Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two boob or not two boob

People, my oncologist included, keep asking me if I am going to get reconstructive surgery. It's been almost a year since my mastectomy and I still haven't decided. Not that I've been dragging my feet or anything. I wasn't allowed to get it done until recently because we had to let my radiated flesh (ewwww) recover. But I'm fully recovered now and, cheese and crackers, I still haven't decided.

Why is this so difficult? I am profoundly divided. Sorry, I don't mean that literally. Perhaps I should say I am of two minds. Part of me really doesn't want to do it. I can't stand the idea of voluntarily setting myself up for the pain and recovery time. I also can't stand the idea of facing the possible complications that arise once you start dealing with implants. Someone dear to me has had a very bad experience with implants. And her judgment is something I would never question.

But part of me wonders if surgery will help me begin to feel more whole. I don't like what breast cancer has left behind. I don't like the scar. I don't like the new topography. I don't like catching a glimpse of my sunken chest when I look down at a book, at a computer, at my child. And I really hate my breast form - it's not that it's uncomfortable, but it is not part of me and I find myself poking at it and banging my forearm against it as I go about my day. Then there is its, well, substantial presence. You know what, when you drop your bra on the floor, it shouldn't go thud. Not sexy.

People keep trying to help me. One of my nurses said, "Go for it - get the breasts you've always wanted."  My doctor weighed in, "Oh you should do it - you're such a good healer." (At last, something I'm a natural at; it certainly isn't sports or navigation.) Then from someone in my family, delivered with a laugh and a shake of the head, "You can't be serious. You aren't going to do that are you?"  

Let's be real. Since the cancer, I don't see the world the same way. Anything that smacks of vanity feels I have learned to accept my puff ball hair and puff ball face because, well, I know they represent a small price to pay for killing my tumour. Eventually my hair will grow and straighten, and my face will slim down. If someone is going to judge me based on my appearance, I get now that it doesn't have to mean anything to me. But what happens when the judge is me? I know I have not accepted what I look like.  I'm 45, and it breaks my heart to think I will feel this way about my body for the rest of my life. And I honestly don't know what will change this feeling other than reconstruction.

Odd isn't it? In a world where 16 year-old girls are begging their parents to buy them new breasts, I have spent more time agonizing over this surgery than the one that took my breast away.


  1. Okay, my thoughts - and I did not have a mastectomy - are its your body and your decision so its completely up to you and ignore everyone else. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, is there any reason to do it now? What if you decide you don't want to now, could you do it later? Then that would put it in a different perspective. Good luck!

  2. Thanks, Caroline. I am going to discuss timing with my doctor at my next appointment. I feel like I need to get on with it if I am going to do it. But you make a good case for waiting if there is no urgency.

    I do my best to ignore comments but, somedays, I don't know about you, I get bitchy. :-)

  3. You know what it is with me? I find myself waiting with ducked head for 'the other shoe to drop'. Stupid, isn't it? I have scans in a couple weeks, and I discovered myself thinking, "Don't take the shrink wrap off your text books until you know that the scans are okay. That way you can return them, if need be.' How stupid. I find myself wondering if you find yourself being way more practical about this than you should be.

  4. Is this a woman thing? Last year at Christmas time I had just finished my final chemo treatment. And I told my husband not to buy me any presents because I wasn't sure I was going to live long enough to enjoy them. At the time, it didn't feel maudlin, just practical. But I'm only 45 and I'm starting to sound like my late grandma. Bleah - that's what I say to that.

    So, am I being too practical? Maybe. Here's something that occurred to me after I wrote the post - maybe I'm dragging my feet because this is the first time I really felt like the choice was MINE. Not that my doctors forced me to do anything - but I felt at every other step like I was making choices about life and death.

    By the way - congratulations on the impending arrival of William. I hope everyone is doing well!

  5. Cyn, I really like how honestly you express your feelings in this post. I didn't realize you have not had reconstruction. First of all, the choice is entirely yours, you need to be ready and your choice may be you just don't want it at all. I think each of us is so different in this whole ordeal, so don't feel pressured to do anything. For me, it was the way to go. So far, so good, although I am still healing and adjusting. Good luck with making the decision that is right for you. Great post!

  6. Hey Nancy,

    Thanks for chiming in. My tumour was so bloody big and because there was a concern that I might have inflammatory bc, I did my procedures very quickly and in a different order than is most typical. So chemo right away, followed by mastectomy and lymph node removal and then radiation. Because of the speed we did everything, reconstruction couldn't happen at the same time as mastectomy.

    I appreciate your input. One of my big worries is that I will go through with it and ultimately be unhappy with the results. Which would be one more thing to adjust to - isn't that the thing with this disease? The constant adjustments to our new "normals"? Bald, chubby, hot, menopausal, boobless, crabby, achey - hold on - this looks like Snow White's reject list.

    Thanks for the good wishes. All the extra support makes this feel less lonely!

    Have a lovely weekend!