with an ice pack. As I unhook the delightful granny bra from the hospital cancer shop, I notice dimpled lines in the upper curve of my breast. It’s getting so big that even the therapeutic underwear is too small. My daughter Erin walks in, “Wow, Mom! Your boob is as big as a basketball! Hey, Dad!” she calls, “Come look at Mommy’s boob. It’s huge!”

My lovely child has a tendency to hyperbole. My left breast is not as big as a basketball. But it might be as big as a small cantaloupe. And it hurts. There are no red streaks that might indicate infection. It’s just a purply-green hue, made that way by all that cellular, microscopic flotsam with nowhere to go. I’ve put in a call to my surgeon’s nurse, but I suspect she’s just going to tell me to rest.

Meanwhile, the truly goofy thing is that my incredible growing boob is the stuff of dreams. Just before I had my surgery, Pete and I were doing a lap of the channels and came upon a reality TV show about small-breasted women moving heaven and earth to have breast augmentation surgery.

For the life of me, I can’t find a trace of that show on the Internet. I swear I saw it. I think it was Australian. No matter. It’s easy to find plenty of other evidence of international breast neuroses: Hundreds of breast augmentation surgery websites thrive worldwide. Here are just a few. In 2009, getting breast implants was the number one cosmetic surgery procedure in America. More than 289,000 women had this procedure, according the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. More than 9,000 of these women were under the age of 18.

Almost as many women got diagnosed with breast cancer: In 2009, an estimated 192,370 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed among women, as well as an estimated 62,280 additional cases of in situ breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Facts and Figures. So that makes about 254,000 cases of breast cancer, but 289,000 boob jobs. That’s a net gain in boob-age!

Meanwhile, Wikipedia says that 10,000 people tried out for the second season of Extreme Makeover, a plastic surgery reality show that ABC canceled in 2007. Can’t figure out where Wikipedia got this stat, but it can just be replaced with “a freaking lot of people.” Scan the episode synopses and you’ll see that most of the makeovers include boob jobs. The same seems to be true of “The Swan,” a Fox show canceled in 2005, in which supposedly very ugly women get lots of plastic surgery and emerge hotties. I wonder if the producers ever catch the irony that the winner of the show’s second, and last, season gets served with divorce papers at about the same time she wins?

I find it sort of encouraging that these two shows were canceled. But I shouldn’t get too hopeful about pop culture: Alex Kuczynski, The New York Times’ resident rich reporter and plastic surgery addict, has chronicled our continuing obsession with big boobs and perfect bodies her recent book “Beauty Junkies.” In January, reality TV star Heidi Montag (of whom I had never heard until I started research for this post; she is featured in MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and its spinoff “The Hills”) decides to have another breast augmentation. Apparently her DDD rack was not big enough for Playboy who PhotoShopped them to make them even bigger. Montag now wants reality to match Playboy, as if that were possible. MTV now airs a show called “I Want a Famous Face,” in which celebrity-addled young people agree to have surgery so that they can look like their favorite famous person, whether it be Jennifer Aniston or Arnold Schwartzenegger. Again, boob jobs are a big part of this show.

Just a week after my partial mastectomy, on September 15, E! executives announce a new show called “Bridalplasty.” Young, engaged women will compete to have cosmetic surgery procedures, boob jobs galore, before their big Cinderella moment. A Huffington Post blogger wonders if perhaps the TV execs had botox injected into the brains. I really can’t top that analysis.

Associations of plastic surgeons tut tut that these shows are in bad taste. At the same time, these same associations offer links and find-a-doc services for everything from breast alteration to tummy tucks.

I’ve got a flash for everyone involved in these multifarious adventures: You don’t have to try out for a reality show, or find a producer, or write a book, or cut your body to look like a celebrity, or get upset about PhotoShop. Want bigger boobs? Just have a partial mastectomy. That’ll get ya big boobs, or at least one big boob. For a while.

Just one catch though: You can’t touch it. It’s sore. And I’m a little grumpy.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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1 Response to The Boob Fairy

  1. Lili Millar says:

    Heather, hope your feeling better.


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