Tania Katan has no boobs, but don't cry for her. The ASU grad turned Renaissance woman has overcome dual mastectomies, transforming herself from a "nerdy 21-year-old" lesbian just trying to get laid into an author, performance artist, topless 5K runner, topless dancer wanna-be, and raconteur deluxe. She lost her first breast in college, her second 10 years later. She certainly doesn't weep for the loss of what she calls her "very sweet, small and innocent little pink bunnies."
"Humor, physical endurance and lots of love can kick the crap out of cancer," says Katan, who'll kick some more cancer booty with one of her signature topless runs on Sunday, October 9, at the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure.
"I run because it's about endurance on my terms," she says. "After enduring toxic relationships, chemotherapy, and a phlebotomist with a bad attitude, I find that running allows me to create a healthy body that's capable of enduring anything. I guess what I've figured out is that life is precious and temporary, so there's no need to pretend to be someone other than myself, even if I don't always fit in."
Katan's struggle with disease and her own evolving self-image are chronicled with equal parts poignancy and hilarity in her new book, My One-Night Stand With Cancer. However, Katan is well aware of the image others have of her, especially as a topless racer.
"Slowly, people begin to notice me, my chest, sneaking peeks, tenderly avoiding eye contact," says Katan. "I see a woman tap another on the arm and gesture in my direction. I see a group of teenage boys who, under any other circumstance, would be considered tough look at my scars and soften. Here I am, strong, healthy, running, yet I bear the scars of a two-time breast-cancer survivor. It's my belief that people will go home after the race and for the next week, month, year, bring up this image and talk about it."
And Katan's certainly not shy about pushing the image envelope.
Says the co-resident of Los Angeles and Phoenix, "If I'm in Arizona and it's 117 degrees, I can legally take off my shirt and happily parade around Scottsdale Fashion Square. My favorite stunt so far involves calling a strip club and telling the owner that I'd like to audition to be a dancer and then, when he told me what day and time to come in, I said, 'Now, I have no breasts. Is that going to a problem?' He stammered, a bit stunned, and said, 'Ah, no, that's, ah, fine.' But just in case he thought I meant no breasts, as in really small breasts, I said, 'I really have no boobs. I had breast cancer a couple of times, but I'm a really good dancer, and you should see me on the pole!'"
And if she could defeat bittersweet fate and take up topless dancing, were she so inclined?
"If a magic genie appeared in my morning cup of coffee offering me the chance to regain my breasts . . . maybe," Katan says. "As Cher so aptly asked, 'If I could turn back time . . .' I guess I'd be me, with two more boobies." -- By Clay McNear