Actress Christina Applegate chose to have a double mastectomy after cancer was found in one breast. The procedure was entirely prophylactic because the cancer was contained. A lot of women have been doing that lately.
I know everyone has to make that decision for herself and I can't possibly understand what she was going through.
But the whole thing makes me squeamish. Not just the idea of the pain and suffering women must be going through and the terror that would lead someone to take such drastic action.
It's our society's attitudes about breasts that bother me. Most of these stories are very reassuring - don't worry, she'll have reconstructive surgery and her breasts will look better than ever. Christina joked, "I'm going to have cute boobs 'til I'm 90."
But there's a lot more to breasts than looks. They have a natural function - not just attracting a mate or feeding babies. They're tied in with female sexuality - it feels good to have them touched. Some women can have orgasms from breast stimulation alone; others can only have orgasms if their breasts are stimulated along with other parts. And those nipples are good for signalling your brain that you're cold - or frightened - or turned on.
It left me wondering - how often does a man with testicular cancer tell the doctor to cut off both his balls? How often does a doctor suggest it? If the guy's already had all the kids he wants, he doesn't really need balls. He can get testosterone injections. But everybody knows they're not entirely for show - they signal a guy if he's cold or frightened or turned on. And they are an essential part of male identity.
As breasts are for women.
A double mastectomy is no guarantee that a woman will never get cancer again. The same gene that's a risk for breast cancer also causes ovarian cancer. And ovarian cancer is much more difficult to detect - and therefore deadlier - than breast cancer. Even if she gets her ovaries yanked out too, there are still hundreds of other ways to suffer and die.
My boobs aren't pretty or perky or admired by anyone, but I can't imagine myself ever saying, "Yeah, doc, go ahead, chop 'em off."
I wonder if all these women would have double mastectomies if they waited 6 weeks or 6 months, until they get past the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis. Once the deed has been done, there's no going back.