A Survivor ‘Chuckles’ at Microagressions Toward Her Post-Cancer Body

A few days ago I was having lunch with old friends at a hip spot in town. This restaurant sells Italian food and many feel they make the best pizza in Akron. Businessmen and women stop for a quick bite at noon; families bring their children; women meet for lunch with other women, like I was doing. Even acorns like to eat there.

Let me explain. In 2011, I had a double mastectomy when I had breast cancer. At that time I had added implants to my physique and I was 10 years younger, still in my 40s. I felt compelled to uphold my appearance by having a semblance of breasts.

Then, in 2016, breast cancer returned in my right breast. I had to have surgery to remove it. At that point, they removed the implant and performed latissimus dorsi flap surgery to close the wound. My chest was completely flat on that side. For years I wore a prosthesis on the right to balance out the look on the left because I had another implant there. Then, a year later, I decided to have that implant removed, so I was “just for a while.” Evenly flat.

I’ve been wearing contoured bras for a while and recently I’ve chosen to give up everything and go natural. In July of this year my oncologist “fired” me, her way of letting me know I wouldn’t need her anymore because it had been 10 years since my first cancer and five years since my second – the second had been an angiosarcoma . The decision to wear nothing but a T-shirt under my clothes seemed to coincide with the fact that I was freed from the need to see cancer doctors.

So that’s the backstory.

So there I am in this hip restaurant, and opposite me is a table with men. They were clearly on their lunch break and getting ready to go back to work. It was warm in the room and I took off my coat. When I did, the group, or at least one man in the group, checked me out. He commented loudly, “I bet she’s wearing a ‘Manssiere’.”

People who used to watch Seinfeld will remember this term. According to WikiSein, “The ‘Manssiere’ was a bra designed for men to support their upper body. It was connected at the back by (Velcro) and made the wearer feel loose and free to move. It was made by the genius Cosmo Kramer, but the idea was originally conceived by Frank Costanza. They try to sell it to a bra company, but they can’t…”

That was the Manssiere, also known as ‘the brother’. What’s important is that it was for men, who are normally flatter than women. The man laughed at me and the way my chest looked. To him I looked like a man.

What a jerk!

This was the first time anyone made fun of my flat chest. Most people didn’t even look at me. They looked away and avoided noticing that I didn’t have a “normal” chest for my rather chubby body. Most people were certainly not joking.

My response to this stupid comment surprised me.

His micro-aggression made me chuckle.

Was my laughter a sign of liberation or a sign of the discomfort of domination? Perhaps it was a response to the hilarity of the episode “Manssiere” Seinfeld so long ago.

It must have been a bit of all three.

What was important was that I didn’t let the comment ruin my day. I was almost 60 and I had been insulted many times before by more stylish people than that jerky punk.

Shortly after, the men left the restaurant and the table was replaced by a group of young women, who didn’t say anything about my chest, by the way.

My friends arrived and we had a nice lunch showing each other pictures of our kids on our phones and catching up for the past 20 years.

Everyone had a good time.

Sometimes laughter is the best revenge.

Survivors, if someone makes fun of how you look because of cancer, don’t take it to heart.

Their wound is much bigger than yours.

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