DEAR MS. HAX: I’m a two-time, currently-Stage IV breast cancer survivor. When I was told I needed a double mastectomy, I did the research and decided to “go flat”; I heard too many horror stories about implants, and, on the basis of my own personal history, decided they weren’t for me.
For dressy occasions, I wear prostheses, but they’re not that comfortable. I’m a small, slender (these days: skinny) woman, and barely made it to an A cup even when I was pregnant. It’s not that important to me. Most of the time, I don’t bother with them.
At Thanksgiving, I worked hard (too hard) to prepare my house and dinner for family; I changed for dinner, but I was tired, and didn’t bother putting on my prostheses. My sister-in-law — who vocally disapproved of my decision to go flat — told me, in front of the family, that I looked terrible and was “disrespecting” my company as a result. I thought I was respecting them by knocking myself out on their behalf.
I have to see her and the others again at future holidays. I’m trying to decide if I should make a point by skipping the prostheses, or if I should keep the peace and be uncomfortable.
How can I best handle this? Thanks!
DEAR “DISRESPECTFUL”?: Doing this job puts me in a position to see inside the lives and minds of all kinds of different people in different kinds of pain. That means I get a peek at a lot of bad people and people behaving badly.
Your sister-in-law now ranks among the worst of the worst. I won’t soon forget her.
If you can forget her, though, then by all means do. Avoid her completely where .
Should you feel any flickers of guilt, please douse them quickly by reminding yourself that you didn’t fight for your survival just to listen to her abuse. Or anyone’s.
Maybe there’s a decent person under her shockingly awful, boundary-oblivious surface; maybe she harbors a deep terror of illness and mortality, and her way of dealing with it is to vilify anyone she sees as their earthly messengers.
But that’s not only as charitable as I’m willing to get — it also, even if true, would be no excuse for her to indulge her mortality fears at your or anyone else’s expense.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.