Have Boobs, Will Travel

The day after my mastectomy I was released from the hospital with a nearly concave left chest and a drainage tube at each end of the incision that ran from mid-chest to under my arm, stopping just short of my back. I looked like a Cyborg.

Not until I saw my surgeon ten days later and had both tubes removed was I able to get a special bra with a puff to “even things out”. Which hadn’t been such a big deal because I really wasn’t feeling wearing anything remotely nice with plastic sucky thingies protruding from my body, but I was excited when I was finally allowed to get a post-surgical bra.

I liken it to getting a training bra. It looked kind of like one and came in sizes such as small, medium, etc. The assistant in the Women’s Resource Center looked at my ta (the singular of tatas), nodded her head and said, “Medium bra, small puff”. Whatever. I couldn’t be sad about the “small puff” comment because small was better than nothing, which is what I had on the left side. I couldn’t wait to get home and put on my new bra with the insert to see how my tops looked.

Running to my room like a kid at Christmas, I practically threw off the shirt I was wearing. I had already ripped the packaging off the puff in the car and stuffed it into the convenient pocket of my new best friend. I fastened the clasp, adjusted the straps and looked in the mirror only to be totally deflated (no pun intended). The “small puff” was too big! It didn’t even me out, it just made me lopsided in the opposite direction. So I pulled out the filling until it was just about the right size. I guess that would be extra small.

The humiliation didn’t end there, though. A couple weeks later when I received my chemo-port the professional staff had to keep asking me which side I’d had my mastectomy on. Really? I chronicled that experience here (which also includes me on drugs) because if I’m going to share one embarrassing moment I might as well go the whole way.

Finally I was given the go ahead to get a real mastectomy bra and prosthesis. Barbara Graves Intimates in Little Rock is one of the few shops in the area that have mastectomy merchandise so my friend, Beth, and I decided to go into town for dinner and a boob.

Prescription in hand, we weaved our way through the beautiful lingerie that wouldn’t work well on a uniboob and found the very pleasant fit specialist. She took us to the prosthesis room with boxes and boxes of silicone blobs and asked my cup size. I didn’t want to say Almost-a-Boob so instead I came out and told her what I was thinking.

I knew I would eventually have reconstruction and was fairly certain I would have a prophylactic mastectomy at that time. If I was going to go through all that trouble you could be sure I’d be making the surgeon earn his money. So instead of matching up my right breast I wanted to see what it would be like as a larger version of me. The problem, however, is that insurance will only pay for one prosthesis if you had a single mastectomy and those puppies are expensive.

That’s when the helpful lady told me it’s very common for women to return their “breasts” after reconstruction. The foobs (fake + boobs = foobs) are then cleaned and sterilized and given to women with no insurance. So Blue Cross/Blue Shield bought a regular foob for me and Barbara Graves donated a filler foob for the other side. And a happy day it was when I could proudly stuff my bra and not feel like a fraud.

The Girls (as Beth named them) were treated very special. Every night they had to come out of their pocket, get washed and then put to bed in their cradle. Seriously, that’s what the box was called. A cradle. Sometimes they were hot and sometimes they were heavy and sometimes they misbehaved abominably – like when I went swimming at the YMCA in my new mastectomy swimsuit and the Girls decided they’d rather swim around my waist instead of stay where they were supposed to – but for the most part they were my good friends. They did their part to make me feel a little more normal than I otherwise would have. That is until late December 2006 when I put them away for the last time and had reconstruction.

We had moved to Pennsylvania six months before my reconstruction so I wasn’t able to drop the Girls off at Barbara Graves’ when I happened to be out running errands. They slept peacefully in their boxes on the shelf of my closet for two-and-a-half years. And then a month ago we drove down to Arkansas for a visit.

