I’m grateful for my boobs. I love them. Even and especially after feeding three babies with them—one after cancer! I kind of always hated them before. They weren’t the right size or shape; never made me feel like I was enough. When I was diagnosed, so many people had the ‘just get rid of them mentality.’ I had a lumpectomy. I was relieved to keep them. I know that’s not how everyone feels, but I did. I wasn’t prepared for the grief of losing them. It felt like a chance to love, appreciate, and enjoy them — to reconnect through this new lens.
I’m free in my body now.
I realized my body image before cancer had more to do with self-worth than the actual size, shape, or ability of my body. Something shifted for me in the space I had during treatment. Now, body image is about strength, health, and truth. And I feel sexier and more attractive post-treatment. I want to fully live the human experience in this body. I wasn’t doing that before.
I’m amazed that post-surgery through the present day (4.5 years), it can still be super triggering to be touched on the breast that had surgery and radiation. The body holds all of this energy, our memories, trauma. It’s a constant and sometimes difficult practice to be with those feelings, communicate them to my husband and find our way through it, alone and together, over and over again. At the same time, it can be such a beautiful reminder of all I’ve been through, all we’ve been through, and that I still have that breast and it still has feeling and holds all of this possibility. It can be really intense. Occasionally, some grief shows up for the younger me who missed out.
We all know breasts are overly sexualized. Now that I feel connected to my breasts, they feel both more and less sexual. I understand that I need boundaries around them — this allows me to understand when they’re for me and when I want them to be for someone else. I know that might sound strange, but I have an awareness that while beasts are often for others, they’re always mine.
I remember being back at work soon after surgery and treatment. Suddenly, it got cold and my nipples got hard. The old me would have caved into myself, maybe closed up my cardigan or put on an extra layer. God forbid anyone see my nipples! The new me was so grateful and proud to still have my boobs and both nipples. In that moment, I realized my whole life I’d been hiding or minimizing, ashamed of this organ and its basic function because nipples are so sexualized in our culture that we’re shamed for having them. WTF is that?!
Now, I feel so much more at home in my body.
When I had to stop and slow down and let go of all the things that had defined me and people still loved me, showed up for me, and wanted to be with me, I realized I don’t have to be anything. I am enough.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jessica Zucker is a Los Angeles-based psychologist specializing in reproductive health. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, New York Magazine, and Vogue, among others. She is the author of I HAD A MISCARRIAGE: A Memoir, a Movement.