Aug 20

Everyone knows I have breast cancer, right?  This means that I sort of have to talk about the breast(s) and related issues, which is weird because my dad, and my uncles, and even my 90-year-old grandfather read this blog.  However, nothing makes breasts more clinical than cancer and mastectomies.  I just have to acknowledge that it’s slightly uncomfortable.  If I could have cancer in my elbow, it would be a lot less weird to talk about.  Oh well.

My great-grandmother Elsie had a mastectomy in 1952, at the age of 57.  No one is quite sure why she had a mastectomy (Cancer?  What was medical diagnostic technology like in 1952?)  At any rate, she had a single mastectomy, and was therefore left with one breast for the rest of her life (she lived into her 80s).  Whatever the issue, I’m happy that she lived a long life after her mastectomy.

My mom, Elsie’s granddaughter, remembers that Elsie used to stuff her bra so that she would “match.”  Apparently, she was well-endowed, so there was need for a fairly large amount of “stuff.”  My mom remembers that sometimes her stuffed side would start to spill out or become lopsided, and she would have to set it right again.  It was just part of everyday life.  My great-grandma Elsie: she did not use tissue or fabric to stuff her bra.  Her material of choice was a bag of birdseed.

I know, right?  Boy do I wish I could sit at her kitchen table and talk to her about that decision.  I’m kind of impressed with her resourcefulness.  I can also kind of see that it makes sense for the right weight and substance.  But still.  Decades of birdseed.

I’ve been scrutinizing my clothes over the past several weeks.  Will I still be able to wear this shirt?  How will this look?  OH MY LORD I CAN’T BELIEVE I HAVE CANCER.  (I still have that thought at least once a week.)  I’ll probably need some new clothes; probably I will want dresses because I want to look feminine and girlie.  (Somewhat of a departure from my pre-cancer practical and tomboy-ish wardrobe.)  I am befuddled by the whole bra, prosthetic, stuffing, clothing situation.  And I do feel like it is a situation.  But I also realize I’ll probably have to take some time to figure it out.  And Brad will hold my hand while I do, and he will love me no matter what.  Luckily, I have girlfriends who are stylish and who will help me.

To be clear, what I want most out of this surgery is to be cancer free.  Any aftermath from the surgery is well worth that end result.  But here is where I write my thoughts, and every morning I have to go in my closet and choose something to wear.  And in two weeks, that is going to get a lot more complicated.  As a rule, I don’t worry or stress over anything, especially something like clothes.  It’s more of a wondering, trying to anticipate, attempting to plan ahead.

And every time I think of Elsie and her birdseed, I think of it as a happy ending.  It makes me smile.  I can handle decades of birdseed* if I get to be cancer free.

*I have no intention whatsoever of using birdseed to stuff my bra.  Ever.  Period.


  1. Oh, birdseed: why does that make me smile and feel hopeful?

    It’s the resourceful spirit I love: you come from good stock, lady.


  2. Shannon Kahrs /

    I love Elsie! You couldn’t possibly look anything but girlish – bald & boobless – it wouldn’t matter! You are beautiful!

  3. Angela Johnson /

    Best. Post. Ever. If you can find ways to laugh about cancer, you can get through anything. Love this. Hugs from Michigan – and lots of prayers, too!!

  4. Annie /

    I’d be afraid to use birdseed! You might be attacked by birds, like Tippi Hedren was in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”!

  5. Pat Powell /

    what a great surprise when I read of Elsie Prudence May and her birdseed! From: AndersonFamilyZoo’s Blog she was a wonderful mother-in-law she and I got on very well. I am pleased that you know of her and I am not, August dear: sure of what memories Ros has of her grandparents. Some of my memories of the time differ from yours Ros, my dear Subject: [New post] Elsie

    andersonfamilyzoo posted: “Everyone knows I have breast cancer, right? This means that I sort of have to talk about the breast(s) and related issues, which is weird because my dad, and my uncles, and even my 90-year-old grandfather read this blog. However, nothing makes breasts”

  6. Kim Rourke /

    A good bra shop that knows their stuff about prosthetic products will make you feel like a million bucks and plenty girlie. I drove my aunt for years to make her purchases, but it was the ladies at the specialty shop that made the day perfect. It’s really all about “walking tall’ and you have that down already. Of course, if you want to give birdseed a try, I have a lovely blend!

