In the online young breast cancer survivor community, reconstructed breasts are known as “Frankenboobs”, “fake boobs”, or just shortened to “foobs”. Breast reconstruction is an amazing thing, as it allows us to appear, with clothes on, as if we have breasts.
Calling reconstructed breasts Frankenboobs got me to thinking about the classic Mary Shelley story Frankenstein with the idea of seeing whether the story might be useful as a metaphor for anything to do with life during or after cancer. I’m familiar with the story–who hasn’t seen a television or movie take-off of it? I wasn’t sure how what I knew of the tale--a student doctor, Victor Frankenstein, creates a monster out of dead body parts and brings him to life–could be used as a metaphor for living with and after cancer. But I’d never read the original book.
So I read it. As usual, Hollywood has distorted the story completely, making the monster seem like a well-meaning oaf. In the book, the monster is sentient–he can think and speak–and, after he is created, although he desires love, he goes on killing rampages and stalks Victor, eventually killing everyone Victor loves. At the end of the book, when Victor dies, the monster seems to be remorseful when he says “your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself” and plans to kill himself.
I’ve also recently read Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which helped me to formulate the following application of Frankenstein as a metaphor for cancer. (Forgive me for my quasi-legal reasoning–I just realized I’m trying to apply the “facts” of cancer to the “law” of the story.)
You could imagine that a tumor–a mass of cancer cells living within the body, but without any specific function–as Frankenstein’s monster–created by Victor, just as our own bodies create a tumor. Once created, both have “minds” of their own and can’t be easily controlled. (I know cells don’t have minds and think, but bear with me.)
Even when you’ve done the slash, poison, and burn–and for all intents and purposes the cancer appears to be gone–like Frankenstein’s monster in hiding, it often lies just out of sight, seeming to wait for just the right time to burst out and wreak havoc.
And even though cancer cells divide crazily in the hopes of living, like Frankenstein’s monster, when cancer kills us, it dies too.