One year ago today, the surgeons removed my breasts. (This photo was in pre-op after a couple Xanex, trying to be positive.) It was such a HUGE event in my life. I mean, I voluntarily signed paperwork and asked the surgeons to do it. It is still mind boggling to me when I think about it. When I found out that I had “cancer” (if you whisper it, doesn’t it make you think of St. Elmo’s Fire? “Prison.” “Drugs.” I may need to watch that soon!) for the second time, a new primary occurrence in my other breast, it was an automatic no brainer. They had to go. Bi-lateral mastectomy, here we come. When I hung up with my nurse navigator after getting the news, I just sat and cried and had visions of the possible future treatments which the next year would bring. Some have come to pass, others never did (YAY, no chemo!) Regardless, the past year has been the hardest of my life. Let’s just say that this is how I have felt the past year: wanting to keep my eyes shut tight to ignore my new reality and the pain of it all. Instead, I put on a smile and try to be a warrior.
Really, I didn’t need my breasts anymore. I was not going to have any more babies 🙁 and they didn’t even work as milk trucks anyway. The bones in my son’s skull were a bit out of alignment, as was his palette, so breast feeding did not work for him despite all kinds of OT, PT and lactation sessions from the beginning. Don’t think I didn’t bawl my eyes out over this. I cried every time I pumped so I could bottle feed him breast milk. And just those few months of having my breasts full of milk left them large and sagging when things went back to normal. I had often joked that when I was done having babies, I would get a boob-lift. Then I got cancer the first time and decided that after a small lumpectomy and radiation, I would leave them as they were, saggy and all. They were not so pretty anymore, but they were mine.
There are a lot of body parts that we can live without: appendix, spleen, gall bladder, all sorts of limbs and even breasts. However, breasts are one of the outwardly identifying parts of a woman; one of the first things people see, even if they are not trying to look at them. Their growth signals the transition from being a girl to a woman. Breasts can feed children. Breasts can be a part of the sexual experience. They can get in the way when doing things. Some women want them bigger, some want them smaller. But as a woman, I can say that even if I don’t need them, I want them.
But knowing that I didn’t need them anymore and being OK with it are two very different things. It has been a year, and I am still not OK with it. The replacements are fine. But as most people know, “fine” is anything but. I constantly feel like I am wearing a bra and I can’t take it off when I come home at night. My chest is just tight. I have muscle spasms where my chest, especially on my left side with the latissimus back flap, feels like a band has been wrapped around me and I am being squeezed. I am uncomfortable all of the time. I have asked women who have experienced reconstruction and the majority of them say it takes at least 2 years to start to feel more “normal.”
My reconstructed breasts look funny. Not funny, haha funny either. My left breast has a football shaped scar on it where the muscle and skin was replaced. My right breast has a horizontal, red scar all the way across it. Since I had 2 different types of reconstruction (due to radiation 5 years ago), they are shaped differently. Not a lot, but I can tell. And have I mentioned, no nipples? My plastic surgeon did an amazing job for what she had to work with, but “the old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.” I will feel better when I am done with my tattooing process, but that will not be complete until October. Most days I look in the mirror and it is what it is and then some days, I take a quick glance and think “what the hell happened?”
My brain knows that I gave up my breasts to rid my body of cancer and to hopefully prevent it from returning. My vanity still has not caught up with that yet. Yes, I have the reconstructed breasts and if you just met me, you would have no idea that they are “fake.” It is just not the same. I miss my old, squishy boobs, but the new ones will help keep me alive longer.
Two months after my mastectomy, I had another surgery to remove my uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes and cervix. Do I mourn these organs? Hell no, this surgery meant no more periods! I am ignoring the whole menopause nightmare; that’s a post for a different day.
Today, I mourn the loss of my breasts, but I am also celebrating my life. It’s worth it.