In a Barbie World

Cancer Journey, Post #5



Could there be a better time to be thinking about breast cancer and body image?  

I’m a Barbie girl in the Barbie world. 

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic….

At 5:30 tomorrow morning, I’ll be heading to the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary to check in for breast cancer surgery. At 7:45 am, mammography equipment will be deployed to locate the cancerous cells and a thin wire will be “punched” into my right breast—that wire will point the surgeon’s scalpel to the cancerous cells. At 1:40 pm, I’m scheduled for surgery (a lumpectomy). Barring the unforeseen, I’ll be discharged from the hospital tomorrow around dinner time. And in a few weeks’ time, I’ll find out if all the cancer was rooted out.  

That means, today is my last day of “original” cleavage. 

After this, it’s temporary prostheses, until radiation is finished. Perhaps breast reconstruction is in my future but it’s far too early to know. 

I’m a Barbie girl in the Barbie world. 

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic….

For now, I’ve purchased a utilitarian style zip-up bra (couldn’t resist the Barbie Pink colour).

And these fluffy, knitted, pink-coloured, polyester—filled  inserts—called Knitted Knockers—were gifted to me. The knockers came with this very practical guidance: “If you find them too light-weight, you could add a small weight in them; a packet of rice, a curtain weight or small pebble.” 

(Karma’s a bitch: I shouldn’t have giggled at my grandmother’s prothesis of tiny bird seed!)

Seriously, I’m not complaining. 

Breast cancer gets lots of research dollars and all the good stuff— the pink stuff, a dragon boat team in Calgary, even fly fishing! (Yes, there’s a breast cancer organization called casting for recovery.) 

Really, what does a fake plastic boob matter in the larger scheme of things?


I’m wondering out loud if modern science is a cancer prosthetic device—a bit of a leap, but hang in there please.

We’ve come a long way (baby), thanks to the scientific method. The riddle of tuberculosis (a dreaded disease that terrorized prior generations, before cancer scared the bejesus out of us) was solved by science in the last century.

Twenty years ago, I couldn’t be assured a positive outcome with breast cancer. Early detection is possible now thanks to advances in scientific gear and sophisticated analysis. However, the present methodology of treating cancer isn’t always as modern as it could be. Best practices are not being put into practice. And promising science is hobbled because we’re holding back on implementation. Simply put, the politics and policy of medical innovation is guided by precautionary principles (generally a good idea) with few exceptions. And those exceptions tend to be extraordinary— last ditch, hail Mary passes, oh what the hell, they’re dying and this can’t hurt… These patients tend not to be the best bets to try out experimental therapies.

What am I envisioning?

SARS-CoV-2 is instructive: Hurry up and go slowly doesn’t tend to work well in a medical crisis. So is it possible now to break with convention and hive-off exclusion zones, for cancer research and treatment, like with did with COVID and mRNA? Moving forward on implanted devices—prosthetics—that target cancer using electromagnetic delivery tech and ultrasound. Getting comfortable deploying artificial intelligence to crack cancer’s deepest codes. 

In conclusion: There’s a lot to chafe at within mainstream femininity and mainstream science. Beneath the slick surfaces, there are disappointments that require our attention.

For starters: It’s a bit of a smack in the bust to learn that there’s never been a Barbie with a lumpectomy or mastectomy! Why not??

Barbie’s creator—Ruth Handler—understood cancer (she had breast cancer herself, and designed a first-of-its-kind breast prosthetic for women who had undergone mastectomies). In 2006, Mattel launched a Pink Ribbon Barbie—dressed up for charity ball in a frothy pink gown and ample cleavage.

But there’s no Breast Cancer Barbie.  At least, not yet.

I expect it will happen though. Barbie is pulling in far larger audiences than Oppenheimer. If that reflects current priorities–to hell with the bomb, worry about Barbies!  

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