“I’m scared,” my sister-in-law sobbed into the phone.
I stopped myself before I said something unhelpful or asinine like, “Don’t be scared.”
Instead I replied, “I imagine you are. I wish I knew what to say or do.”
Peter’s youngest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks ago. On Monday, the surgeon scheduled her mastectomy for the end of the week. She called Tuesday morning as I was getting ready for work with a request.
“Do you think you could have your mom call me?” she asked. “I need a mom to talk to. I wish my mom was here.”
Her plea almost incapacitated me. My husband’s mother was gone before I even met him. I know if I were in the same situation, the first person I would call after Peter would be my mom.
“I’ll call her today and ask her to speak with you,” I promised.
“They’re taking my breast,” she said. “And I need a mom to talk to. No offense to you, but I need someone like my own mom,” she apologized.
My sister-in-law is older than me. Even though I am a mom, there is no way that I am a mother figure for her.
“Don’t apologize. I understand,” I assured her.
I was secretly relieved that she wanted to talk to someone else. I can understand her fear about the breast removal since any surgery has risks, but I can’t say that I would be able to relate to her sense of impending loss.
That evening after work, I decided to confide this to Peter.
I tried making light of it. “If I were in your sister’s place, I think you would miss my breast more than me.”
He smiled, but looked at me quizzically.
“You know, the whole purpose of a breast is to provide milk.” I stopped. I was no longer joking.
When I was pregnant, I had decided to breastfeed. It took Philip’s near dehydration when he was a few days old to realize that my body was not producing milk and never would.
Through tears I continued. “I feel like my breasts betrayed me.” My voice barely a whisper I concluded, “I wouldn’t care if they were gone.”
I cried, the pain, the feeling of personal failure and the sense of loss still lingering almost five years later.
“You didn’t hurt him,” Peter said quietly. “He is okay.”
I know he is right. I know I should forgive my body.
I just resent that I didn’t get to be a complete mother figure.