Breast Reconstruction Foiled

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

Great breast cancer resources:

Lifetime Five Website:

Five Facebook Page:

Five Twitter:!/fivethemovie

Videos:“Five” Directors Video Link:

“Five” Characters Video Link:



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  1. Lisa Shindler says:

    It’s hard for me to accept this truth, maybe because there’s a part of me that holds on dearly to all the what ifs and if onlys. Somewhere in the midst of my stuggles and places of despair, though, I keep finding a way to delve down deeper and experience a queer joy – one that says, “Oh look, here’s another little bit of you, previously unknown!” “Come join us.”

    I’m puzzling on the meaning of your Ernest Kurtz quote. To me, Kurtz is saying that the contradiction within me is not something to resolve – that it will never be resolved and will always limit me to a certain degree. BUT it is also contains the core truth of me and is something to hold with honor an affection.

    • Oh Lisa,
      What beautiful comments you write. You are tapping into the precise underling point of my entire blog─The Mystery of being human. Inherent in the IFS model we learn to accept aspects of self from a place of Self (the sacred aspect of each human being always present whether or not we acknowledge it). Ernest Kurtz is actually saying the same thing.

      “A spirituality of imperfection suggests that spirituality’s first step involves facing self squarely, seeing one’s self as one is: mixed-up, paradoxical, incomplete, and imperfect. Flawedness is the first fact about human beings. And paradoxically, in that imperfection foundation we find not despair but joy. For it is only within the reality of our imperfection that we can find the peace and serenity we crave.”

      You said it when you said “…delve down deeper and experience a queer joy…”.
      Thank you so much Lisa for taking the time to write this wonderful response.

      Have a beautiful holiday. dawn

  2. Lisa Shindler says:

    Oh and Dawn, thank you for your blogs and your willingness to share your experiences. They are very moving. I love your openness and humor. ~Lisa

  3. Ron Kelley says:

    I can imagine the feelings you must be reliving in relating your journey. I would suspect all of us who read your story can want to rush over to embrace any woman who has had to endure this. Why is that? And how can you manage to write all this down? Tell me again. I mean, it’s hard just for me to read.–

  4. Hi Ronnie,

    Thank you for commenting. Seven years have passed since my cancer experience so I have a good deal of distance from the actual feelings I faced at the time.

    I write these experiences for two reasons; first, I can recall how desperate I was to relate to other women who may have had similar emotions while facing the diagnoses of cancer. Now I want women to know that every feeling they have is not only ok, it is perfectly normal.

    For example, when I told people of my embarrassment about losing my hair or my breast, I was often chastised for my vanity. People advised me to focus on my blessings vs. my loss of hair or breast. While filled with gratitude on many levels I still grieved my losses. I was awash in a myriad of conflicting feelings which is my second reason for writing. I want to normalize ALL of the feelings we women have while on the “conveyer belt” of cancer treatment.

    Lastly, my entire blog, regardless of the current topic, is all about the many aspects that comprise every single human being. We all struggle with a variety of feelings, beliefs, aspects, parts which in totality make up a human being.

    Kind regards, dawn (author of this blog)

  5. Carole Parks says:

    Dawn, I happened upon your blog while searching for tattoos to cover-up breast cancer scars. I am 50 years old and a ten-year breast cancer survivor. I often wonder how and why my cancer experience made me a stronger, more determined woman. I became strong enough to remove myself from a long (30 year), destructive marriage. I have become a half-marathon runner. I am in college working towards my RN associates degree (while working fulltime). I have even allowed myself to open up to a relationship with a new man in my life. The things you wrote in this blog really make sense to me. I also chose radiation treatment following a lumpectomy. Fortunately my scar is small and I still have most of my breast in tact. I was not told of the possible damage from radiation that could make future reconstruction impossible. Anyway, thanks for your encouraging words. I believe I have truly accepted me, just as I am, with all of my imperfections, that make me who I am.

  6. Hi Carole,

    What a fabulous testimony to your spirit and the gifts that cancer can bring to those of us who are cancer thrivers versus survivors. Congratulations on all of the positive changes that you have made in your life as they all took courage and tenacity. Good luck.

