I remember the first time I went bra shopping.
I was 13 and I didn’t really NEED a bra, but everyone in my class was starting to wear one and I just wanted to fit in and be cool.
It was embarrassing to drag my dad to Victoria’s Secret with me. I would have dragged my mom like all the other girls at school, but I didn’t have a mom. She had died of breast cancer a few months prior.
Growing up, I missed my mother terribly. I wasn’t capable of being a happy-go-lucky college or high school student. I’d hear other high school girls whine about having a bad hair day and all I kept thinking was, “Be thankful you even have hair! That you don’t have to go through chemo and lose it all!”
When I was 23, my father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He died a year later and I never felt so alone. I had no one telling me to go get my teeth cleaned or go to the doctor for check-ups; suddenly it was all in my hands.
Since both my parents died of cancer, I started to worry that maybe I would follow suit. That’s when I paid a visit to my mom’s former oncologist. She had diagnosed my mother when I was merely a fetus. I sat down in her office and she informed me that both my mother and I tested positive for the BRCA 1 mutation, putting me at a very high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. (This is the same mutation Angelina Jolie had.)
I was a mutant. Not even a cool mutant like the ninja turtle kind or one of the X-Men superheroes. I didn’t get to eat pizza in a sewer or turn into a werewolf. I was just really good at making breast tumors. I felt like I was literally becoming my mother. I was terrified I’d end up with her fate.
I didn’t even need to think it over; I knew right then and there that I was going to get rid of my boobs.
Within a week, I had already met with multiple breast and plastic surgeons. I researched, I Googled, I joined support groups, I saw more boobs in the span of a few days than most pervy high school boys. For the few months I had left to live with my real boobs, I prepped to part with them forever. I wrote them a proper good-bye letter, had a low key “photoshoot,” and I even let some boys squeeze them a day before my surgery.
However, this wasn’t easy. I was plunging head first into very major surgery, all alone.
All of a sudden I was faced with choices I never imagined I’d have to make. Should I keep my nipples? Keeping them would raise my breast cancer slightly, but I still desperately wanted to be able to look down at my chest and feel like my old self. I had no mom to call and help me with these gut wrenching and personal decisions.
Then, of course, the question I got asked by everyone was how big I was going. Luckily, this decision came very easy to me as my main goal was just to have my boobs look like my original ones.
My mastectomy process involved two surgeries. The first one was the most difficult. All my breast tissue was removed and two tissue expanders were placed in my chest muscle. I woke up with a chest of an adolescent child. For the first few weeks, I was essentially boobless.
I was really nervous about this period but I kind of enjoyed being flat-chested. Shirts and dress fit me differently and I could wear very low cut tops without worrying my boobs would fall out.
Over the course a few months, these chest expanders were gradually filled with saline and I watch my chest grow a teeny bit every few weeks. I called it “puberty in fast-forward.”
I had my final surgery of the reconstruction process last month and my chest expanders were swapped out for silicone implants
I didn’t have a Brad Pitt or even a significant other to hold my hand and kiss my forehead telling me it’ll be OK or at least bring me pizza on demand. I didn’t have millions of dollars to pay assistants to help me through recovery. I certainly didn’t have the famous name to get me first in line with the most respected surgeons in Los Angeles. Luckily, I also didn’t have US Weekly on my back so I didn’t have to hide and I could look like crap at the hospital and no one would care.
I stayed with my very generous friends who helped and supported me immensely. It was not an easy process — it involved two surgeries, but I did it and I couldn’t be happier that it’s behind me.
The hardest part of the whole process wasn’t the surgery or the pain. It was asking for help. I wasn’t capable of lifting my arms for a few weeks; I couldn’t dress or bathe myself. Putting on makeup and even washing my face felt impossible. I also wasn’t quite sure how my insurance would cover the surgery and how I could afford it. I had to start asking for help and advice, something that has always been difficult for me. Since I was a caretaker for both my parents when they were sick, I was used to being the strong one. Now I had to find other people to be my source of strength.
Now I’m really proud of my boobs. I wish I could show my new boobs off without coming off as slutty or like an attention whore. Mainly, I want to prove to other people, “LOOK! You can get a life-saving mastectomy and your boobs can look this awesome!”
Maybe people think I’m being too loud and obnoxious about my mastectomy, but I just want to encourage people to take their health options into their own hands. I hope no woman is afraid to have a mastectomy because she feels it will make her unattractive, or is worried that a guy won’t be turned by a girl who has mastectomy scars or no nipples. (I was lucky to be able to keep mine in the end, but that’s not always the case with mastectomies.)
Now I’m trying to live my life with a little less anxiety about developing breast cancer, but it’s weird being a single 26-year-old without parents or my old boobs. I’m a comedian, so this experience has given me some great material, but I try not to let it define me.
People sometimes tell me I’m brave, which I don’t entirely I agree with. I’m just terrified of getting cancer and losing my hair like my mom did! But I suppose bravery is being scared of something and doing it anyway, and I did do that.
Now, with my new artificial boobs, I don’t need to be as afraid I’ll end up like my mom. I don’t need to get mammograms; I don’t need visit the oncologist every few months. And the best part: I don’t even need to go bra shopping.
Backless dresses, here I come!
Eden Dranger is a writer and stand up comedian living in Los Angeles.