Following is a very personal piece written by Midcoast resident Maureen Egan, who is a student of writing teacher and coach Kathrin Seitz of Rockport.
My breasts are soft and fair, nearly translucent, with pale pink nipples and very little mass. I've always had mixed feelings about their size, sometimes feeling like a skinny kid, even at the age of 51, still awkward in so-called womanly fashion like cocktail dresses requiring décolletage or any bathing suit designed for lust.
After my cancer diagnosis last month, I had imagined what it would feel like to be given new breasts, since my insurance covered reconstruction for both sides. Could this be a reward to make up for all that I'd be going through? Not a member of the 'Real Women Have Curves' club, I felt giddy picturing that I could have the breasts I had always wanted, free of charge. I wasn't greedy—the almost-B-cup that I had had in the months of carrying and nursing my babies would do perfectly.
I retrieved a black and white photograph that my husband had taken of my once voluptuous, pregnant breasts, made with a slow film that created a grainy, moody effect. I propped my pin-up on our bathroom dresser so I could see my baby knockers every morning going in and out of the shower. Yes, those were mine once...a lifetime ago. Wouldn't it be nice to have them back.
The photograph had seduced me, further championed by my doctor, who told me that many of her patients had experienced successful reconstruction, even enhancement. I was growing excited imaging getting a set of real cha cha's, but then my surgeon had brought me back to earth, telling me that with my size, there was no need to do reconstruction. She said it would be so much simpler to do nothing and preserve the pleasure on the right side. I had agreed with her, accepting that I was not willing to undergo the extended period of reconstruction, or to loose my mini fireball, just for a set of fantasy breasts.
And now it's time to let go of little champ, whose worth has been proven in all the important ways—powerfully erogenous and milk producing when its turn was called. But before I let go of the darling, I want to throw her a party.
Years ago a friend whose cancer had recurred had asked me to photograph her solo breast the day before it, too, would be taken from her. I had arrived at her house as a gentle snow began to fall, climbed the narrow stairs to her bedroom, and captured her one, perfectly-shaped breast, bathed in grey light by the window. We laughed and we wept with the task before us.
I never forgot that afternoon, and now it's my turn, even though my own breasts don't compare to hers in aesthetic appeal. I drive to my friend Maggie's property on a steamy July afternoon, and she takes some pictures of my naked torso by a stone ledge with lush greenery. I feel silly posing—it's just not me—so after a few minutes I suggest we go skinny dipping in her pond instead.
The cool, dark water slides over my skin as I move in steady strokes to the middle of the pond. I roll onto my back and survey my frontal landscape, skin so pale it glows atop the indigo water, my nipples like pink pebbles resting on shallow mounds of sand. I tread water, luxuriating in the freedom of my nakedness, the sensuality of the chilly water against my lower reaches in contrast to the sun-warmed surface of the pond.
That evening, my body is still stimulated from my swim and I do what I've been waiting to do all week. I roll on to my husband, and soon we are both as naked as I had been this afternoon. This is the last time my left breast will feel his tongue, his cheek, his fingertips. I allow the sorrow, the longing, the pleasure, the gratitude to rise and pass, opening my heart to an intimacy I have rarely accessed before. I hold tight, savoring, clenching, then falling into his heart and releasing my love.
Rockport resident Maureen Egan created this piece, along with the artwork, as a collection of stories and images that describe her cancer experience four years ago. Maureen wrote her stories in the first person, present-tense to give a sense of immediacy, but she is now cancer-free. She is in the final stages of production for her book, entitled “The Light From Here: A Breast Cancer Story in Images and Words,” which she hopes to publish later this year. Her art can be viewed at eganart.com.
We tell stories.
We tell stories to make sense of our lives.
We tell stories to communicate our experience of being alive.
We tell stories in our own distinct voice. Our own unique rhythm and tonality.
Transformations is a weekly story-telling column. The stories are written by community members who are my students. Our stories are about family, love, loss and good times. We hope to make you laugh and cry. Maybe we will convince you to tell your stories.
— Kathrin Seitz, editor, and Cheryl Durbas, co-editor
"Everyone, when they get quiet, when they become desperately honest with themselves, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there." — Henry Miller
Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at email@example.com. Cheryl Durbas is a freelance personal assistant in the Midcoast area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.