In 2004, I was a vibrant, successful, fifty-nine year old kick butt racket-ball player. Suddenly faced with a mastectomy, then abruptly relegated to drab, colorless, unfashionable bras ─ the ugly bra syndrome ─ was quite disconcerting. Despite the absence of one breast, I still wanted to feel sensual through the look and feel of lovely undergarments. No longer available to post mastectomy women were the vibrant colors and various materials that I preferred.
Reconstruction proved unattainable due to protracted radiation. The ever tenacious part of me sprang into action. For as long as I can remember, when faced with obstacles, I won’t stop until I have exhausted every possible means to the end. Then I think of another possible approach then another…. Driving home, resigned, having being told by the surgeon that breast reconstruction would have over a 50% failure rate my next course of action was forming.
I spent weeks getting organized, researching Victoria’s Secret’s background, including their mission statement by Chief Exactor Officer, Leslie H. Wexler. The mission statement read in part, “I don’t believe bigger is better, I believe better is better”. Yes, I thought, this is it! So began my introduction letter, “Mr. Wexner could not have possibly known how prophetic his statement would be. As you will come to understand while reading this proposal, I speak for thousands of woman who are most assuredly not interested in “bigger” but we are in desperate need of better.”
In order to impress the need for a new market I presented startling facts such as, “Every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States alone and “In 2007, 186,467 women were diagnosed with breast cancer,” There are many indicators that the incidents of breast cancer are on the rise. This is precisely why it would behoove Victoria’s Secrets to consider a new catalogue product line as part of your commitment to, “Building a family of the world’s best fashion brands offering captivating customer experiences that drive long-term loyalty and deliver sustained growth for” your shareholders.
I argued that many women like me found Victoria’s Secret’s bras to be the best fit prior to their mastectomy. As it turns out, the same bra remained the best fit after the mastectomy. The loss of one breast does not negate the overall enduring shape and contour of the desired bra. I pointed out that the primary reason for utilizing Victoria’s Secret beyond the obvious beauty and diversity of the bra’s themselves was the convenience and location of stores in every city. Women could go to their local store, try on their favorite bra then order them through the special “mastectomy” catalogue that would have inexpensive Standardized Pockets to accommodate their prostheses.
I went on to explain that while a few of the better department stores will graciously sew a prosthesis pocket into your bra of choice, the quality of material as well as the sewing technique itself often leaves much to be desired because neither the seamstress nor the customer has had experience in this specialized area. Sending two registered letters to Victoria’s Secret headquarters; I waited with baited breath for days, weeks, and then months. Finally, I sent an inquiry about my proposal and in return received a no thank you letter from their legal department.
While nothing came of my proposal except for my own personal healing. The mere act of getting outside of me, or to be more precise, my vanity, prompted me to consider the plight of millions of other woman diagnosed with cancer. This project gave me the opportunity to get into action and reflect on my profound gratitude for having become a cancer thriver verses a cancer survivor. I am so much more than my boob and indeed better than better.
I wish someone had told me in the beginning of my cancer journey that acceptance is a process. Five years ago I would have been mortified to walk through the airport with one breast missing. I have come to accept that the vanity part of me is much too ingrained to be totally eradicated, at least in this lifetime. Now, due to the new Homeland x-ray regulations, I put my prosthetic breast into a baggie until I am through the inspection at the airport, then pop that boob right into my bra. I promise you, no one, absolutely no one notices but you could not have told me that a few years ago. On the other hand, maybe it’s just old age that has me care less about my boob in a bag. Hard to decipher which part of me cares or doesn’t care because I so still love those soft, sexy, Victoria Secret undergarments.
What are my “take always” having walked with the threat of death as a close companion. I learned that ALL of my parts (vanity, tenacity, pettiness, fearful, fearless, grounded, spiritual, glutton, grouch, love for all of humanity, compassionate, etc.) are alive and well. That after all is said and done, I am ALIVE to the extent that I acknowledge everyone of those aspects of myself.
I am humbled by my ‘many-sidedness’s, my degree of imperfection, the unfinished parts. At the same time, I am overcome with gratitude that cancer gave me the grace of self-compassion for my imperfect incompleteness.
quote by Ernest Kurtz The Spirituality of Imperfection