I wanted to celebrate the last days with my breasts the “right” way. You know, the way everybody else would. So I let Google do its magic when I typed into the search bar “boob bucket list.”

It seemed that this topic was not as popular as I had thought. Possibly due to the fact that the majority of young women with breast cancer that I knew personally needed their breasts removed as soon as they were diagnosed because of a hormone-positive cancer or a BRCA+ mutation.

As a triple negative kinda gal, I had neoadjuvant chemotherapy meaning I had chemo before surgery and let’s just say that left me with plenty of time to think about all the things I’ll miss and want to do with my boobs.

I’ve heard of people “just wanting them gone” and it seemed like no one did anything special to celebrate their breasts besides a few “bye bye boobie parties.” It seemed like no one was really talking about it and I felt alone.

Creating and Carrying Out a Boob Bucket List

When I told friends who I’m closest to who are thankfully not immersed in the breast cancer world that I had a boob bucket list they were not at all shocked and in fact, helped me carry out some of the tasks on my list.

  1. Nipple orgasms: Lucky for me, or for my former self, I had spent the first few years of my 20s trying on different fetishes, partners, and fantasies — many of which included some sort of nipple play. I then found myself in a stable relationship of eight and half years and I have learned what did and did not turn me on anymore. Lucky for my partner there was only one fetish feat left to attempt, the nipple orgasm. Yes it exists, and although we gave it a good ol college try on two different occasions, I didn’t get there.
  2. Document them: The only other thing I seemingly had left to do on my list was to document my breasts doing everything and anything they can do! This involved a complicit friend videotaping me shaking my breasts, jumping up and down, slapping them together and so forth.
  3. Turn them into art: I had even gotten a kit from @keepabreast to immortalize my breasts with paper mache.
  4. Schedule a boudoir photoshoot: I still hadn’t had a real photoshoot with a real photographer, not just a friend with an iPhone, to capture what my breasts looked like. Even though they “betrayed” me, for all intents and purposes they still looked like, felt like and tasted like the magnificent breasts I had come to know and love. But alas, I couldn’t afford a photoshoot and time was running out. It wasn’t until after a night of champagne and boob cake that a friend worked her magic and had a ready and willing boudoir photographer texting me at 10:30 that night to set up a complimentary shoot the next morning, the day before my bilateral mastectomy.  

Can You Have a Boudoir Photoshoot the Day Before Surgery?

I was in complete shock and overcome with gratitude for the opportunity but second guessed myself. Would my time be better spent sleeping-in the day before surgery? Most days getting out of bed was an accomplishment.

I woke up that Tuesday morning, threw myself in the shower and slapped on mascara, highlighter, lipstick, and brows for the first time in months. I took the tags off of an ivory and gold Betsey Johnson dress that I’d been saving for the “right” occasion.

Showing up at the photographer’s door was like walking into a chic and fluffy feminine She-Shed. Ashley, this angel of a woman, welcomed me into her home — her bedroom, living room, and even child’s playroom to romp around half naked for two hours.

She threw on Amy Winehouse radio on Spotify and started directing me around her bedroom calling me a goddess and telling me how epic I was and how to tilt my chin and adjust my shoulders.

A portrait photo from Lauren's photoshoot the day before her mastectomy. Photo credit: Ashley Hornsby.

What the Experience Felt Like

There’s some amazing confidence that can come from a petite beautiful blonde woman calling you a queen while prancing around her home topless. It was beyond empowering. I felt a lot more comfortable after the first outfit change, and some time to catch my breath with water. Its hard work post-chemo climbing around a squishy bed, booty tooching Tyra-style.

I tried to be as courteous a houseguest as possible while naked in the kids’ playroom but when modesty is out the door you can really get to know a woman on a special level.

I didn’t learn where her kids went to school, or where she gets her hair cut but I learned that she’s a spiritual creative soul who was eager to offer her home and expertise to a complete stranger.

When you’re about to cut your tits off and just finished six months of grueling chemo you tend to be in a pretty low place. Physically; my neuropathy was worsening, I was overcome by hot flashes, and as my chiropractor put it my “muscles were no longer strong enough to hold my bones in place.”  Mentally, I was trying to figure out who I was and how I got there, and was anxious about my upcoming surgeries.

