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From the moment of their first appearance, my breasts were a big deal. They grew fast and large, brought me not always unwanted attention, and sometimes got me in trouble. Through my teens and twenties, I saw myself as a liberated intellectual bohemian. Prominent breasts didn't figure into this image. Ambivalent, I flaunted them when I thought they'd give me a leg up, minimized them the rest of the time. Prior to my diagnosis with breast cancer, I gradually became prepared to expect its likelihood.
During the course of a routine breast exam before my 30th birthday, my gynecologist said, "Hey, the size of your breasts make you tough to examine. Get a baseline mammogram now and continue it annually." He listed my risks associated with early puberty and lack of pregnancies. When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, I climbed the risk chart again.
By the mid-1980s, my women friends were sickening and dying of breast cancer and my gay friends of AIDS. The decade from 1985 to 1995 in San Francisco were years of unfathomable sadness and loss. In 1987, a dear friend of shining talent and incandescent spirit was diagnosed with breast cancer the same week that another friend lost her young life to the disease.
One afternoon we began naming women we knew who had breast cancer, both living and recently dead, and stopped when we reached 40. Worse, those sick or already taken by AIDS were uncountable.
I share this history to explain why I was neither surprised by my eventual diagnosis nor traumatized by the possibility of being without breasts. They were fun while they lasted, but not worth suffering for, and if removing them meant I could avoid radiation, chemo, and perhaps recurrence, the decision seemed easy.
When I met with my surgeon to investigate the option of reconstruction, I had many questions. As I sat in the waiting room, I overheard her staff repeatedly answer many of these same questions on the phone. I also wanted to look at pictures of different procedures. Another surgeon had given me a very old videotape of reconstructed post-mastectomy women. I watched 3 minutes before I could watch no more. The end result seemed not worth the effort, and I was leaning toward simple removal. My visit to the surgeon's office was intended to confirm this opinion, but as you can see, I changed my mind.
Having gone through 11 biopsies, lots of frustration and indecision, and then a bilateral mastectomy, I want to help make what I have learned accessible to others. You are holding the results in this book a collaboration between strong and gorgeous breast cancer survivors, dedicated surgeons, and a talented photographer who convinced the most modest of women to let you see their beautiful bodies. I hope these images will diminish some of the fear that surrounds breast cancer.