On May 4th, 2016, my 28th birthday, my mom had a double mastectomy to treat early stage breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
My mom was given several treatment options but ultimately decided to go with a complete double mastectomy without reconstruction. That means having both breasts removed without any implants and a whole new flat-chested look.
There was a surprising amount of pressure on my mom from doctors and nurses to not give up her breasts so readily. They worried she might grow to regret her decision later on, that she might feel like less of a woman. My mom is a gender studies and political science professor so she knows full well that gender is a social construct, that her femininity is not defined by her breasts. She assured her medical team that she wanted to completely remove her breasts… because you know… they had cancer in them.
I decided to write a sonnet about it:
We all share our birthdays with our mothers
The day we become human, they become our mom
I was born on my due date, unlike my brother
Shortly before my 28th birthday, my mom dropped the bomb
“I have cancer,” she said – and for the first time ever – I lost my voice
“They caught it early, I have two options
Radiation and lumpectomy, or a mastectomy, It’s my choice
I think I’ll forego reconstruction”
They told her “You might miss your breasts”
“I know what I’m doing!” she said, “Don’t berate”
And after weeks of unrest
We learned my birthday would be the surgery date
And so the fourth of May became the fateful day
When my mom said goodbye to her cancer and said, “My body, my way”