Saturday, January 13, 2007

Taking a Lower Profile

Tim's discussion of unthinkable thoughts stirred up my courage to post the unpostable.

My unpostable, unspeakable, unthinkable thought for the week: going bra free.

Tell me: has anyone ever dared to whisper to you in a dark closet, that bra wearers have an increased incidence of breast cancer? That in cultures where bras are not worn, women have the same rates of breast cancer as men?

I did not know this.

In fact, I discovered it just the other day, when I came home miserable from a demeaning encounter with a doctor, and decided to find out some facts for myself.

Tell me something more, ladies: when you think about keeping your breasts healthy, what comes to mind? BSE? (No, I'm not talking about mad cows - say, have you heard the one about why they called it PMS? Never mind...) No, really, what comes to mind? Do you even think about breast health, or do you frame it more like "avoiding breast cancer" and "avoiding sagging"? Do you shy away from even thinking about your breasts? Do you dutifully do your round of BSE when you think of it, anxiously searching those scary chest appendages for the dreaded lurking lumps, hoping to achieve the ultimate in breast care: "early detection"?

This week I noticed that one of my breasts had sprouted a double chin. My native intelligence said, "I've gained some weight, and the extra tissue was looking for a place to go, found a gap under the bra band, and made a break for it." My learned fear said, "Go to the doctor. If you see any changes in your breasts, go to the doctor. Oh no, oh no, oh no..."

That day I made an appointment - for the cat to get his annual vaccinations.

The next day, after asking spouse and mother for opinions, and for news of what sort of doctor might be waiting behind the office door in Arcola these days, and after much imagined dialogue and much foot dragging, I made an appointment for myself.

The imagined dialogue continued off and on through the next few days. There were dreams of the cat looking like he had been through chemo, and of myself being pinned against a wall by some sort of farm equipment, right at chest level.

On a good day, the waiting room has only two or three people in it, but there were already a few more than that when I arrived. By the time I was called in, the place was full, and the working men who had come in after me for end-of-the-day appointments were saying they should have brought lunches.

I sat for a while in the narrow examining room, looking around at posters of inner workings. Earlier in the week, I had imagined a flippant little speech about the double chin, but today I felt like just saying it as plain as I could.

The door behind me opened. "How are you, Laura?" said the stranger.

"Fine, how are you?" said I.

"If you're fine, why are you here?" If there was a smile or a twinkling eye with that, I missed it.

So I told him, and he frowned and questioned my terminology and asked, "Do you want to show me what you're describing?"

If I'd answered that one literally, I'd have walked out.

He did the examination, told me it was nothing to worry about, and gave me a little lecture about how a tight-fitting piece of clothing can leave a line in the flesh under it. (No, really? Okay, Doc, I get it. Sorry I didn't use just the right words when I told you I suspected exactly that.) Not a typical breast mass, he said, but for my peace of mind, he would request an ultrasound.

And off he went, leaving me sitting there with my bra unhooked and crumpled under my sweater, and the examining room door open.

If you're thinking that all of this is shockingly personal revelation, perhaps this will put it in perspective. On my way out of the office, I checked with the receptionist about the ultrasound appointment - she's also the church secretary, and we often chat on the phone about details for the church bulletin. When I phoned back to the office later, the other receptionist gave me the appointment details - the one who sometimes gives James a ride to Scout meetings.

Don't get me wrong - I trust that these women keep confidences appropriately. In a small town, most people are really quite careful about privacy. But there are definite limits to the privacy here, and you get used to it. It won't bother me if I get some intense looks when people ask, "How are you, Laura?"

Fine. Really.

My breast seems to be recovering nicely on its own.

But for your peace of mind, I will go to Regina for the ultrasound - and to shop for some camisoles and sturdy sweaters and shirts with big patch pockets on the front. I may be bra free, but I'm not culture free. "Nobody wants to know that you're cold, dear" rings in my ears.

And if I get some intense chest-level looks from folks on the street, I'll just smile.


Tim Hodgens said...


On the light side, I guess that's another major difference between men and women...what constitutes an unthinkable and unstoppable thought...giggle, giggle.

I remember walking towards a doctor's office for a report which I feared was going to make for some - gulp - big changes in my life. As I was approaching the outside door, I could feel my body slowing down, it was like my feet and legs didn't have the energy to take the next dozen or so steps. It was weird and fascinating at the same time.

After the visit, and finding out it was a "false alarm" walking was ever so easy again.

It reminds me of an earlier posting of yours where you were talking about toughness. May I say, I like your toughness and I admire your ability to also connect it with humor and teaching.


arcolaura said...

Thanks, Tim. Your experience of feeling your body slow down with fear reminds me of my experience with panic. Fascinating, in hindsight.

Granny said...

I was forced into bras for most of my life. No more unless it's a special occasion (like a funeral?)

I live in sweatshirts and loose sweaters.

My girls are all fascinated by bras and the middle girl wears two at once. She has no need yet for even one. Very strange.

Deb said...

Thanks for the links, Laura! The more I research medical topics on the Internet lately, the more I realize how drug and treatment oriented our so-called "health care" system really is, and how simple some of the answers really are. I'd had a nagging suspicion that binding my chest with Spandex was somehow cutting off some vital energy flow; now I am more determined to wean myself of bras!

Maybe off topic, but not by too far, have you heard about supplementing with natural progesterone? Apparently due to a number of factors, a lot of us are estrogen dominant, which accounts for all kinds of things including unexplained weight gain (excess estrogen messes with thyroid hormone interactions). I just started using a non prescription natural progesterone cream and I'm anxious to see if it makes a difference.

arcolaura said...

Granny - yes, very strange, this eagerness to comply with all sorts of social strictures. It startles me to realize how much nonsense I was dutifully swallowing - stuff like "Dressmakers say the point of the bust should be halfway between the shoulder and the elbow" - well, who had the dumb idea to ask dressmakers?

Deb - I hadn't heard about the progesterone-estrogen-thyroid connection at all. Keep me posted!

Anonymous said...

One thing I learned when I was getting fitted for a bra for my wedding dress is that most women buy bras WAY too small, thus, well, bondage, among other things. The woman who fitted me had me sized at my usual band size but something like 2 cup sizes larger. Frightening, and it was something I just did not know.

So. If you (any of you) have a fitter at a department store, take on her services, and learn something!!

I sincerely don't think I will ever go braless (too much activity here) but I do envy those who can.

arcolaura said...

Fitting helps, for sure. But if you want "support," you still need a tight band. I've been amazed at how much better I feel without that constriction, and also, how active I can be without needing that "support." Shovelling snow, belly dancing - no problem.

Deb said...

Laura- here's a link to an article about natural progesterone by Dr. John Lee, who is considered the authority on the subject.
natural progesterone