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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Renken


Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Shame can pop up anywhere--like when you have the luxury of possibly saving your own life.

Fifty-three percent.

When my genes told me I have a greater than 1 in 2 chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime, I didn't put a whole lot of thought into what I should do. Once upon a time, I may have hedged my bets and been satisfied with, "when it's my time, it's my time" and avoided a painful surgery and the risk of bad post-recovery boobs.

But this isn't once upon a time. This is now, and now includes a rugrat who I'll do anything and everything to stay here to love on as much as possible. Because no one could ever possibly love him enough for me to rest in peace. I'm not playing with house money anymore.

So here I am, 17 days from waking up with part of my body gone. And I'm actually okay with that. Take the little monster cancer-incubator wannabes--good riddance, right? Except I feel like I should be sad. Or scared. Or even a little angry. But I don't. And I kind of wish I did, because all I can feel is . . .


I've spent the past few months trying to put my finger on what emotions (or lack of emotions) I'm feeling about all of this and, while I feel a heaviness in my chest, I haven't been able to figure out what was causing it. And then BINGO! When I actually sat still and listened to what I was saying to myself, it couldn't have been any clearer.

I'm ashamed that I'm having the surgery.

Ashamed because I haven't earned it by getting cancer. I hear stories of so many women who mourn the loss of their breasts because cancer gave them no choice. I grieve with my dear superhero of a friend who just had a mastectomy last week because cancer thought it could take her on again (and it failed, again, so f- you, cancer). I try to imagine the horror that other women must feel, not knowing if a mastectomy is going to be enough to keep them alive.

And I feel grateful to catch cancer before it catches me. Grateful, but ashamed. Because I'm choosing to have this done when there are women who would give anything to have not had to do it. So who am I to have any shitty feelings whatsoever about any of this?

When well-meaning friends tell me, "at least you don't have to worry about cancer on top of all of this, like so-and-so," or "imagine how much more stressful this is for so-and-so," the shame leaves me speechless. So I don't talk about it.

When I do mention to people I'm having it done, I qualify it with, "I don't have cancer--just bad genes--so no big deal." Because I want them to know I'm not equating my mastectomy with mastectomies of actual cancer victims.

I'm ashamed because I worry Tom thinks I'm being a hypochondriac. For a guy who refuses to see a doctor after 2 years of shoulder pain and a lifetime of stomach issues, deciding to have major surgery when you aren't even sick is pretty freaking dramatic. And even though 3 of the 4 surgeons we interviewed agreed this was the right decision, it only took one to imply I was just wanting a free boob job to make me feel like a complete shit. And I've convinced myself that it's the one opinion that stuck in Tom's head.

And now, this not-even-sick-potentially-hypochondriac surgery is going to leave Tom and Rugrat fending for themselves for a couple of weeks. I already feel guilty for not deciding what's for dinner, helping with the dogs, hanging with Rugrat enough, and doing (or really, ordering) the groceries and Target necessities. (No, I don't think they're incapable of handling things without me. I just absolutely hate the thought of a decision I make causing other people to be inconvenienced. Especially people I love.)

I don't deserve to feel the bad feels because so many people deal with really terrible, gut-wrenching trauma and this is absolutely nothing compared to that.

How can I be scared of a little pain when my girlfriend is scared her 11-year-old son could be attacked or even killed while he's doing his morning run--in a hoodie--through their mostly white neighborhood?

Who am I to be sad about losing the breasts that fed Rugrat for a year, when someone I love lost her child when he was only 3 years old? And has another child who is losing his sight? How can I even be worried about falling back in love with painkillers--just in time to have them snatched away after a week--when parents are losing their kids to addiction every. single. day?

So shame on me for even letting any of those fears, any of that sadness, or any of those worries even tiptoe into my head.

Shame. On. Me.

And for the love of all that is holy, they're just boobs! Boobs that have been the source of a helluva lot of heartache anyway.

Boobs that men who I wanted to look up to gawked at to the point of making me feel violated.

Boobs that yell "you're fat!" when I look at old pictures.

Boobs that make me feel more bimbo than brilliant in a courtroom or business meeting.

Boobs that I've never even considered mine, because my body has never really belonged to

me. It's belonged to the man I'm with. Which means they belong to Tom, which means I'm taking them away from Tom.

Which brings me back to where I started. Shame.

But the biggest shame of all? That I don't love myself enough to be as kind to me as I would to anyone else thinking these thoughts or preparing for this . . . event. That after all of this time in recovery and therapy, I still can't honestly say I love me, because actions and internal voices speak louder than words on a not-really-a-blog.

Dear God, this all has to sound so damn depressing and woe-is-me. But I'm not sad for me. I'm honest-to-God-pinky-swear grateful to not have to worry about breast cancer lurking behind me for the rest of my life, or tapping me on the shoulder just when I think I'm safe. So, so grateful.

Grateful and ashamed.


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