The 36D burden

The first stirrings of womanhood vary from one girl to another. For me, it was during one weekend in 1994 when my mother took me aside and asked me to fix up, for we were going shopping.

Hours later we were at the department store's pre-teens section. My mother pulled out a handful of camisoles, with an extra layer of cloth neatly sewn beneath the upper region of each. She said there were changes happening in my body, and we had to cope with them fast.

“From now on,” she said, “you will be wearing them under your uniforms, your shirts, your dresses.”

It didn’t take long before I graduated to crop tops my aunts dubbed training bras. I had earned the reputation of being the first bra-wearing female in class. It wouldn’t have mattered if I weren’t as young as when I started wearing them.

I was just about to turn 9. 

Colossal orbs

It’s been almost 20 years since then, and my mother no longer has to take me on a brassiere-shopping spree. My breasts – which have grown into colossal, cumbersome orbs – have brought me nothing but embarrassment since the day I became the first bra-wearing girl in my grade school class.

I have nothing to blame but my father’s genes. The Deona women are all built similarly – broad, rounded shoulders, strong arms, and breasts that are a bit too large for a narrow torso.

I get all sorts of remarks from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. A good number would say they wish they had breasts at least half as hefty as mine, and I would tell them to be careful what they wish for.

But this lament is not a thinly veiled brag, and my reasons may or may not be frivolous. Off-the-rack apparel could be quite cruel to the heavy-chested woman. Blazers and crisp button downs hardly look as sleek as they are supposed to be. Dresses have to be bought in large sizes, and then altered to fit the narrower lower half.

On a good day I console myself with the thought that I probably share the same fate and body structure as Kate Upton, except that I’m not tall, not blonde, and not gutsy enough to sashay on the runway.

Despite the prudence of my sartorial choices my breasts remain defiant, straining through the fabric of even the most modest of blouses. What looks chic on one woman may look obscene on another – on me.

I am also prone to back aches right below my shoulder blades, which have been attributed to the monthly hormonal fluctuations every grown woman goes through. I increase a band size during this time of the month and have been recommended to shop for brassieres one size bigger to accommodate my heavyweights.

I’ve resigned to the fact that my breasts are a part of me, but take offense when they are used as an identifier, like pink fat lady or blue pimply-faced boy. Someone once told me that he didn't realize I was smarter than he thought because I was "tits on stilts."

Are you convinced yet? You still want to go through the trouble huge breasts can bring you, all for the sake of a more womanly figure? You still covet a hefty bust that will add more or less 5 pounds to your body weight?

Let me tell you a story, then.

A woman named Myrna

Once, there was a woman named Myrna. She was born into a poverty-stricken family in Albay, one of two girls in a family of 8.

When Myrna got older, she became a nurse and worked in a military arsenal. But Myrna’s heart belonged to music. She sang with a rich alto, played the guitar, keyboards, and the percussions. She wrote songs and joined songwriting competitions.

Myrna never married, but she spent most of her free time with each of her brothers’ families. She sang to her nieces and nephews, introduced them to good music, and taught them the basics of guitar and piano.

Myrna wasn’t very tall, but she had broad shoulders, strong arms, and breasts as generous as she was. Her niece’s yaya would always make fun of her massive brassiere – measuring 36D – every time she did Myrna’s laundry, saying one cup could fit a child’s face.

When Myrna turned 46, she started feeling more tired than usual. She found an abnormal lump on her left breast, which constantly twitched and made her writhe in pain. Upon the prodding of friends, she decided to see a doctor.

Myrna was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. It was an aggressive form that threatened to metastasize to her lungs. She had to start radiation and chemotherapy as soon as possible. When she began treatment Myrna’s curly locks fell in one swoop, but she did not show outward signs of anguish, spicing up her classic button-down-and-jeans combo with a vibrant scarf on her head, tied up in vintage pin-up girl fashion.

The cancer showed no signs of responding to the treatment, so doctors advised mastectomy. What used to be ample bosoms were mutilated, extracted from her body like bulldozed mountains.

The cancer was aggressive, but Myrna was a fighter. Even with the removal of her left breast she remained cheerful and carried on with her life. She continued to report to work and visit her brothers’ families, squeezing treatment sessions in between.

Almost two years after Myrna was diagnosed with breast cancer, her doctors gave her bad news – her illness was at its terminal stage. They gave her 3 months to live.

But Myrna outlived their prediction, for she died in the arms of her loved ones in her father’s house in Albay on the day after Christmas, 5 months after the doctors broke the news to her.

Myrna is my aunt, my father’s sister. It's been 8 years, but her death continues to make me contemplate on whether I, along with the rest of the women in our family, would suffer the same fate or escape the curse of our genes. 

Ticking timebomb

On most days these heavyweights make good material for jokes. I’ve learned to roll with the punches, even going as far as telling my girl friends and colleagues that I'd give them each a bit of my mammary fat for Christmas.

But every now and then my breasts would twitch, sending a dull ache ricocheting through my chest. These little reminders of my aunt's battle with breast cancer prompted me to go through a biennial mammogram.

My first two scans have given me a clean bill of health by far. The aches are merely muscle spasms, similar to leg cramps, but I cannot heave a sigh of relief just yet. My aunt did not get diagnosed with cancer until she was well into her forties, after all.

In aesthetics these breasts are war spoils. But in genetics, they are a ticking timebomb, a possible glimpse into the root of my future suffering and eventual death. All I can do is remain hopeful that it wouldn't be the case, but in the meantime, I deal with the extra heft on my chest and be thankful that they're still intact, and still benign. –


Marga Deona

As Rappler’s senior producer, Marga manages the live broadcasts and distribution platforms of Rappler’s videos. She also writes about the intersection of technology, culture, and businesses, with the occasional sports and music features.