One year after my mastectomy, I was thrilled to finally have my consult with a reconstruction surgeon. Of course the treatment team had informed me that radiation would most likely preclude the possibility of breast reconstruction but I only heard the “possibility” part of that sentence. Women need to be 100% certain that we understand radiation treatments may (probably) rule out reconstruction. For a person like me who thinks she can buck up under any circumstance involving pain, I didn’t understand that the radiation in and of itself would compromise skin tissue thereby affectively eliminating my choice.
Filled with confidence and ready to get on with the next phase of my recovery process I awaited the surgeon’s footsteps with excited anticipation.
Seeing the concerned expression on his face I became anxious as soon as he walked into the examination room. God bless doctors, it must be very difficult to deliver such bad news.
With trepidation I said, “What?”
He said, “Well, after studying your medical records I am doubtful that reconstruction would be advisable for you. How will you feel if the procedure fails?”
“Why would you assume failure?” I asked incredulously.
“Because there is a high rate of implant rejection with women in general and almost double that rate for women who have received radiation treatments following a mastectomy. And then there is the problem of gravity.” He said.
With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I ask him what he meant by gravity. As delicately as possible he replied, “As you age your left breast will continue to droop while the implant in the right side of your chest will remain stationary.”
Graphically envisioning that scenario was depressing to say the least.
“So what you are saying is one way or the other, I will be permanently disfigured right?
“That is correct. I recommend that you just get on with your life and with your health.”
I thank him for his honesty (after all, reconstruction was his bread and butter) and left feeling relieved and deeply disappointed. During my entire year of cancer treatment, I had never considered not having reconstruction. I never looked into other options.
√ Choose to do nothing
√ Choose a double mastectomy which may eliminate the need for radiation allowing for a double reconstruction. Whoohoo! Imagine, a justifiable boob job at my age.
√ Choose to have one’s chest tattooed. A viable option which honestly had never occurred to me; there are absolutely gorgeous tattoos that not only cover large chest scars but are truly works of art. Four years after my mastectomy at the age of 63, I got my first tattoo (bird of paradise on top of right foot) while vacationing in Hawaii. When I told my daughter she asked, “Who are you and what have you done with my mother?” Frankly, I had no reply. Cancer changes you.
√ Choose to wear prosthesis. This was/is my chosen option which opened a whole new world of odd predicaments. Endeavoring to match the new breast with the old breast proved to be tricky. For example, synthetic boobs don’t come in 1/2 sizes so they are often too big or too small. Adding and subtracting socks feels a bit like high school. But, a girl’s got to do what she got to do. And, one has to make sure they are altitude safe least they break apart after landing (I am not kidding). Also, they are expensive and cannot be worn in swimming pools with chemicals so a ‘special’ water boob must be purchased. Or, buy bathing suit boob push-ups at Wal-Mart which are inexpensive and pool safe.
Nevertheless, it is amazing how attached one can become to those things. I had one of the stick on kind, no really; it adheres right to the flat part of the chest. Once, I inadvertently sat a magazine on the sticky side up part. Running to the bathroom sink to wash off the black and white words which had stuck to ‘my breast’, I found myself apologizing to it. It honestly felt as if I had injured myself. After catching a glimmer of my worried face in the bathroom mirror, I considered returning to therapy.
Here are but a few of the famous women who have come forward with their breast cancer diagnoses, treatments and perhaps their ultimate choices in becoming cancer thrivers.
Christina Applegate, Sheryl Crow, Patti LaBelle, Kylie Minogue, Melissa Etheridge, Diahann Carroll, Carly Simon, Hoda Kotb, Jaclyn Smith, Robin Roberts, Olivia Newton-John, Suzanne Summers, Cynthia Nixon.
Whatever choice you make, know that you are not alone. Just be the best you that you can be.
Rabbi Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses? They will ask me: “Why were you not Zusya? Martin Buber
The “gift” of cancer did not make me a better or more grateful or a more spiritual person. No! Not at all! It did illuminate an ancient truth, “The core truth of human-being: everything human is limited inherently, because it comes conjoined with its opposite”. Ernest Kurtz.
Accepting all of me is the greatest gift that cancer gave me. Spirit has a greater chance of getting through the broken places now that I have quit denying and/or resisting how deeply flawed I truly am. Gifted with that awareness, I am here to tell you that I am now fully human. Free to be me.
Permission to use photo from: Marisa Kakoulas Needles and Sins http://www.needlesandsins.com/marisa.html
Great breast cancer resources: http://boobiewednesday.org
Lifetime Five Website: http://www.mylifetime.com/movies/five
Five Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/fivethemovie
Five Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/fivethemovie
Videos:“Five” Directors Video Link: http://youtu.be/gH1oY1P4b0I
“Five” Characters Video Link: http://youtu.be/0nph_oiKy18