2 | INDIA CURRENTS | DECEMBER 2014
Breasts, Cancer and Me
By Sudha Subramanian
I started feeling that I didn’t look good anymore. I hated the fact that I felt that way. But, the feeling stayed, lurking stealthily and showing its ugly head on occasion, making me feel less than I was.
I have always believed that looks are not paramount. Then why and how is it that I felt so insecure? It may had something to do with the monster that quietly disturbed my life. I call it the Big C—in other words, Breast Cancer.
Big C entered ever quietly but caused loud havoc. Tempers flared and emotions went topsy turvy. Then, femininity’s biggest asset was in danger. One of my breasts had to go. A lot of people tried to reassure me. “It has done its job,” I recall someone saying in an attempt to cheer me. But those words trailed off just like many other words of consolation from well wishers.
What is it about breasts and women? I asked myself this very often. The trouble is that I believe that breast size and shape define beauty in a woman. Why do I think so? Well, pardon me, but is it not what is drilled into our heads?
I remember growing up and looking down at my chest and wondering if they had bloomed yet? Shouldn’t they have hit the right size by now? Some women have them big and some have them small, but seriously why should we all stress so much over a body part whose primary job is not to beautify a body but is meant to do something entirely different—to nurse babies? But, I think, the primary objective is lost in our crazily sexed world—where cleavages and bosoms drive attractiveness. So, obviously, when I was told that one of my breasts had to be removed, I floundered and felt a bit less womanly.
Losing my breast was one thing, but the next big hurdle was losing my hair. Hair-loss is one of the normal side effects that cancer patients have to deal with during the course of the treatment. I dreaded the day I would see my hairless scalp staring back at me in the mirror.
Watching, counting the hair strands on the pillow is heart wrenching. Gazing in the mirror to catch any changes in my appearance takes a toll—there is a constant battle—should I listen to my heart or the eyes that tell me what I wouldn’t like to hear.
The wig I got in replacement of my natural hair gave me a new look. People called me pretty. Yet, despite the reassurances I felt lonely, helpless and unattractive. My nails grew darker and my eyebrows started to thin, I evaluated myself despairingly each passing day.
Life surely cannot get more complicated than this. They say the real test of a person’s character shows in times of peril. The mind is a very powerful tool. It makes you feel terrible or good and it can play tricks on you without your knowing. I felt weak and in the sway of feelings I had no control over. Then one day things changed.
I was in my bedroom, sitting on my bed. I had taken off my wig when I heard foot steps. It was my little ten-year-old boy. I hurried to put the wig back on or at least a cap. I didn’t want my son to see me with no hair. I had successfully hidden it from him till then. But, he was already inside the room. At first, he didn’t notice. My son was talking and he usually cannot stop talking until he is asked to. He told me about his day, his friends and his school. I was apprehensive about what he would say or feel about my hairless state. But he took me by surprise. He sat next to me and ever so quietly ran his hand along my scalp. I closed my eyes, not wanting to think, as my heart beat faster. I was ready to burst into tears when he suddenly planted a kiss on my cheek.
When I opened my eyes, I caught him staring at my shiny head. He said, “Amma, you look good like this too. I prefer you with a lot of hair but this is not so bad either.”
I turned and looked at him. I had no words. I hugged him instead.
Confidence probably comes in small packages. I am not sure. I walked up to the mirror again. I smiled as I took a long hard look at myself. I turned around and found my son staring at me. “See? You don’t look bad at all.” The longer and harder I looked at myself in the mirror, I felt more confident. Yes. I looked better with eyebrows and hair. But the current avatar was not so bad, I agreed.
That’s how it is done. Confidence has to be fed to the brain. And then to the heart. In small portions and at regular intervals. If only I could tell my son to take me by surprise and feed me with confidence every now and then. How strange that my child taught me more about myself and about life than I teach him.
The wig that I had hung in the bathroom rod was staring back at me. I picked it up, brushed the strands of hair and wore it. But, it felt warm. The hot summer afternoons are not the best of time to wear wigs. I struggled with the question of whether to wear the false hair or not when my son walked in again to fetch his cricket ball.
“Isn’t it hot?” I asked him. “It is,” he responded as he turned to go, but then he stopped and asked “Amma, do you feel very warm when you wear the wig?” I nodded because many times, these days, words just fail me. “You don’t have to wear the wig you know if you feel so warm. I don’t mind at all,” he said and gave me his brilliant smile.
Long after he left, I didn’t know, how to feel. It took me a very very long time to understand that, in my mad pursuit of pitying the loss of my breast, I had forgotten that I had gotten rid of the dreaded Big C. What we assume beauty to be is probably what we believe it is. It has been fed to us repetitively by media and our society that thin, curvy women with perfect hair wearing beautiful clothes and expensive accessories are beautiful.
It is due to my son that I am on the journey to understanding not just my own beauty, but also to be able to see it in others.
Three months after I finished the cancer treatment that caused the hairloss, I went out without my wig. I felt free, like a real person. It was me and it was liberating. The feeling of air hitting my scalp was unmistakably beautiful. And, to tell you the truth—I simply love this feeling.
Sudha Subramanian is an author and freelance writer based in Dubai, UAE. Sudha, despite everything, tries to be beautiful, only she doesn’t mean physical beauty.