Love & Sex

True Stories: Boobs to Die For

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Last month I spent one Friday night sprawled topless on my bed while a guy named Joe twiddled my nipples until I came over and over again. My eyes rolled back in my head and my whole body bucked and twisted as he squeezed and rolled and flicked. "Oh my God," Joe kept saying, as I moaned and clawed at the sheets, "I can't believe you can do this."

My super-erogenous nipples have always been something of a shock to men, and my ability to orgasm based solely on their stimulation is seen as some kind of bizarre talent, like those people who can touch their tongue to their nose, or girls who are double-jointed. My ex-boyfriend used to idly flick one of my nips while we lay in bed in the morning, and when I winced, my back arching in an involuntary spasm of pleasure, he would raise his eyebrows and say, "Really?" his Doubting-Thomas tone unmistakable. "Yes," I'd tell him, feeling defensive. But what I meant was, Yes. Yes!

My breasts arrived right on time in sixth grade, and within two years they had grown into their full, glorious DD cup. From the start it was clear that I was supposed to be self-conscious about my boobs, hiding my bras and complaining to my friends about how embarrassing it was to find guys staring at my chest, but secretly I rejoiced in my buxom bounty. My body seemed to get everything wrong — I was too short, too round, too muscular — but finally my Eastern-European roots were smiling on me. Big, beautiful breasts. Thank God.

Those same Eastern-European roots provided a significant drawback. When I was in fifth grade I first heard the word lumpectomy in a conversation between my mother and my grandmother, who was about to undergo the procedure. I learned all kinds of other words that summer, including radiation, chemotherapy, and biopsy.

Finally my Eastern-European roots were smiling on me. Big, beautiful breasts. Thank God.

On spelling tests that year we were asked to choose a difficult word we found in the dictionary or in our everyday lives and add it to the pre-assigned spelling lists. So I was ten when I learned how to spell bilateral mastectomy, though I had no idea what it meant.

My grandmother's breast cancer was treated effectively, and for a solid decade my breasts were an unadulterated joy. Sometimes my friends would complain about the frustrations of having huge boobs, and though I could sympathize to a degree, none of the downsides ever seemed that bad to me. Yes, bras and especially sports bras were difficult to find and very expensive, but it was a price I was willing to pay for the advantages of having my DDs.

When I was twenty-two I got my right nipple pierced. My friends were getting tattoos on their lower backs, but I couldn't imagine picking a design I'd have to live with for the rest of my life. The silver barbell I chose was my little punk-rock secret, never failing to elicit a gasp from the men I brought home. Sometimes guys would ask if it hurt to get it pierced, and I answered honestly: a little, but it was worth it.

That same year my aunt had an abnormal mammogram, and eventually she had a lumpectomy followed by radiation. It was becoming increasingly clear that my genes were stacked against me in the breast-cancer department, but the news didn't seem all that bad. Breast cancer was highly treatable. Practically everyone I knew had an aunt or a grandmother or a mother who'd had breast cancer at some point, and most of them were fine. I bought things with pink ribbons on them in October to be supportive. My aunt went into remission.

At twenty-three I started doing yoga every day and finally discovered one of the real disadvantages to having big breasts: while doing inverted poses, my boobs hung in front of my face making it difficult to take deep yogic breaths. My yoga teacher blushed when I explained my problem. "I-I don't know what to suggest," he stammered. I experimented with blankets and blocks, but never found anything that made it much better.

I was sitting in my car after yoga one day when my mom called and told me she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I shivered uncontrollably while she explained that it had been caught early, she was sure she would be fine. Those words became a mantra in the weeks that followed. Caught early, she'll be fine, I always told people. She had more tests, and she and my dad met with surgeons and oncologists to plan the best course of action. They chose to do a somewhat complicated procedure — a bilateral mastectomy, followed immediately by reconstructive surgery using fat and skin from her stomach. A boob job and a tummy tuck, we joked with each other, and both were covered by insurance. What good luck!

After the surgery my mom had bigger boobs than she'd ever had, and I took her bra shopping at a nice department store. Without any nipples her new breasts looked strange, but the lady who was helping us wasn't fazed. "I see this every day," she told us. "Did you know your insurance will reimburse you for the cost of your new undergarments?" While my mom was busy in her dressing room I tried on a black lace bra that I knew my boyfriend would love. My mom ended up paying for my selection, too. "Thanks for bringing me here," she said as the lady behind the register handed over our bag of bras. "My pleasure," I told her, imagining the mileage I'd get out the black lace.

Originally the doctors told us that my mom had only a three-percent chance of the cancer ever coming back once she finished chemo, but within a few months the cancer had spread to her brain, her bones, and one lung. It turned out breast cancer wasn't so treatable after all. The doctors gave her six months.

I moved home and took on the role of fulltime caretaker. In the morning I helped my mother shower, put on one of her new bras, and drove her to the hospital for a treatment that might buy her some time. Afternoons were spent regulating the number of visitors who dropped by with good wishes and the inevitable pink-ribbon-themed gifts. I broke up with my boyfriend and the black lace bra sat unused in my underwear drawer. Most days I wore sweatshirts and pullovers. Showing cleavage seemed insensitive.

I love my tits. I can't imagine life without them.


Six months and one week later my mother died in a hospital bed we'd gotten installed in the living room. The week of shiva was a bizarre nightmare of bagels and unwanted hugs. Several times a day one of my mom's friends would lean in and whisper, Have you gotten tested? or Are you checking yourself? These comments were always accompanied by a nod towards my chest, which was suddenly the star of the show. I loved my boobs, but couldn't believe that they were suddenly such an acceptable topic of conversation.

In fact, I did get tested for BRCA 1 and 2, the genes common among Ashkenazi Jewish women that indicate a high likelihood of breast cancer. I don't have either of them, but the geneticist didn't think that was particularly good news. My great-grandmother died of breast cancer, too, which means that my mother was the fourth woman in three generations to be diagnosed. We don't have the genetic marker they know is bad news; we've just got one they don't know about yet. The chances that my sisters and I will have our own breast-cancer nightmares are high enough that it might as well be a certainty.

In the wake of my mother's quick and untimely demise, most of her friends assumed I'd run out and get my breasts removed prophylactically. Others are constantly asking me if I'm being diligent about self-exams. I don't know how to tell them I love my tits. I can't imagine life without them. I certainly can't imagine sex without them, and even though it's a little like walking around with two time bombs strapped to my chest, I'm keeping them as long as I can.

Since my mother died I wear low-cut tops practically every day. My friends refer to my cleavage as the Magnificent Mile, and it's on display as often as possible. At parties and in bars I make out with strange men, allowing them just as far as second base, thrilling in the blissed-out feeling I get from coming standing, pressed up against them in some dark loud room. If anything my breasts have become more sensitive in the last year.

My whole life has this urgency now, like that moment between when you know you will come, and the sweet smooth release. I love my boobs. I'm going to use them every day until they start to kill me.  

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Elisheva Wolfe is a writer and editor who lives in New York. Her work has appeared at Jewcy.com, and The South Wing, among others.