Instead of luggage in the back of the car, we had our dog. The luggage had to go in a special travel bag on top which had to be taken off and put inside the car during our overnight stay on the way down and the way back. Along with the luggage was a bag full of mastectomy bras and camisoles and two boxes with breast prostheses in them. When we stopped on our way down the guys were taking everything out of the bag – a bit of a pain – and I heard Todd tell Taylor, “Well at least we won’t be bringing mom’s boobs home with us.” Because, you know, they were so large and unwieldy.

While on vacation my mother and I ran into Little Rock one day and I took all the mastectomy paraphernalia with me. We drove up to Barbara Graves, I walked in with all my goodies and the attendants seemed as appreciative as if I’d donated a bajillion dollars. Or maybe a couple grand. And it made me happy. Maybe now some woman with crummy or no insurance will be able to feel a little more normal than she otherwise would have.

Cross-posted at Mother’s With Cancer


  1. Lynilu on August 21, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Oh, Jen! What a fabulous post! This is recycling at it's most meaningful! I can't imagine not being able to get this kind of help because of bad/no insurance, so this makes you & Barbara Graves angels, IMO. I'm saying thank you for someone who doesn't know who to thank.

  2. jojo on August 21, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    I am a breast cancer survivor and a lurker on your blog… and I'm from Little Rock! I've visited a few times but am just now realizing your Arkansas connections. I knew I was drawn to you for some reason!Barbara Graves IS an angel and her store has provided a wonderful service to so many woman. I didn't know about the "Recycling" program, but it is a wonderful idea. It was great of you to keep your commitment to bring the items back to Arkansas.I'll keep checking in on you now and then…Sherri JoLittle Rock, AR

  3. Lori on August 21, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    What a great story. How awesome that you brought them back to the store where you got them. What a fabulous thing Barbara does by offering foobs to women with poor and no insurance. Wolmen are truly blessed to have someone like her around.

  4. His Girl on August 22, 2009 at 12:21 am

    told like only you could tell- funny, deep, and precious.beautiful.

  5. Kellie on August 22, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I feel like we've just sat down across that round table on the island while you've told another brilliant story. Although the ending made me scared…I thought for a minute the dog was going to eat the Foobs!!!Jen, you are beautiful. And your willingness to be authentic in the face of great adversity is such a blessing to me, but more importantly, it an encouragement to those who know EXACTLY the road you have walked….keep writing, friend.Love you,Kellie

  6. Gretchen on August 22, 2009 at 10:54 am

    You could never be "small puff" to me. Jenster, as I reread this, I am reminded that cancer may have gotten your boobs, but it didn't take your sense of humor. I'm also seeing in so many ways how God has used this unbelivable " you have cancer" crud for good. A shout out to your fam, too. God chose a great one for all y'all.

  7. Carpoolqueen on August 22, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I'm with Kel – I feel like we're hanging out and chatting. Once again, I'm feeling so incredibly lucky to know you and also feeling challenged to continue facing my own issues with grace, wit, and a sense of humor.

  8. lahdeedah on August 23, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Hey Jen!I think it's totally generous of you to contribute the girls. I just hit three years and am going to donate the "that girl" wig :)Good to see you're still here.Jill

  9. Lainey-Paney on August 23, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    what a wonderful post!generous & funny.

  10. Becky on August 24, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Loved this post, Jenster. This MUST go in your book. And I can't decide between "Foobs" or "Dinner and a Boob" for the title, lol.Your family is the best!God bless Barbara Graves. What a wonderful store!

  11. Monnik on August 26, 2009 at 7:39 am

    What a great post! You are so awesome. And Todd's line about not having your boobs in the car on the way back was great!

  12. Sing4joy on August 26, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Man! I wish I could have been with you and your boobs! The times we could have had.

  13. April on August 27, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    You made me a laugh so many times through this post Jen! I love your wit and humor. Thanks for keeping this reader entertained. Blessings to you friend.

  14. Shauna on August 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Jen, great story. Like Becky said, it must go in the book. Absolutely precious and told in a way only you can do.

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