The day after my sixth cancerversary, I made a trek to Fayetteville to pick up my new bras and boobs. Every two years, insurance allows me to get 4 new bras and a set of new prostheses. Most people don't know silicone prostheses degrade over time and two years is about as long as they keep their shape with normal wear.
Usually, when I drive to the little boutique that sells the mastectomy bras and prostheses, I feel anxious. I don't know why I feel that way but I assume it's due to post cancer PTSD. This time it was different. I felt elation. I was going to pick up a vital portion of my femininity.
Since having both breasts removed in 2014 and foregoing reconstruction, the only way I felt I looked feminine was with the addition of mastectomy bras and prostheses. Oh sure, I could have taken a old bra and stuffed it with polyester fiberfill or socks or something, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't feel like my natural breasts and it surely wouldn't look like them either.
Silicone breast forms are as close as one can get to the real thing. The weight, appearance, and texture trick the body into believing what was once lost has now been found.
When I arrived at the little shop to pick up my goods, I noticed a sign on the door asking me to wear a mask. Since the Covid -19 pandemic, so many things have changed. Pressing the door handle to the front of the shop, I found it locked, even though I had an 11:00 a.m. appointment. I was right on time. I wondered what was going on so I pulled out my cell phone and called the shop owner.
She thanked me for my call and assured me she'd be right up to unlock the door. (She was inside working along with her co-worker. They were keeping the door locked to prevent the possible introduction of germs by any unscheduled visitors.)
When the door opened, the owner greeted me wearing a mask and presented me with one, too. I placed the mask over my face and we entered the shop as she asked how I'd been doing. Just a few steps inside, I was asked to stop at the hand sanitation station they'd set up.
I squirted a big blob of gel sanitizer into my palms and vigorously rubbed my hands together.
Since I'd called and placed my order in advance, there was no waiting.
Before submitting payment for my 20% portion of the bill, the owner had me fill out a corona virus questionnaire - Had I visited a country outside the United States within the last 30 days? Had I been running a fever? Etc. Etc. To every question I was thankful I could check the NO box.
I paid my portion of the bill and tucked the sales slip into my bag. My eyes noting the total, $653.45. My 20% was $130.69. One set of breast prostheses was $556.22. Three mastectomy bras were $94.23. Post mastectomy products were so expensive.
Before leaving the shop, I asked about swim prostheses. I was pleased to find they did sell them but insurance did not cover them. Inquiring as to the cost, I was told each prosthesis would be $50. It didn't take but a few minutes to rationalize buying these lightweight, fast drying prostheses. What was another $100 plus tax added to my already mounting credit card bill?
I left the shop with two large pink and white shopping bags in hand. My husband smiled as I came out the door. He'd seen these bags before. The closet in our guest room was full of them. They were a high quality vinyl product and had been recycled often for many a family birthday gift.
As we left the shop, I checked my phone messages and found one from a local farm I'd visited two weeks earlier. It was a family run farm that sold vegetables and fruits. Today, the message said, the farm was selling off some of their thirteen year old blueberry bushes.
Turning to my husband, I asked in my sweetest and most convincing voice, "Honey, could we run by the farm and dig up a blueberry bush?"
I had no idea what he'd say. It was well over 90 degrees and very humid.
"Of course we can," he said, so we did.
It took about half an hour to dig up the huge plant and get it to the car. When we opened the back of the van to stuff the bush inside, I had to laugh. My bags of bras and boobs sat just at the top of the blueberry bush.
As we worked to push the large plant in far enough to close the van door, some of the ripe berries fell into the bag with the prostheses. Watching them fall reminded me how quickly I'd lost my breasts. For 42 years they'd been attached to my body and in an instant they were gone never to be seen or felt again.
The blueberries, on the other hand, would be plucked from the bag and added to ones still clinging to the tree. I'd make muffins, pancakes, and jams with those. We'd enjoy them for months to come. Their plump ripeness a sign summer harvest.
We left the farm with our van full of bras, boobs, and blueberries.
The day had been productive and satisfying.
While hubby was busy transplanting the new blueberry bush into the ground, I went inside to try on my new bras and prostheses. Tucking the molded silicone into each side of the mastectomy bra, I noticed something wedged inside one of the boob pockets - a nice, fat blueberry.
Plucking it from the bra, I quickly popped it into my mouth letting the sweet juice explode there.
A huge smile spread across my face. Bras, boobs, and blueberries. What a combination! And that's when it hit me. I wasn't crying. A feeling of joy had replaced the past sense of sadness I'd always felt after coming home with new bras and boobs.
All it took was a blueberry. One fat, juicy berry to remind me life can still be sweet, even after breast cancer.