Every year, around October, I always feel a pang of sadness at the memories of my breast cancer battle.
It resurfaces, and it lingers. I remember how it was the start of a series of unfortunate events. I recall how the way each event hit me in a sequence of situations that would change my life forever.
The first hit – I found out I had breast cancer.
The second hit – my husband died suddenly.
The third hit – I found out my husband had been leading a double life and had betrayed me.
I was afraid to die. I was grieving a man I thought I knew. I had the horror of fighting a deadly disease and all the accouterments that come with it — hearing loss, burnt nails, weight loss, and fear.
And on top of it all, the loss of my breast.
I love my breasts the same way I say that I love my body as a whole.
They have always been both the underline and the punctuation of what made me feel womanly. And without one, I felt incomplete. My breast was a part of me and it pained me to let one of them go even if I was sick. I felt like I was losing a part of myself. And I had already lost so much.
My breasts have been both the underline and the punctuation of what made me womanly.
My fight with breast cancer coincided with multiple fights against outside forces that seemingly sought to destroy me and that continued to deceive me – their motives still to this day evade me. I was in the midst of battles that ultimately made my life become susceptible to an all-out war.
I was in battle with a woman who brought dirt into my life and home and I needed to protect what was mine. I was fighting against an intrusion of people who my husband had trusted would always be there for me if something had happened to him. I fought and still fight for insurance money – unpaid.
Bigger than that, I fought against my own mind and the everyday reminder of just how human I was and how easily I could also break.
I'd always go back to the thought that maybe if I had my loving best friend, my ride or die, my partner in crime, and the person I trusted most in this world to give me the things I could not, it all wouldn't be so devastating. The one who was supposed to always be there for me and love me no matter how I looked could reaffirm me about losing my breast. And that I didn't need the things I felt helped make me whole. But I didn't have my breast, and I didn't have him. Thirty days before my chemo, I buried that man, steel casket and all.
So, like it or not, for all the battles I faced, I needed to feel whole. I needed to feel pretty. I needed to feel like myself. In order to be strong enough to stand up against these demons, I needed both of my breasts.
And I believe breasts have power.
One night, after my husband passed, the other woman had the nerve to contact me. On the nightstand near my hospital bed was my cell. I heard the text alert ring and moved to retrieve it, assuming it was one of my children trying to reach me. But to my surprise, it was the woman I did not know was cheating with my husband. Along with her confession, she texted me that I didn't deserve this and that I was a good person. I was seething with anger.
Why was she intruding into my life at the worst possible moment of my life?
I can't say I was completely taken by surprise by her text, but I can say that I wondered if my husband had known how illiterate his mistress was. She wrote in all caps and couldn't spell. She said I would be alright – again, in all caps. She wrote all this as I lay watching a morphine drip numb the pain from having my breast lopped off and nothing, but a flap of skin left in its place.
This is when I decided to have a reconstruction of my breast. I could not allow life to take from me, not when I had so much life in me left. And although it was a major undertaking, it was a necessary decision. It took numerous surgeries to repair my breast. Nine in all.
And each one, I faced alone.
He was under the dirt. I was left to sweep it up.
After the final surgery, I had a strange feeling. I can't exact explain it aside from its strangeness, but I prayed it wouldn't leave. I didn't want to go back to having anxiety in my every swallow. I think it was a feeling of almost wholeness again, because I have two breasts that match. I felt like I was actually coming back to me – whoever that was – with so many changes and loss, my world turned upside down, but I was back. Somehow, I felt I could now face the “other" woman, eye-to-eye, with strength, confidence, and pride. Because she had nothing on me.
Here I am a successful entrepreneur, Ivy League grad, recipient of numerous accolades and awards, but in a battle over a man, it all comes down to the outer and not the inner. Because we revert to our animalistic needs. Why her over me? Better sex? Kinky sex? Bigger breasts? Bigger ass? Taller? Thinner? Shorter? Thicker?
We're not in a debate competition. We were in a battle of the breasts.
So, despite the three life-changing hits I took in life's ring — facing death, facing fear, and facing betrayal – I find myself still standing in the ring, celebrating victory. At five years, my oncologist said I could talk about being cured. And now, years beyond those initial five years, I can officially say that I am cured.
Cured of more than just what happened to me physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. When I had learned of my husband's affair shortly after his death, the betrayal from him and my body felt like two blows to my ego and how I felt about my beauty and my womanness.
Having one less breast than the other woman admittedly made me feel inadequate and like I couldn't compare to the woman she was.
Maybe wanting the breast reconstruction was a way to remedy those feelings and was a way to prove my worth as a woman, not just to him or to her, but to me. But afterwards, I've realized how much bigger it is than breast or any aspect of the external aspects of me. In the end, my breast reconstruction helped me to see the bigger picture.
Despite the things that have happened to me, I am a survivor, I am resilient, and I can move on.
*Article Originally Published on New York Trend
Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams is the Founder, CEO, and Publisher of TTW Associates Inc./New York Trend Newspaper, the largest Black-owned newspaper in Long Island with a circulation throughout New York. With a master's degree in psychology, a master's degree in administration, and a doctorate in administration, Dr. Williams takes pride in being a role model and a mentor to the younger generation.