Typical first-date chatter is impossible for me. I wasn’t even two sips into a glass of Malbec with a Bumble date last week when I noticed his eyes drifting downwards, and wondered what he’d think if I told him that the chest he was stealing a not-so-stealthy glance at is going to be gone in six weeks. It’s hard to blithely rattle on about Stranger Things after that.
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Two years ago, I found out that I have a BRCA1 gene mutation, the same genetic factor that drove Angelina Jolie to have a double mastectomy. Everyone has BRCA genes; they work to prevent breast cancer. My mutation means that my BRCA gene doesn’t function properly, leaving me extremely vulnerable to breast cancer, among other things. If I’m not proactive about my health, my lifetime breast cancer risk has been estimated to be around 87 percent. When people question whether my choice to have preventative surgery is extreme, I like to use the following analogy: You would never, ever get on a plane that had an 87% chance of crashing. In fact, you’d probably avoid the airport, call the TSA, and maybe consider abandoning air travel altogether in favor of trains or boats for the rest of your life.
That airplane is my boobs. I could spend the rest of my life getting bi-annual MRIs and ultrasounds, doing monthly self-exams, and just wait for the day that one of those tests reveals cancer, or I can have a double mastectomy and lower my risk to be less than the general population’s. A mastectomy now does not mean that I’m being pessimistic or a hypochondriac; it means avoiding a mastectomy with the additional risks of chemotherapy or radiation later on in life.
So this December, just before my 28th birthday, I’ll be saying ta-ta to my tatas. I’ve been planning this surgery for nearly a year and have the utmost confidence in my doctors and in my decision. My family and friends have been supportive and have stepped up to the plate in ways I could never have predicted, offering care, compassion, and so much wine. Even in my worst moments of panic about the pain and the time off from work and the surgical risks, I know I’ve made the right choice. There’s really only one thing that gives me pause, and it’s how to tell a guy not to get too attached to my boobs since they’ll soon be unattached from me.
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I’ve had this conversation with all of my friends, and they assure me it’s not as big of a deal as I’ve built it up to be in my head, but to me, it feels monumental. I think it would be different if I hadn’t always had big boobs. But being somewhat anatomically blessed, pain in the ass though it may be when shopping for shirts or running down a flight of stairs, has meant that in my entire dating life, I’ve never gone out with someone and not known that on some level part of their attraction to me had to do with my boobs. And now that’s going to change, and I don’t know what the end product will be. Even with an incredible team of doctors, my reconstructed chest will never be the same. For one thing, an implant that’s not cushioned by existing breast tissue will never be the same temperature as the rest of me: It will always be a little bit colder, and it will feel like an implant. Tattooed or reconstructed nipples will never look or react the same way as mine do now. And being incredibly fair-skinned means that I scar easily, so even with a top-notch plastic surgeon, I will probably always have visible physical reminders of my surgery every time I take my shirt off.
All of which is not to say that I don’t acknowledge that there may be some upsides. Reconstructed boobs mean I will hopefully be able to go braless whenever I want, an option that hasn’t been available to me since sometime around age twelve. There’s a brave new world of wardrobe options, too. Backless, strapless, or otherwise bra-prohibitive tops have never been an option and now they will be. Also, my new boobs will be age-proof. When the rest of me turns 50, my chest will still look 27. And of course, most importantly, there’s the whole not getting breast cancer thing.
I’ve spent more time in the past few months talking about my boobs than I thought I would in an entire lifetime—with my family, friends, doctors, coworkers, other women with BRCA mutations. But when I’m sitting next to a guy at a bar making awkward first date conversation, none of that seems to matter, because all I can think about is what this guy is going to think when I eventually tell him about my boobs’ impending doom, or worse yet, what’s going to happen post-surgery when I’m finally ready for my foobs (fake boobs) to make their debut. Blame it on me being the kind of Type-A overthinker who likes to have contingency plans for her contingency plans or just being a neurotic Jewish girl from Long Island. No matter how many times my friends remind me that if a guy is concerned with my mastectomy scars, he’s an ass who isn’t right for me, it doesn’t change the fact that there are lots of guys out there who are asses, and there’s no way to guarantee the next guy I date will have the reaction I’m hoping for—or at least not have the reaction I’m afraid of.
On the other hand, if being single has taught me one thing, it’s that dating can suck no matter what. There are always going to be guys who think that accepting a drink is an invitation for sex or who think the best way to end things is to ghost you. Despite all of this I am, admittedly and often against my better judgement, a hopeless romantic who would like to think that there is someone out there for everyone, even if I don’t fully believe it for myself on my most anxiety-riddled days. So, maybe my mastectomy is actually a good litmus test to separate the “good guys” from the actual good guys.
When the results of my initial BRCA test came back from the lab, the doctor who broke the news to me told me that by taking the test, I had saved my own life. Knowing the genetic predispositions I’m up against means I can be proactive about my health in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. It means I don’t have to worry about waking up at 30 or 35 or 50 with breast cancer. It means that with the proper surveillance by a team of doctors (big, big, big thanks to the amazing and awe-inspiring team at Sloan Kettering) I can, and hopefully will, live a long, happy, and, most importantly, healthy life. So, I have to hope that there’s a great guy out there who wants the same thing for me. And who maybe doesn’t mind listening to me talk about my boobs all the time.