Adrienne Ryan, BEd, Brisbane, Australia
I am a 46 year old woman and have watched women in my family and at work undergo treatment for breast cancer, including mastectomy. It is a particularly distressing illness because the thought of losing a mother, daughter, partner, sister, child, aunty, grandma, friend, colleague or even an acquaintance to breast cancer is deeply devastating. Its increase, along with ovarian cancer, is something to be talked about at every opportunity – Why is breast cancer killing and affecting so many women?
In an article referring to Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy it was noted that: “Currently, women facing a strong likelihood of developing breast cancer have only two real options – to have both of their breasts removed (a double mastectomy) or hope that it will never actually happen”. (1)
SELF-AWARENESS VIA THE BREASTS
I have a third option to add: self-awareness via my breasts. In recent years I began to pay attention to my breasts, beyond them just being part of my physical appearance – sexual aspects of my womanly body or mothering tools of trade to breastfeed by – and discovered that through their changing quality of tenderness and sensitivity they ‘tell’ me how I am travelling in my day-to-day life. I am not so quick anymore to brush off hardness, soreness, heaviness, aches and pains in my breasts as ‘just the way it is’ or normal. I have come to learn that these feelings are so much more than random discomfort.
As a woman aware of caring for myself and willing to be aware of the symphony of ‘cause and effect’ that plays out in my body, I see that my breasts and the way they feel are deeply connected to me, my daily life and choices – how I am feeling about myself, my relationships, my work and my family. My breasts often tell me what I choose to not tell myself…. hardness and soreness is not random, it is very specific to how I am within myself – emotionally, mentally and physically.
If I am stressed, overdoing it, upset or out of balance, my breasts reflect it in the way they feel. The biggest challenge is paying attention to what is being shown and taking the opportunity breast soreness offers to stop and ask myself:
- How I am going?
- What’s upsetting me?
- Or, the hardest one of all – am I doing too much, hurrying, stressing, pushing through the day?
- Is there space in what I’m doing for me to appreciate how lovely I am, not based on what I can do but who I am?
It is not a punishment, but an invitation to come back and notice the speed I run myself with, the emotions that are there to contend with: from worrying about children, stress about bills, to concern about how to fit everything in etc., and underneath it all, feel how far away from truly lovely I feel. How much this feeling of my own inner beauty and delicateness is scrapped in favour of taking on the role of being the woman the world wants me to be – sexy, smart, sophisticated, mother, daughter, wife, worker, charity giver, cook, cleaner, helper, shopper, family organiser, sassy, funny, serious, young looking, trim, articulate, 50 Shades of Grey reading femme fatale and Virgin Mary-like.
The discomfort I used to accept as normal in my breasts, as it comes and goes throughout my cycle, has become a gauge I deeply respect. I can now hear its invitation to stop, feel and reconnect to the loveliness within, to the woman I am and to appreciating that there is a quality I bring to the world with the way I walk, talk and go about my day connected to the delicate beauty within.
Is it possible, just possible, that instead of women’s bodies betraying us, letting us down with breast cancer or the genetic threat of it, that these conditions are actually a whole communication, FRONT PAGE NEWS from the body, saying with great love:
There Is Something About The Way Women Are Living That Is Not Agreeing With Them.
If Life Is Working For Women, Then Why Are Women’s Bodies Suffering With Cancer And So Many Other Complications?
What if the way we begin to work with breast cancer were to involve seeking medical support AND starting a course of self-appreciation, self-curiosity, self-awareness, working with the body and understanding that when we connect to and cherish the beauty within ourselves it has a physical, emotional and mental effect.
There is a call that our breasts are sounding out, not whispering but shouting out for us to notice that something in the way we are living is not working because it is disturbing our body’s naturally harmonious way of being. What if breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometriosis conditions were not happening to women but coming from women?
Is the question to consider bringing to the breast cancer table and women’s health in general, not just how do we heal sick women, but what is there in the way we think and live as women today that is making us sick?
(1) ‘Angelina Jolie has double mastectomy due to cancer gene’, BBC News US & Canada, 14th May 2013, accessed 21 Jul 2013, <http://bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22520720>