inflammatory breast cancer awareness week and life after mastectomy

This week is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Awareness Week in Iowa. IBC is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that does not present like “normal” breast cancer in that there is no lump. It’s easy to miss IBC or to confuse it with a clogged duct (if you’re a breastfeeding mom) or an infection of some sort. That is what happened to my friend Heather (who you’ve met on this blog before), when her doctor thought the “hot spot” in her breast was a clogged duct from breastfeeding. This meant that her cancer didn’t get caught until much later than it should have been – when Heather finally took her health concerns into her own hands and sought out a different doctor who recognized the signs for what they were.

You can read all about Heather’s journey in her own words on her blog, Some Girls Prefer Carnations. It’s her story to tell and she tells is so much better than I could.

Heather has been a tough fighter, handling this journey with so much poise and humor. One never knows how one will do when pushed to scary unknowns and I hope I’d have the same courage and strength that Heather has displayed over the past two years. I just don’t know. What I do know is that I greatly admire Heather for how she’s fought through this difficult time. I also admire her for her confidence and conviction post-treatment.

Heather has chosen not to undergo reconstructive surgery after her mastectomy and we have spent many hours discussing this choice and the lack of literature and resources available to women who do not want to take the expected path towards reconstruction. The conflation of two breasts with normative gender roles and idealized beauty is so prevalent in our Western culture that there is very little out there for women who choose to embrace their new bodies post-surgery without the added risks and pain of further medical procedures. Heather has become an advocate for women looking to opt out of reconstruction with the writing on her blog. I have joined her in her research on the topic since I’m fascinated by questions of culture, beauty, and gender roles and together we have been embarking on some sort of project (still hazy and embryonic at this point) to highlight the need for more open discussion on living as a “unibreasted” or breast-less woman in our culture today.

I’d like to share some of that research and writing with you and an interview I conducted with Heather on this topic. So if you’d like to read more about this, please see my post and my interview with Heather on Flyover Feminism today.

As it is, October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month has become entirely too focused on breasts (rather than the people affected by this disease).  There has been some interesting writing on this subject this month, some of which I’d like to share with you in case you haven’t seen it:

Jazmine Walker addressed about the lack of nuance in breast cancer awareness discourse in her post “Saving The Boobies Will Not Save Me” on Flyover Feminism earlier this month. Walker writes, ““Saving the Boobies” is a mantra that gets thrown around a lot this month, but it does not properly address how breast cancer adversely impacts and ends lives. Talking about breasts as if they are an independent entity, as if it’s the breasts that are worth saving as opposed to the life and body they are attached to is not only patriarchal, but also down right sexist.

Jessica Luther added to this conversation with her post, “No More ‘Save the Tatas,’ Please.”  Luther, like Walker, argues that we need to focus on the people behind the breasts and less so on the “tatas:” “So, this October, this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, PLEASE remember that we are focused on this because we want to SAVE THE WOMEN. We want to SAVE PEOPLE. We want to SAVE LIVES.  Tatas – those would be nice to save if it’s possible. But forget saving the tatas if you lose the woman.”

Bitch Media also ran an interesting and thought-provoking article on the commercialism of the pink campaign and the questionability of its effects: Unraveling the Ribbon: Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn’t just about pink by Jill Moffett.

Have you read anything interesting this October on the subject of breast cancer awareness? Please share the links below and join the conversation if you or someone you know has been touched by this disease or the discourse surrounding beauty, health, and symmetry.

And please take a moment to read about inflammatory breast cancer and its warning signs.


A version of this post and my interview with Heather was also published on 

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7 Responses to inflammatory breast cancer awareness week and life after mastectomy

  1. Rita says:

    Stylist had a few interviews with women who had breast cancer and followed different options.

    I am personally quite aware of breast cancer for reasons I explore in this post (I don’t really go into the pink issue much though) and I have already given a lot of thought to the particular topic of reconstruction. Maybe I’m influenced by my grandmother’s and aunt’s decision but I would rather focus on staying alive without breasts. There are so many unknowns here but I strongly feel that if I survived I would be able to rebuild my feminity some other way!

    It is possible that if we free ourselves from the broad conceptualizations of what it means to be a woman, we should be able to explore and enhance other facets that make us who we are. All of us are so much more than breasts!

    Now, as a researcher, I find this topic fascinating and am completely available to collaborate with you girls if you’d like a psychology perspective into your research too.

  2. Rita says:

    p.s. you’ll have to pardon Stylist’s typo there…

  3. Rita says:

    And mine too! *femininity (!!!)

  4. Jane W. says:

    A former colleague of mine was diagnosed with IBC in 1997 at the age of 35, after months of being told she had mastitis. She had one of the first stem cell transplants in the U.S. and it saved her life.

    She handled her situation with such grace, and used her position as a journalist to secure enough sponsors to publish a BCA magazine in our local paper.

    Thanks for posting about this.

  5. Gregorio Iese says:

    Traditionally, in the case of breast cancer, the whole breast was removed. Currently the decision to do the mastectomy is based on various factors including breast size, number of lesions, biologic aggressiveness of a breast cancer, the availability of adjuvant radiation, and the willingness of the patient to accept higher rates of tumor recurrences after lumpectomy and radiation.:*.^

    Very latest piece of writing coming from our own blog site <http://picturesofherpes.covw

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