June 23, 2006
I was in 7th grade – circa 1978/79. It was
that time in all of our lives when you and everyone you know is hitting
puberty. And as is the case with life, some of us hit it sooner than others.
I was a late bloomer.
It was about that time when most of the girls in my class were beginning to
wear bras, but I just wasn’t there yet. I had two girlfriends – Sookie and
Jen – that were late bloomers like I was. The three of us formed a bond
because unlike all the other girls, there was nothing going on our chests.
Zip. Zero. Nada. Not even a hint of anything. We were, as they say, flat as
Now let me remind you, this is 7th grade. The time when you can’t be the
least bit different without someone pointing it out to the rest of the
school so everyone can tease you. Being different in 7th grade is not a good
thing, no matter how much your mom tells you that it doesn’t mean you’re a
loser, it means you’re “special”. Trust me, no one wants to be special in
7th grade. Special is not a good thing, special means you ride the short bus
Well Sookie, Jen and I soon became well known for our flat chests. Before we
knew it we all had nicknames. Mine was Pancake. For the life of me I can’t
remember exactly what their names were – Flapjack & Great Plains, I think –
but don’t quote me on that. I suppose at this point it doesn’t really
matter. All I know is that Pancake was my name, and everyone called
me that. My yearbook is plastered with “Dear Pancake” instead of “Dear
Susan”. It became a huge joke and a part of who I was in 7th grade. I
quickly learned that it didn’t do any good to hate it, so I joined in and
embraced my Pancake identity.
Not surprisingly, within a couple of years “Pancake” quickly faded to the
background as I got older and finally caught up to my peers. By the end of
high school I had blossomed into a “B” cup, and in college had settled in at
a full “C”. And that’s where I would remain. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to 2006: Miss “Full C” is plugging along, “Pancake” just a
distant memory. Then comes the diagnosis. Breast cancer. The treatment?
Mastectomy. The choice? Just take ‘em both and be done with it.
I honestly had forgotten all about Pancake until one of my sisters brought
it up after my double mastectomy. She called to see how I was doing and my
mom answered the phone. They talked for a while and then Nancy said to her,
“Tell Susan not to worry, we won’t call her Pancake.” I busted out laughing.
Yes! Pancake! I remember Pancake. How funny that she remembered, how weird
that I forgot. Inadvertently, by a twist of fate, Pancake had returned.
Without even realizing it, I find myself reacting the same way now that I
did way back in 1979. I am 39 and I’ve been stripped of part of my
womanhood. Lift up my shirt and you will find two horrific incisions,
swelling, and bruising, not to mention the drains. Ugh! The drains!! It
looks awful. It looks disturbing. It looks upsetting. But for whatever
reason, I’m not upset. I honestly thought I would be, but I’m not. Maybe it
will hit me later, but for now, I am really not fazed by it much at all. In
fact, the jokes have been flying since day one.
Just last night Mom came in my bathroom to help me put on my night shirt.
I’m still very sore so I needed her help getting it on. After I pulled it
down, I looked in the mirror, turned to the side, and said, “I look like I’m
12!!” We laughed, and then Bill piped up, “Pancake returns!!” I grabbed my
shirt and pulled it tight against my chest to reveal how truly flat I am
right now and said, “Yes, Pancake returns!!”
And in all honesty, I welcome her. That 12 year old girl learned early on
that it doesn’t help to hate yourself or be distraught about being
different. I didn’t want to be different at the time, but I was, so I chose
to embrace it and join in the fun. Now, on the eve of my 40th birthday I
find myself laughing and embracing the humor in something as tragic as
breast cancer. I don’t want to be flat and I didn’t ask for this to happen.
But it did and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. Except cry when I
need to cry, and then laugh the rest of the time.
Yes Pancake has returned, and she and I still know how to make the best of