THE ROCKS START SHOWING

 

What it’s like to go from breastfeeding to a double mastectomy in a matter of months

by sienna cordoba

 
In some ways, breastfeeding prepared me for losing my breasts shortly afterward.
 

Two summers ago, I decided to go to the wedding of one of my best friends all of the way across the country in North Carolina completely alone.

My son, Monty was a few months from his third birthday and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to wean him completely off of breastfeeding. It was our first time apart for more than two days. I had an amazing time on my solo adventure and my weaning plan totally worked! I was so relieved and looked forward to having my boobs back.


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Two weeks after getting back from the wedding, I was standing in the kitchen without a bra on and felt a marble graze my right arm. Strange! I felt my boob and, yup, there was a huge marble in it. I had a really bad feeling about it right away.

I was working as a high school ethnic studies teacher in Watsonsville, CA. It was about a forty five minute drive down the coast from my house into a checkerboard of strawberry and raspberry fields and huge warehouses. I stopped at the emergency care nearby after work before rushing to Monty’s preschool. I remember I was wearing a grey turtleneck and long blue mermaid skirt.

The doctor was pretty nonchalant, “I doubt it’s anything. It is probably related to weaning your son. But I will schedule a mammogram and ultrasound.”

My mind sizzled, “You just jinxed me.”

From the minute I stepped into the mammogram room, maybe a week or two later, I knew my life was changed forever. I just knew. I cried long before they told me. I had a certainty that surpassed all well meaning incredulous texts, “It has to be from weaning Monty.” I knew during a series of weekly tests and results descending into hellish blatant cancerness about a month later.

My radiologist described it as a process similar to the tide going out, “the rocks start showing.” When I found out I really, definitely had breast cancer, my first thought was: chop. them. off.

In some ways, breastfeeding prepared me for losing my breasts shortly afterward. I had already spent nearly three years not enjoying them as the sexual part of my body while I was breastfeeding, even though I had once thought of them as one of my most treasured body parts. At the same time that it was incredibly fulfilling feeding my son from my own body, it was also a bit of a hostage situation.

 
When I found out I really, definitely had breast cancer, my first though was:
chop. them. off.
Illustration by Samantha Nickerson •

Illustration by Samantha Nickerson •

Breastfeeding had changed my breasts from the most attractive part of my body into the most useful, life-giving, amazing but (to me) very unsexy part of my body. Then, seemingly overnight, cancer was transforming them into scary, useless, horror bags. Either way, they didn’t feel like mine.

For years, I felt like a cow. Part of it was that my son, Monty was really into breastfeeding and was quite demanding and bossy about it. I also always had one breast that was a lot larger than the other but it got to tragicomical proportions around Monty’s second year when he switched almost exclusively my left boob. It was my right that had always been smaller. The right atrophied with the lack of milk production while the left seemed to keep growing and growing south. It was my right that ended up being the wannabe killer.

When friends and strangers told me they weren’t able to breastfeed for whatever reason, I always reassured them that breastfeeding was so intense and so hard and so much on the mom. They should look on the bright side!


Of course, I now understand better why they were devastated—when I found out I had cancer, I breastfed my son one last time. It breaks my heart now, realizing I’ve lost the ability to breastfeed my future children. I try not to be hard on myself about it, but a big part of me regrets getting the double mastectomy. I was scared and angry at the time and wanted nothing to do with my boobs ever again—with breastfeeding, with breast cancer, with anything remotely related.

I was also single at the time, technically still married to my son’s dad but completely sure that we would never have kids and casually dating a dude who was more interested in sailing around the world than having babies.

But now, I’m back together with the love of my life and high school sweetheart. I desperately want the experience of having children with someone who adores me and wants to be a dad. Besides the Tamoxifen stretching for years ahead of me and the fear of pregnancy related hormones, I am sort of baby crazy. Even though I have struggled so intensely over the last year of treatment and honestly the past four years of raising Monty, I still want another baby one day.

My relationship to my body has been completely changed by both motherhood and my mastectomy. If I could go back, I would only get my right breast removed. I wish that I could look forward to breastfeeding my future children. For now, I will have to be content with the miraculous, amazing idea that I will have more children. And that I will get to enjoy their childhoods without the trauma of cancer.

I love my body for its desire to keep creating life
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Sienna Cordoba's writing explores the experience of motherhood under unhealthy conditions. She is a recent cancer survivor and a young advocate for Living Beyond Breast Cancer. She is also Colombian-American and committed to telling stories about Latin America and Latinos living in the US.

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