Writing Treasuring Notes to Your Mother When She has a Mastectomy
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The difficulty for women is largely defined in terms of a cultural desire to own and dominate the breast, which is taken over as a sender of messages, an obtrusively physical entity translated into the symbolic order. So important is the breast concept, so breast-centred our culture, that the name of our larger kind, the category to which we belong, has been given to us on the basis of the tits possessed only by the females.
Are men really mammals, then — or do they just fake it? Men, after all, despite the phallic culture, have rarely had to make a personal, involuntary, public and consistent penile display. Rarely — but sometimes. The era of the codpiece from the late 15th to the early 17th century offers the closest parallel in the male world to the treatment of the breast in the female world.
A man is fortunate in that his scrotum is hardly ever required to be a public event. It is unlikely to be measured and found wanting. It is a religious object, exhibited with veneration in relation to the Divine Power, as in Egyptian images of Isis suckling Horus, or nursing a pharaoh with the divine milk of life.
Like most scholars who do not go into Egyptology, Yalom does not bother with deities other than Isis, or reflect on the worship of Hathor — often represented as a cow — from whom the sacred suckling apparently derives.
After its reign as a sacred object, which lasted through the early Middle Ages, the breast fell among Renaissance artists and poets, who not only secularised it but made it the object of an erotic aesthetic. The erotic breast has to be small, perfectly round a little apple and high. Pendulous dugs are the sign of loathsome age or loathsome poverty. The passion for the youthful erotic breast made it likely that a woman of any wealth or position would give her babies into the care of a wet-nurse.
There were, as Yalom shows, appropriate breast-styles for the nurse which were not those that applied to a high-born or beautiful young mother. Classical medical theory supported the value of wet-nursing — Aristotle had thought the thin watery milk of the new mother was bad for babies. Nursing is messy and time-consuming. Debate about breast-feeding takes up a large part of the sequel to Pamela. And Lovelace, in Clarissa , is certainly a bust-man, in love with the erotic Renaissance breast:.
A white handkerchief wrought by the same inimitable fingers, concealed — O Belford! She was even fainting, when I clasped her in my supporting arms. What a precious moment That! How near, how sweetly near, the throbbing partners. We have, as Yalom shows, few means of understanding what the wet-nurses thought, or how they and their own babies were treated.
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Sojourner Truth reminded her audience of this uncomfortable fact at a meeting in Indiana in , reported in the anti-slavery paper, the Liberator. In confutation of antagonistic rumours that she was a man in disguise, the former slave addressed her mostly white male audience:.
In vindication of her truthfulness, she told them that she would show her breast to the whole congregation; that it was not to her shame that she uncovered her breast before them, but to their shame. The perfect little eroticised breast of the Renaissance affected the sex industry directly — nowhere more than in Venice, where prostitutes were ordered to exhibit themselves by the Ponte dei Tetti with bare breasts often made up. It also made the nurture of babies a sort of sex industry for the non-eroticised working-class mothers or serfs or slaves whose milk was deemed wholesome. The long-standing fashion created a new sign of class division between women.
Dickens magnificently picks up that division although not primarily as a division between women in Dombey and Son , when Mr Dombey employs Polly Toodle as a wet-nurse for his motherless baby. But to think of their some day claiming a sort of relationship to Paul! This is not a matter Yalom treats at all, but it complicates any description of total separation — older class distinctions, however firm, did not necessarily mean, as the Industrial Age came to suppose, the cancelling of all lines of complex association and connectedness.
The fashion for wet-nursing was never anxiety-free. Bodily fluids — particularly blood — could be thought of as a medium of personality and morality. Rousseau was neither the first nor the only important writer to argue for this, but he was the single writer with the greatest influence. In the period of the French Revolution the corset and busk were dispensed with, the breast was theoretically more free, and bare-breasted Liberty became the sign of the freedom of the people.
The permanence of virtue is, however, guaranteed only by the virtue of the females, and the virtuous woman stays at home and nurses her children. The Victorians, who inherited this idea of the political or republican breast and the domestic virtuous bosom, were quite open about breast-feeding.
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One of them was always taking refreshment. The breast figures in our dreams, nightmares and archetypes of reality. The second is the creation of mass fashion in underwear, which came with the invention of rayon and then nylon.
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Mass marketing of the basic body-shape offered liberation from the old corsets at the price not only of money but also new pains and struggles. In the flapper era, when women ostentatiously proclaimed their freedom from the constrictions placed on their foremothers, girls who had a bust had to strap themselves down, and pin themselves flat.
She also said she loved me. I reread all are messages about boundaries, not asking about her partner was not there. I told her I thought that boudary was not clear. I acknowledged that I get it now and will never talk of her partner again. I am heartsick about my daughters illness but try and remain positive for her. I made mistakes as a mother and in life, I have no problem admitting that.
But I truly believe she in this most vulnerable state, is being controlled by her partner. I am saddened that my daughter is in this position. On top of her illness she does not need this! I welcome any words of wisdom as I am severly depressed. She has mets to her lungs , currently in a treatment study every wk to try to slow , stop this horrible disease I feel your pain.
Please seek help for yourself as you said you are very depressed. My daughter is 28 and was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer to the pleural lining of her lung.
"I felt that I had lost not only my darling girl but also the woman I used to be"
She was initially diagnosed when she was 23 and had double mastectomy. She is now on Ibrance and Femara and has been since August Overwhelming sadness and anger is how I feel a lot. She has 3 babies 6, 5 and 2 and I see them all everyday. She is my best friend.
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For her. I hope for a miracle. May God be with us all. Thank you for your blog.
My daughter, now 32, has been fighting cancer for 4 years. She was first diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, then diagnosed with it moving to her spine inoperable ; and now a third diagnosis of cancer in her lymph nodes near her lungs. She has undergone numerous chemo and radiation treatments, a double mastectomy, egg harvesting, and removal of her ovaries.
These blogs remind me not to burden her with my worry and suffering, but to instead be there for hers and not visa versa. My 35 yr old daughter was diagnosed a year ago with colorectal cancer that had spread to her lungs and liver. The doctors have said she has probably had it for 5 years.
She had no symptoms except constipation. She had surgery, a colonostomy,and was on chemo but was unable to take an important part of the regimen because it caused her to go into anaphylactic shock. The chemo worked on her liver but nothing else. After two trips to M. Anderson, she only has one option-to do the strongest chemo. She has made the decision not to continue treatment. She has 2 boys, 13 and 17, and wants to be able to enjoy the time she has left with her husband and kids. This has been very hard on all of us but I am taking your advice to heart because a lot of the things you are going through are very familiar.
I pray every day for peace and acceptance. I, too, do not allow myself to consider my life without her in it. That is just too much to bear. I am very sorry for your terrible loss. Thank you for your honest, intelligent, insightful and helpful post. You are a compassionate mother and human being. Lisa and you were very lucky to have each other.
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Several lymph nodes involved. She did well with side effects during the first 12 weeks of chemo which were supposed to be the tough ones. But the second 12 became a nightmare. Doctor had to discontinue four weeks early. That brought on the bone pain. I read about all you parents that are hours away from your offspring and I really feel for you. This is so much more difficult for me than I expected. The diagnosis was such a shock after the December doc visit. It took awhile to get my head around it.
What a blessing to have a man that is so kind and caring. She was on strong steroids during each chemo session and I think part of her grumpiness now is due to the steriods wearing off. My story is similar.