On Volunteering: An Ode to Nipples and Nose Hairs
Last summer I began writing for the Beyond Boobs! blog. I am a freelance writer and I wanted to donate my services to a few nonprofit organizations in Hampton Roads. During an Internet search I stumbled upon the Beyond Boobs! website. I had very little experience with breast cancer, but the group’s fun vibe appealed to me. I sent an e-mail to co-founder Mary Beth Gibson to offer my services and later spoke with Managing Director Chris Schwab about ways we could work together. Chris’s enthusiasm and excitement showed me I had made a great choice in reaching out to Beyond Boobs!
I work with the BB! staff to generate story ideas for the blog, I interview Boobers!, family members, Bustiers, and everyone in between, and then I bring everything together in posts for the blog. Over the past year I have shared many stories about the impact BB! has made on the individuals who make up the BB! universe. Now I would like to share mine.
Invasion of the Booby Snatchers
The first blog post series I wrote was about the models for the 2015 A Calendar to Live By. I won’t forget the phone conversation I had with one of the models. While telling me about her breast reconstruction she said, “I don’t have nipples.”
I was stuck on that one short sentence. My hands flew up to my areolas. No nipples! I tried to imagine a world without those ever-changing bits of flesh, at times soft and smooth and other times puckered peaks of passion. I recalled many lovely sensations brought to me courtesy of my nipples. I had never once thought of living life without them and the idea of NOT having them was almost more than my brain could process. Intellectually I know that mastectomy is another word for “gone,” but I guess I just assumed that nipples would be part of the reconstruction process.
I managed to yank myself back from my musings and focus again on the phone conversation I was having. I needed more details! I asked this particular calendar model if I had heard correctly, that she indeed did not have nipples. She confirmed that and said some women, after reconstruction, opt for getting nipple tattoos. She suggested I search online, and that was exactly what I did.
God bless Google. I searched the term “breast reconstruction” and looked at the photos that popped up on my computer screen. Seeing reconstructed breasts without nipples reminded me of the old movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Only in this case, it was “Invasion of the Booby Snatchers.”
One of the things I share with the women of Beyond Boobs! is an attitude of gratitude. Sometimes, to help myself drift off to sleep, I engage in a meditation of sorts. I start at the tips of my toes and give thanks for every part of my body. I think of running through the grass barefoot as a little girl, drawing my attention to my feet. I give thanks for kneeling and sitting cross-legged as I guide my thoughts up toward my knees. I continue the process all the way to the top of my head, focusing on each body part in turn. In the past I had, of course, given thanks for my breasts, but I had never focused exclusively on my nipples. Now, thanks to my work with Beyond Boobs!, my nips are finally getting the recognition they deserve.
Nose Hairs Finally Feel the Love
Several months after that nipple realization rocked my worldview, I spoke with Chris about topics we wanted to cover on the blog. I mentioned my newfound appreciation for my nips and Chris brought up something else to be grateful for – nose hairs. During chemo, many women experience hair loss. For most people, the first hair they think of is the hair on their head, with eyebrows, eyelashes, and other body hair springing to their minds later. Chris explained, though, that women undergoing chemo treatment can also lose their nose hairs, causing them to have a runny nose during treatment.
Nose hairs! Talk about an unloved part of the human anatomy. Has anyone, in the history of ever, complimented another person on the hair sprouting out of her nose? I think not. Men may be able to get away with a few stray hairs poking out of a nostril, but most women would die of embarrassment if they had jutting nose hairs. Yet those tiny follicles perform a valuable service, don’t they? I have now added nose hairs to my list of body parts to be thankful for.
Unwrapping the Pink Ribbon
Volunteering my writing skills for Beyond Boobs! allows me to speak with so many people whose lives have been changed forever by a breast cancer diagnosis. Like everyone else, I have seen the pink ribbon stuck to the backs of cars and used as decoration every October to bring awareness to the disease. I heard terms like “chemo,” “radiation,” and “mastectomy,” but I only had vague notions of what those words really meant for someone going through the treatments. Sometimes, for those of us on the outside looking in, breast cancer seems like a box where all of those cancer-related thoughts and words are kept, tied up neatly with a pink ribbon. The ribbon represents the stories of everyone whose lives have been touched by breast cancer, but it doesn’t tell their unique stories.
In my conversations with survivors, their husbands, their parents, BB! volunteers, doctors, and others, I have plucked at that ribbon, removing it and opening the box to peer inside. The stories of life, love, and loss that emerged from that box have changed the way I view breast cancer and the world. Breast cancer does not happen in a vacuum. Women who are diagnosed still have lives to live, people to love, and dreams to chase. Those who are important to them – spouses, children, parents, friends, and coworkers – are affected, too. Everyone has a story to tell, and it is my ongoing privilege to hear those stories and share them on the BB! blog.
The people I have spoken with and written about in BB! blog posts have touched my heart. Without having met me, and without even seeing me in person, people answer questions about their bodies, their hearts, and their souls. They trust me with their stories, and when I sit down to write I do my best to maintain that trust. My life is richer by far for my volunteer work with Beyond Boobs!