This Is My Breast
Warning: What you are about to read may make you feel uncomfortable. Not everyone is capable of hearing about the realities of breast cancer after surgery, and that’s okay. Stop reading. But – for those who seek a little enlightenment – this is my story, well, a petite segment of it anyway.
As I have said before, I was lucky in an unlucky situation. My cancer grew within my milk ducts and was [mostly] non-invasive. However, it was 8.7cms and therefore it encompassed most of my rather petite breast. My only choice was a mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery at that time was not an option.
The knowledge of losing my right breast was not as upsetting as I thought it would be. As soon as I learned that it was diseased I wanted to be rid of it. My life was more important to me than my breast. Perhaps I felt that way because I was so petite (okay, flat-chested), but taking away a breast that measured a petite B32 did not seem so drastic. I was completely unprepared for the emotional ramifications that immediately followed my surgery.
For several days following my mastectomy I had two drains coming out of my chest wall, and bandages that equalled the size of my left breast. The drains (and the pain) kept me consciously aware that I had undergone surgery, but the bandages caused me to subconsciously believe that – once removed – all would look the same. Once removed, nothing looked the same. All was gone. In place of my right breast was – is – a scar that measures about 15.5cms in length. I was totally unprepared for the shock of it. The emotions that gripped me were of sadness, shame, and horror. I looked away from the wound and could not look back.
You see, women often attribute femininity to their features – more accurately to their breasts. As a society we are fascinated with the female breast. So when a woman’s breast is taken away you lose a sense of your femininity and you feel incomplete. I was embarrassed and somewhat ashamed that I was now a “one-breasted woman”. What would people think? What would my husband think? Would he still find me attractive, beautiful, and feminine? Did I?
And, quite unintentionally, these views and feelings are justified by the Medical Society. When I had my follow-up appointment 3 weeks after my mastectomy, my Surgical Oncologist asked me if I would like to be referred to a Plastic Surgeon for reconstructive surgery. It was a question that I did not anticipate being asked of me so soon after my operation. I had just learned the full diagnosis of my cancer, was still gripped with the fear of my cancer coming back, as well as battling through a recovery from my [recent] surgery. I couldn’t even fathom undergoing a knife – yet again – to rebuild a breast. It would mean multiple surgeries for me just to reconstruct a breast. Could I do that to myself and to my family? Was I ready to do something so drastic, yet again? My instincts took ahold of me. I declined.
After declining reconstructive surgery, and spending my summer wearing surgical tops to allow my scar – my wound – to heal, I slowly came to terms with what had happened – was happening – to me. I began to accept the loss, but more importantly embrace all that I had gained from that loss – my life. It was then when I bravely embarked on the next part of my breast cancer journey – the fitting of a breast prosthesis. I went to a couple of establishments in the city and took my Mom with me for moral support, because support through all of this is imperative for a healthy recovery. As a cancer survivor you need someone you can trust, rely on, and be vulnerable with. This process – this fitting – is very emotional and extremely personal. It forced me to look at myself in the mirror and view the scar, as well as the new shape/form of my body, and embrace it so that I could heal…
Something my husband said to me early on in this journey resonated deeply with me, and it helped me accept my new form. He told me that he was thankful for my scar because it meant I had sacrificed my breast so that Liam would have his mommy and he would have his wife. Hearing those words put everything into perspective for me.
If this journey has taught me something, it has taught me that femininity cannot be judged solely on your physique. It is a collection of attributes and behaviours composed of biologically-created as well as socially-defined factors. Femininity encompasses a women as a whole being, not just the breast. That was another challenging misconception I had to overcome. But I did; and I am okay not having my right breast because I know that I am still a complete person, I am still a woman, and I am still feminine.
…so this is my breast. I’ve slowly come to appreciate my new [fake] boob. It’s comfortable and light-weight. It even comes with a cute little pink travel case to protect the prosthesis when not in use. It cost me $495. At least it did not cost me my life.
This Is My Breast. Published by Crystal Joy Hall