  7. Bonniebj /

    Birdseed 😉 another symbol to ponder and smile about. Along with strawberry blond birdnests… I have always loved birds – so much freedom to soar, to explore. Jen, you make me smile and feel so proud-the Lord is with YOU as you walk this road……and so at we!!

  8. I’m thinking the birdseed was itchy. Even in a bag. That is why she was always “rearranging” herself! M&M’s, now that is the way to go. And if you get hungry or need a kid bribe, they’re right there!

  9. Marsha Vonderwish /

    Jen, my Mom used birdseed after her mastectomy before she got her prothesis. She put it in a sock. I guess necessity is the mother of invention. Thankfully you will not have to do that!
    Keeping you and our Mom in my prayers!

  10. christineohlhauser /

    So interesting to hear this story about your gramma. My gramma also had one breast removed and I have no idea why or what happened as she lived a few provinces away and I was young when I knew/visited her. She didn’t wear a prosthesis the times I saw her. Now that I have DCIS I wish I knew her story well. I saw the radiologist oncologist yesterday and I am trying to decide if I want to go with radiation or a mastectomy on the left side and I’ve been doing the same thing in my mind in regards to my clothes. Its so strange. I think winter is a better time to go through surgery as clothes are bulkier and cover more but I’ve totally been wondering about this. I LOL when you talked about how much easier it would be to have cancer of the elbow:) I can relate. I’m unclear on how it works actually when you have a mastectomy with reconstruction right away (or maybe you aren’t doing that right away). I think I would so then I wonder what that would look like and would I need a prosthetic? I’m going to have to talk to the surgeon about that. I have googled many things re. DCIS and even took a look at before/after shots of reconstruction to see how “I” would look (not bad actually from the ones I saw). Thank you for your thoughts and your posts. You are such a positive person I can tell (I struggle with being a pessimist).

  11. Misty /

    At the time your great-grandmother had her surgery, reconstruction was not an option at all. It is great that it is now and that insurance will cover bilateral procedures to make everything “even”. I can’t remember if you’re going for a single or double? I had a single with expanders and implants. I was an “itty-bitty-titty-committee” girl, and opted to have the non-cancer side “enhanced”. I like that my clothes fit very well now (clothes seems to lie better on a C than on an A-), but, my bi-annual screening is a bit more scary. All the tissue on my real breast is smooshed up and being young (35), the tissue is still pretty dense. No one talked to me about that before my surgeries. I still think I’d do the same thing again. I call it my “boobie prize” 😉
    I know, having ALL the cancer GONE is the primary goal. Ultimately the only goal. I almost feel vapid leaving this comment. But I think it is ok to be concerned about how you look and feel in your body. I know you will make the best choice for you. Prayers to you for a successful surgery and easy recovery.

  12. Jen ~ All girls worry about how their ” Boobs ” look ~ I always had big boobies & I wondered how I would look w/o them being so big. I use to wear minimizers & when that came off, look out !!!! I decided to get a reduction & I was so pleased 🙂 My clothes looked better & they felt better 🙂 Of course my issues weren’t cancer, just letting you know many of us girls wonder many things about of ” Boobs ” You & your Mom are such dears sharing your feelings & attitudes ~ We are blessed to read your blogs & to have you both in our lives 🙂 They have come so far with reconstruction & all the pretty things to make a woman feel better 🙂 We all look forward to you both being Cancer-Free * Continued Prayers & Peace 🙂

  13. Sue Nitz /

    Hi Jen, I smiled when I read your post this morning. I love that story of your great-grandmother. It is the love and the strength you generate that defines you, not your boobs. And you generate that with such grace. I remember getting embarassed about talking about my boobs. It was kind of funny though, because some people wanted to look so bad to see if they were different. I could just tell they were trying hard to keep focused on my face. LOL. Have a wonderful rest of the week. I haven’t seen you in a while and miss you! Love to you.

  14. Amber Hahn /

    My dear, if I could donate boobs, you could have mine. I am so thankful mine got smaller after 3 children, which brought other issues (deflation!!!!). My personal opinion is that they are annoying and cleavage is gross. Yes, I have a few “beefs” with God regarding our womanly issues. Of course Brian and I are 180 degrees apart on this one. I think awesome running / yoga tops are in your future without a need to worry about matching bras!

  15. The ladies @ Nordstroms are experts. It was scary initially walking into the store-but was painless. I felt so much better leaving feeling “somewhat even” and kinda “normal”. A different version of “equality” 🙂