Sep 08 2010

Cancer Chronicles: A Tale of Perfect Breasts Gone Rogue

I had very nice breasts.

I was an early bloomer, wearing a bra by 5th grade, a B cup by junior high.  I never got any of the middle-school teasing about being flat (nor did I get any flirting, as I suspect the middle-school boys were just as confused by as attracted to my tits). I was a C cup in high school, D in college, and an almost-double-D after college.  They were nicely shaped, regularly received compliments and looks, and felt lovely to the touch.  No worries, I have plenty of pictures for posterity.

My breasts were also preparing to kill me.

One can imagine that I have an interesting perspective now, on the whole boob experience.  Some days I want to write a manifesto, along the lines of “ladies, you are not your breasts”, but most approaches I think of are tired and tried or preaching only to the choir.  Had my breasts grown any larger naturally, I would have likely gotten a reduction, as the back pain was beginning to be unpleasant, and I’m sure there would have been interesting psychological ramifications from that choice.

My involuntary reduction, as it were, has some surprising benefits.  Moving on that side is so much easier!  Physical activities are much less cumbersome, and though I’m sure some of it is due to the contrast of the pre-and post-surgery states, some of it is just plain due to the fact that smaller breasts are AWESOME.  I actually don’t mind that I’ll have to have the other one off, as I think it’d be much easier to have a more active lifestyle without large fatty chest intrusions.

Thankfully, I have yet to have anyone bothering me about getting reconstructive surgery, but I’ll have some fun if anyone does.  As far as I can tell, given the side effects from reconstructive surgery — including loss of sensation and difficulty in subsequent chest scans for oh, CANCER, say — the main reason to have it is because of what OTHER people think.  (Unless one personally has an extreme body dysmorphic need to look “intact”, for example, and that’s much more rare than a socially-induced body perception that unless one has it done, one will never be attractive to others again.)

But what about the nipples?  I could get some reconstructed or tattooed on.  Again, my answer would be, why?  I don’t feel like my body is suffering due to lack of nipple. A constructed nipple won’t give me the sensation of the original.  A tattoo would look pretty artificial given the scarring.  And I think the scar looks cool, as does the remaining little ur-breast.  Now sure, I’m cosmetically vain enough to pursue asking the original surgical oncologist if he’ll be able to do the preventative surgery to remove the other one, as I think he’s more likely to be able to match the other’s scar and shape or come close to it than a random surgeon would.  But I won’t weep too hard if I can’t have that option.

I think the regular massages, swimming, and yoga have helped my body during recovery to assimilate its new shape as part of the body, just as the acceptance of my new form by loved ones and friends has helped the emotional integration.  I’m quite irritated with most of the literature out there for post-mastectomy people, as it seems to perpetuate an attitude of “something wrong with the body”, none I could find that promoted a post-surgery genuinely body-positive attitude.  What are some good ways you, Fearless Readers, think I could do to help address that lack?  Obviously continuing to write these posts and others like them is one thing; are there others?

4 Responses to “Cancer Chronicles: A Tale of Perfect Breasts Gone Rogue”

  1. Cheryl McLayon 08 Sep 2010 at 11:57 pm

    I think you have the right idea of it- it’s your body and you get to feel what you feel. If you accept your body, no doubt you also project that to others who are more likely to accept you as you are.

    When I was younger (and had no tits to speak of for quite some time), I hid my shortened leg, hid the scars, rarely went out in public without my prosthesis. As I have grown older and wiser (and ostensibly wilder), I don’t care what “they” think. I do whatever is comfortable for me. And the people whose opinions for which I do care, they always seem to follow my lead. In fact, a colleague one time got rather annoyed that I had parked in a handicapped parking slot because he just didn’t see me as handicapped!

    As I have become more adventurous (after my divorce), I always told potential lovers about my leg before our first meeting (except for one time when I forgot until the gentleman was on his way to my house!!). With rare exceptions, their attitude was “so??” (and the one or two gentlemen who did not wish to meet me when I told them about my amputation just never knew what they missed!! Not my prob.) Those lovers who wished to get to know me, who I really am, did not seem to give a damn how many legs I have. And I do believe that is because I don’t care!! It is part of how I look, how I do things, it is not who I am.

    And if you ever care to swim and sunbathe (with appropriate sunscreen!!) in my very private back yard where swimsuits are entirely optional, please let me know!

  2. Reesaon 10 Sep 2010 at 7:41 am

    @Cheryl — Thanks for the invite! Glad to hear you are getting more adventurous the older you get, it’s definitely the way to go!

  3. Kathrynon 13 Sep 2010 at 9:24 am

    Exactly how we appear in public is always fraught with cultural pitfalls. From the too short pants/skirt or too much makeup to the falling down pants and too much jewelry, there are cultural signifiers that place you in generational/educational/income cohorts. How much more significant are actual body changes! Most of the changes from cancer are generally hidden (fatigue, nausea) from casual observation, but sudden breast size changes, hair loss, and weight loss can be a bit harder to explain. I wear a wig not to fool people into believing my hair is always perfect, but to forestall questions about why I am ill. I have managed to go out in public with a scarf (obviously no hair under it, but it does again forestall awkward questions). I have not gone out in public with my scruffy part mohawk ends of my chemo permed hair though I am perfectly happy to have my husband experience it. He even loves to rub it like a puppy. Once you realize that YOU are still YOU, then even some of the most radical bodily changes just become a stop along the way and not the major defining condition.

  4. Reesaon 13 Sep 2010 at 9:43 am

    @Kathryn — I think that’s a very good point. The fact that we can control our appearance somewhat means that we can help craft and shape our own public image in ways that please us. It makes sense to me to not necessarily want to be “Chemo Chick” in public because people are indeed often thoughtless, rude, or ignorant in the questions they ask. And it’s always good to hear about supportive partners!