you're reading...


The modern word ‘fear’ is descended from the Old Saxon word ‘var’, meaning ambush. I found I was strung out between different fears, feeling ambushed time after time: chronic fear of developing breast cancer, fear of the effects of that on my family, fear of taking preventive action, fear of making the ‘wrong’ decision, gut-wrenching physical fear of the surgery.

19 Sept 2006

Mastectomies or not? One of my worst fears is of being unable to come to a decision.

I know I have to marshal as many facts as I can, and then stand right back, reject all reason and logical thought and let the decision come intuitively. But I feel a long way from that – I’m still gathering info and talking to myself rationally, still reading and googling. The subject matter of this decision has to shrink so that I make the decision literally without thought. Otherwise the decision will be too big to take.

I need to explore all the implications for P, and talk through his fears, and explore how my situation resonates with his losing his own sister to breast cancer. Separate but parallel to my own journey with my mother, my aunt, my cousin. My own sense of identity and body image will be more secure if I feel he has come to some accommodation of his own grief. This is a team effort.

Helpful to compare my fears to other women’s… the Breast Cancer Care website has further info on genetics and breast cancer and notes about other relevant organisations and a chat room for women who have family histories. Many of these women are facing the same set of decisions as me, but many are younger and have not even had children yet. One woman in her twenties is debating whether to have her breasts removed before she has a baby. Agony. I think she has watched her grandmother, mother and sisters develop breast cancer and die. I feel very very lucky.

Physical fear is powerful. So often over the summer I’ve felt overwhelmed and repelled by the idea of mastectomies. The anaesthetic, the risks, the wounds, the scars. But now I am getting more used to the idea.

Then there are the friends who have a view, whose opinions I truly value. Their fears are my business too. And there are all the people I’ll probably never talk to before the operation – what fears will they have when I appear with a sudden and shocking flat chest?

I am thinking now about how I’d wear clothes if I were this new flat-chested shape. Different fears around that. The latest edition of Vogue is riveting. So many models with hardly any discernible breasts, fashions 1920s retro, layers and cover-ups of the chest area, and tailoring that plays down the breast line.

I think about all the women who have to take this decision, in fear, without any time at all to adjust. I think of my mother and her few days of panic and pain before her first mastectomy, 1972. About her shame and the taboo – what that must have done to her. And of course I think about my cousin, living with cancer, without breasts.


About Clare Best

I am Clare Best – poet, writer, teacher of creative writing. My first career was as a fine bookbinder. I've also worked as a bookseller, and for many years as an editor. Poetry publications: Treasure Ground (HappenStance 2009), Excisions (Waterloo Press 2011), Breastless (Pighog Press 2011), CELL (Frogmore Press 2015), Springlines (Little Toller 2017)


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Older posts

Clare on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: