You know how much fun it is to walk into a party through streamers and gently swaying balloons? Well, last night’s affair was like that, except we came in through a billowing display of thirty or forty dangling bras. That’s not counting the big triple-D cup that swung loosely from the front gate, to announce the party venue.
Given the nature of the hostess, my good friend Linda, and of the party invitation she’d handed out a couple nights ago at choir, it wasn’t really a surprise. This is what her invitation said:
“My right breast and I must reluctantly part company in the very near future, shortly followed by the left.
Everyone who feels inclined is cordially invited to join in celebration of the amazing diversity, inherent beauty, wondrous sensuality and extreme functionality of breasts in general, and to give my particular breasts the send-off they so richly deserve.”
Linda’s right breast has a large lump, apparently not yet spreading, so the breast has to go. It’s happened very quickly. Only two weekends ago Linda was kayaking with us and slightly nervous about her appointment with the doctor the following Tuesday. Within a week, surgery was set, and will happen this coming Thursday. Reconstruction isn’t on the cards, hence the removal of the left breast as well.
Twelve days isn’t a lot of time to get your head around something, never mind to rally people around you so you’re not travelling the journey alone. But Linda has managed. There we all were, in the guise of celebrating breasts, and in reality drawing close around Linda to show our support and solidarity. Linda’s father was there, and her mother, her brother and sister, her daughters and a passel of grandchildren, along with mates from work and from choir.
There was much conversation, as we stood among the suspended bras, about the bizarrely conservative approach our culture has to breasts, breast-feeding, and breast cancer. At one point in the evening Linda dug out her iPad and showed us a controversial photo of Joanne Jackson, a woman who recently created a stir when Facebook removed “pornographic” photos she had posted showing the scar after her breast removal. I found the photos to be touching, inspiring and educational. Linda had shown one to her granddaughter that morning by way of explaining the surgery and its result.
Housemate Daniel sang a country and western song about breasts by Rodney Carrington; choir-mate Leslie read a poem by Australian poet Kate Llewellyn, and Linda’s daughter recited a limerick she’d written:
“Once was a breast beyond compare
Of hard work it had done it’s fair share
sadly it must go
but we want you to know
the stuff we treasure most is still there.”
There were many hugs and perhaps a few covert tears.
Peter, a musician well-known in the Manning Valley, led us in an evening’s medley of fabulous old love songs—capturing the intimate spirit of the evening as well as giving a nod to Valentine’s Day.
Linda gave a short speech at one point, and I wish I’d taped it so I could give it to you exactly as she said it. She thanked us all, and acknowledged her wonderful breasts. And then she spoke about “reframing” her situation. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it means roughly to find a way to relook at a situation from a new perspective, rather than the one that our emotions toss us into. Wiki defines reframing as “a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives…a technique that consists of identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts.” It’s not difficult to bump into maladaptive thoughts when the word “cancer” is lurking.
Linda said she was reframing for her benefit, and her daughters’ and her grandchildren’s.
“I’m feeling good tonight,” she said in conclusion. “I may not always feel that way over the next while, but tonight, buoyed by your goodwill, I’m terrific.”
My own emotions were on edge all evening. None of us are indifferent to the challenges ahead, but Linda’s approach—generous, inclusive and life-affirming—is a powerful lesson in reframing for me, as well.
Another guest at the party was Susan, also from choir, and someone who had held Linda’s hand at her doctor’s visit last week. Poor Susan took a spill earlier this week from the back of a tractor. In the process she broke the tip of her scapula, an injury that her doctor says will come good but which has to be altering her lifestyle in the meantime. However, none of that stopped her from coming along to share Linda’s pre-surgery party, nor kept her from dancing, testing out the hula-hoop and singing up a storm. A couple of days ago her long hair found its way onto the hairdresser’s floor, replaced by a perky gamine cut that she’ll be able to manage with one hand. Not to miss out on the spirit of the evening, her own breasts were marshalled into a formidable bustier. Susan is an impressive reframer in her own right.
I’ll give the last word to two-and-a-half-year-old philosopher Ash, who is housemate Michael’s granddaughter. She recently had a peeing accident, as you do when you’re very little. As her father was helping her get sorted out, he hugged her and said, “It’s no big deal.”
Ash hugged him back, replying, “Yes, it’s just a deal.”
She’s following in Linda’s wise and wonderful footsteps.