Mentally Preparing for Surgery

I did everything I could to avoid being at home “waiting” for surgery, including leaving town on three separate occasions to go sit on beaches or other people's couches and let their daily lives occupy my mind.  

Traveling really did great things for my mentality and helped me find hope and a connection to myself like I’ve never felt before. The other great thing I did for myself was this photoshoot. From which I was hoping I would gain some pictures to remember and honor my breasts.  

Ashley went above and beyond services rendered as the whole experience did more for my mindset and spirit than I ever thought imaginable.

I hadn’t intellectually taken into account that the experience of having the photos taken would prepare me for my mastectomy in the most meaningful way.

It brought out the spirit of my inner child and I was able to play for the first time in far too long. I was genuinely present and encouraged to be my silly self and we laughed together about anything from the ridiculousness of my situation to her clever use of blankets to cover furniture that her kids had ruined. I was able to feel joy.  

Using Humor and Protecting My Energy

I have been and continue to be really protective of my energy ever since my diagnosis and live by the mantra, “keep laughing,” which was the best advice I received. I hung out with my most fun friends, watched the funniest shows and movies, listened to the funniest podcasts and made inside jokes with my love Ryan at the hospital that we affectionately called the chemo factory. I avoided the local news on TV like the plague, kicked my Law and Order SVU habit, and did everything I could to create a non toxic energetic space.

When I was able to reflect upon my mindset and energy after the photoshoot, I was kicking myself thinking, "of course I should focus on protecting my energy and raising my vibrations the days and moments leading up to surgery."  

So I drove away from her perfect playhouse and made last minute plans to meet my girl Margie for brunch near my place. The weather was warm for a February day and my windows were rolled down and I was singing at the top of my lungs to one of the songs from my "Fuck Cancer" playlist. I decided in that moment that I wasn’t going to let this feeling escape me. I had to protect it like I so strongly had been protecting myself all along.

We had a fabulous brunch after which Margie helped me over pack a bag for the hospital. She was surprised to see me in a fancy dress with makeup on and my radiating positive mood and I knew I was onto something.

Ryan got home from work and we enjoyed each other’s company while we waited for my big brother and sister in law to get into town. They insisted on being here for my surgery and I didn’t try to challenge them — I knew at least Ryan would need some company and help.

I chose one of my favorite dinner joints and met them there and got to spend time catching up on our lives. I was high on life talking about my recent travels and all the things Ryan and I were planning and brainstorming for when this was all over. My heart full, we parted ways and Ryan and I had some alone time to connect physically and otherwise.

Last Moments with My Boobs: The Morning of My Mastectomy

The morning of my surgery I snapped a few selfies of me and the Girls while jamming out to said Fuck Cancer playlist. We fell back into bed for some awesome foreplay and relished in the delight of the familiar sensation of having my nipples teased, but for the last time.

Ryan honored me and my breasts that morning so gently and lovingly. I wanted to capture that moment and feeling forever, like I did the day before with Ashley. So I recorded my voice talking about how I felt, what my breasts felt like, and why they’ll be missed.

Coping with Goodbye and Missing My Breasts

When I started writing this piece, I thought I never got to say a formal ‘goodbye’ to my breasts. Then I came to my senses and realized I was placing unnecessary pressure on myself and in this moment as I’ve written these words I realize I absolutely said goodbye to my breasts in the most beautiful of ways.

I didn’t let the weight of the surgery get in the way of creating and maintaining positive experiences in the last moments with my boobs.  

A few weeks after surgery I was on my phone when a notification popped up and it was an email from Ashley with a link to my boudoir shoot. I promptly grabbed my laptop and pulled up the gallery.

I was in shock and utter disbelief about how perfectly she had captured the feelings I felt that day. It was the first moment of sadness actually missing my breasts and I was immediately taken back to the warm day in February where I cultivated the mindset and mood needed to face the complex fucked up task of removing one’s breasts.

To me, it's pretty incredible that it took me those whole two weeks to miss the breasts I so actively tried to remember and preserve. For that, I thank Ashley and our date with the Girls for infusing me with loving energy to see me through hell.

Lauren posing during her pre-mastectomy photoshoot. Photo credit: Ashley Hornsby.