The Undertoad


I woke up today with a cold and, while flipping sides so that the congestion could make its slow pilgrimage from one side of my head to the other, skimmed the news on my phone. The news is often bad, but this time it was (again) my bugaboo: politics were touching my lady parts without asking nicely and buying me dinner first. The Susan G. Komen foundation had pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, affecting five million patients who look to PP for access to contraception (35%), cancer screenings (16%), STD testing (35%), pregnancy and prenatal care (10%), and — yes — safe abortions (3%).

I’ve donated to Susan G. Komen before, and even bought extra Yoplait Boston Cream Pie with the pink lids although that yogurt is the scourge of breakfast. I suppose that was stupid, since SGK’s vice president Karen Handel is both right-wing and pro-life, and I am left-wing and pro-choice; restricting access to breast cancer screenings for low-income women because the centers that offer these services also offer family planning compromises the mission of any charity that actually seeks to help cancer patients. Again, it seems that Planned Parenthood is facing the message that as long as they continue to terminate pregnancies, they’ll see funds drop. They’re being bullied. It makes me mad.

A few years ago, I found a mass in my right breast. For a few days, before it was determined by my doctor to be a benign and mysterious hormone-related bump, I wondered what it would be like to be treated for breast cancer at twenty-five years old. Later, a family member had breast cancer and recommended I get BRCA testing to see if I carried the breast cancer susceptibility gene. I didn’t, thank God, but while I waited for the test results I found myself lying on my side in bed at night and thinking what it would mean to lose one or both of my breasts. I’ve had friends who have had partial or complete mastectomies: I’ve seen their reconstructed nipples and thought, “I should probably prepare myself for that.” These lady lumps — that can be so fun to play with, to dress up and dangle necklaces between, that help identify us as women — also mean that we (as their owners) have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer in our lifetimes. Though men can also get breast cancer, it’s 100 times less common. And I’ve yet to meet a dude who’s had an abortion, but (arguably) 40% of American women have terminated their pregnancies. I think that more than half of that 40% would prefer never to talk about the experience and I understand why: not only is it an emotionally and physically wrenching process, but pro-life advocates are becoming more and more intense in their fight to end choice for women. Nobody wants to become a pariah because of (or a mouthpiece for) something so tender that can be so viciously attacked — it is so, so private. The most private. It isn’t a safe topic, even if it makes up less than 3% of the topics that define you as a person, and well-respected charities would rather endanger your health than associate themselves with a clinic that upholds your legal right to choose what to do with your body. Apparently, anything abortion touches, it defiles forever. This is really disgusting to me, even worse than Yoplait Boston Cream Pie.

I don’t know why certain horrible things outweigh other horrible things for me in terms of managing my personal response. I can’t help but think of a line from Clueless(and believe me, if I could help it, I would, and would replace this line with something from Citizen Kane or similar, because the tone of Clueless doesn’t really jibe with my emotions): “I felt impotent and out of control, which I really, really hate.” When Troy Davis was executed, when George W. Bush won the election in 2004, and listening to Jackie Speier talk about her abortion almost a year ago: the morning reports sucked the wind out of me and made me feel like a crustacean pulled out of her shell by a hungry Survivor contestant. I can see the other side of things from here, or almost. I can (mostly) respect other people’s points of view, even if I secretly feel that my experience of being a human must be so different from theirs that we may as well live on different planets. Maybe, for this particular issue, it’s that I feel as though there will probably be more occasions in my life where I find a lump (one in eight); maybe it’s because I’ve had my nose in a book for almost two decades and think that the mass from chapter two will show up again in the last or second-to-last chapter. Certainly there are endless numbers of terrible things that arrive in your inbox as you’re battling a sinus infection and before you get fortitude from your first cup of coffee, but rarely do two personally-significant causes clash in the way that today’s did for me. It’s a moment of complete alienation, shaking your faith in the fact that you and the people you disagree with can argue over dinner and make up during dessert. Certain things are just too important to you, they dominate too much of what’s vital to sustain life on your planet: that everyone deserves the right to take care of their bodies, that everyone with breasts can unite over the horrible adrenaline rush that comes with hitting a speed bump during a self-exam regardless of politics, that nobody should be denied a place to go sweat it out for testing because they can’t afford to go somewhere else.

Statistically, assuming half of you who read my blog are women (I believe it’s more — haaaaay ladies!), 1,400 of you will develop breast cancer and 4,000 will terminate, or have terminated, a pregnancy. Some of us will experience both, so perhaps the reason that the friction between a breast cancer charity and a reproductive health organization bothers me so much is that I can’t help but read it as another significant event that closes an early chapter, like Garp’s undertoad. I shouldn’t read it that way; our narrator is unpredictable, after all. I’d just hate to see so many of us stranded in the middle of the ocean, no floaties, rethinking all of that gross yogurt and wishing we were back on page two. But there’s good news mixed in with the bad, of course. Maybe there’s still a chance that we’ll make up over dessert. I hope so.