If you google breast reconstruction, you will see photos of very symmetrical, round, shapely “foobs”. Most photos show women with nipples still in tact and scars that are barely visible. That is not my reality, nor will it ever be I’m afraid. I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Which is a fallacy as there was nothing immediate about it. During the mastectomy surgery, tissue expanders were inserted under my pectoral muscles. They remained inside me for eight months. Once my initial mastectomy incisions healed, I would visit my reconstructive surgeon every two weeks to have turkey baster sized needles plunged through my chest to fill the expanders with more and more fluid. Once my skin had stretched to the size I wanted, then I underwent surgery to remove the expanders and insert implants. Unfortunately, the first set of implants didn’t fit. They were silicone implants and although they “felt” more like a real breast than a saline implant, they had to be removed. In total, I have had seven surgeries since being diagnosed with breast cancer. With every surgery I’ve added more scars. And with every additional scar, I have moved further and further away from the body that I once knew. I can barely remember what I looked like before breast cancer and that’s probably a good thing as I have to accept that what I see in the mirror now is and will remain my new reality.
I remember when I saw my surgeon after the second set of implants were inserted. He wanted to know if I was happy with how they looked. Happy. That’s relative I guess. Happier than the first set of implants…yes. Happy with what I have….NO. But “they” are definitely better than the first set.
These/they/them… that’s how we refer to the implants. They are something that are not really a part of me. They are talked about like inanimate objects. “They” will always be something that is outside of me even though they are inside of me.
Dealing with breast cancer is not just a physical journey. It is very much an emotional one. And to be honest, the emotional healing has been just as painful as the physical healing. Breasts are an important part of how women are defined. Society has made them an integral part of how we are expected to look. Our society is very much breast obsessed. Whether big or small, women are supposed to have them. And I don’t. I know I am still a woman. I know that my mastectomy has not changed that. BUT, do I feel the same? No. Do I feel attractive? Most days…No.
I am a work in progress. I’m not the same person I was before cancer. But that is not a bad thing. Yes, cancer has weakened me physically, but I have grown stronger in other ways. I know that I can get through anything that life throws my way. I’ve proven that to myself over and over since this journey began.
I celebrate the fact that I am one of the lucky ones; that cancer hasn’t taken my life. That I was given a second chance. That I am here and that one day, hopefully, this will all be over. I try to stay positive. I try to celebrate every day to the fullest. And I try not to think too much about the scars that have been left on my chest and on my soul.