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Producer's notebook: talking about my private parts on public radio

When my sister was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer, I opted to have a prophylactic mastectomy. And, as you'll hear in my radio documentary, these 3-D nipple tattoos are the end product of two-and-a-half years of breast reconstruction.
Jessica Grillanda, left, opted to have a prophylactic mastectomy; both her mom and sister (right) have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

[PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS MATURE IMAGES OF THE HUMAN BODY]

Hi. These are my nipples. Not my real nipples. I got rid of those.

When my sister was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer, I opted to have a prophylactic mastectomy. And, as you'll hear in my radio documentary, these 3-D nipple tattoos are the end product of two-and-a-half years of breast reconstruction.
Before and after photos show Jessica's breast reconstruction process, including the final step: the completion of the 3-D nipple tattooing.

I didn't relish the idea of talking about my nipples on the radio. Don't get me wrong, I am free-speaking (some would say blunt) person, but it's one thing to talk to my besties or the general listening audience about my new nipple tattoos … it's another story when an acquaintance asks, "What's your documentary about?" Especially, when it's a boss or, really, just about any man.

All of a sudden, the word nipples comes out more like n-n-nipples. That's the sound of me pushing through the discomfort of telling this story. Because we should be talking about our nipples, our vaginas, our testicles … our private parts. As my sister says, "Our boobs are trying to kill us."

Tattooing over trauma

When Jessica Grillanda's mother and sister were diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided it was time for drastic action. Without ever being diagnosed, she had a double mastectomy. Listen to the documentary →

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation cites one in nine women in Canada will deal with breast cancer. And men, yes men, will too. 

Now, don't get me wrong. We talk about breast cancer all the time. We just euphemize the hell out of it. We have battles. There are warriors and survivors. People call me brave for having a prophylactic mastectomy. That's another common word in the cancer lexicon: brave. More than one health care worker has leaned in, and in a hushed tone … always a hushed tone … told me so.

I mean, technically speaking, wouldn't the word cowardly make more sense since I removed my breasts for fear of getting a disease I didn't have? My point is two-fold. First, we should be talking about breast cancer, not around it. And second, one thing I have learned from creating this piece, even though I am blunt, is that it's not easy to talk about your private parts on the radio. But, it feels important, and that is good.

I don't think it's just hard to talk about your private parts though. I think it's hard to talk about your private life. I have interviewed people for the better part of my adult life. I have asked many probing questions and elicited many intensely personal responses.

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      Having gone through the process of creating this documentary about my nipples, but also about my family and our darkest days, I think I have a better idea how naked (literally) sharing can feel. I think it has made me a more empathetic listener and a more responsible writer. I also think telling a personal story for public consumption is something many journalists should do at one point in their careers.

      So, I hope you enjoy hearing all about my nipples. And, please, if you hear my doc and want to talk to me about it, whether in the grocery store aisle or at the playground, I'd be happy to push through the discomfort and share some real words with you on the subject.

      [Editor's note: If you would like to contact Jessica, e-mail us at docproject@cbc.ca and we'll forward your message to her.]

      Jessica Grillanda
      About the author

      Jessica Grillanda is an English professor at Cambrian College in her hometown, Sudbury. Throughout her 20s, she worked for CBC Radio and Radio Canada International. She has also freelanced from Thailand, Ghana, and Louisiana, U.S.A. Jessica has reported on a broad range of topics, from farming to pop culture to migration issues, but this is her first time telling a personal story for broadcast.

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