    Warm Regards, dawn

  7. Rhonda Cook says:

    I am 40 this year! Yay! Got married for the first time 7/4/2012. AND was diagnosed with Stage 2 Ductal Carcinoma on 10/2/2012 — invasive. On 11/2/2012 I will have a double mastectomy ~ what a year!

    When I “google” mastectomy images the image at the top of this page always comes up and it intrigues me… The fear of something ugly — overwhelms me! Silly, since I will be SURVIVING cancer…but that is my truth. I have always had a good body image of myself — not vane, just good. This has turned my world upside down in less than 30 days.

    Thank you for this page!

    • Hi Rhonda,

      I am so sorry to hear about your recent diognoses. Yiiks girl, your are not kidding when you say “what a year”.
      I wanted to share an earlier post with you but did’nt know how to send the link so I am enclosing the entire post.

      Good luck. Warmly, dawn

      Cancer: Vanity trumps Fear

      Common sense, maturity and even the possibility of death vanished as vanity prevailed upon hearing my diagnosis of breast cancer in December of 2003. One week had passed since the needle biopsy on my right breast, which remained blotchy black, dark blue and painful.

      Gripping the phone, I ask, “How much boob is normally removed during a lumpectomy?”

      “We won’t know until we go in and see the size and how much surrounding tissue is affected.”

      “Could you make a guess? Like will I lose the size of a marble, a ping pong ball, golf ball or maybe….? Ok, Ok, Ok, I’ll wait and see.” Yeah right, I’m thinking as I gnaw on my fingers.

      Setting the phone down an inner critic assails me, shouting, “How vain can you get?” As time would tell, pretty darn vain, in fact, vanity was my constant companion throughout my year of cancer treatment. If I wasn’t focused on the chiseling away of the boob, it was the loss of hair, breast reconstruction or how I would ever again wear Victoria’s Secret bras. But I am getting ahead of myself.

      Lips parched, body stiff, my eyes are focused on the bright lights of the recovery room. “Welcome back, Dawn,” says the nurse. “The doctor will be in soon.”

      Always hyper vigilant, something in the doctor’s voice doesn’t sound quite right. “You did great, how do you feel?” he asks.

      Ignoring his question I ask anxiously, “Ok, so how many golf balls did you take out?”

      Laughing at my rather childish analogy, he says, “About two ping pong balls.” Then his voice changes to a serious tone. “But it is irrelevant because we found more cancer in another quadrant of the breast which will have to be removed. I am referring you to an oncologist in Seattle.”

      Stunned, I stopped listening. You know it’s not good when the doctor says, “I am referring you to….”

      After several tests, exams, tests and more tests my choices were either a second lumpectomy or a mastectomy as subsequent tests would reveal,

      “Patient has multicentric disease which tested estrogen and progesterone receptor positive. A 1.9 cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma and an additional 2.3 cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma with extensive in situ carcinoma extending to multiple margins. Finale pathology demonstrates an infiltrating ductal carcinoma estimated to be 4 cm mass in size approaching the posterior margin within a ½ a millimeter in two areas.”

      Ok, I think, with a lumpectomy I would have maybe a two ping pong size boob left which I could work with but I would always be wondering if ALL of the cancer was removed. That will be two little ping pong balls of a boob out of a starting point of about six ping pong balls, weighed against no cancer left in my body. Hummm!

      Oh thank God! Finally, fear over vanity. Ok, maybe it was just for a brief moment, but still.

      Choosing the mastectomy I fully intended reconstruction one day. So, focused on restoring my chest to its pre-mastectomy state I failed to hear the radiologist say, “Radiation may preclude the possibility of breast implants.”

      Ah Yes. The power of the mind to let in only what it can handle in moments of distress. I even started thinking about a double boob job. I mean after all, I was 59 years old. What better justification for my shallow parts could my vanity critic part possible need than having a mastectomy? Ok then, I thought, maybe this will be the silver lining at the end of the storm. Off I went on my cavalier (if somewhat delusional) conveyer belt of cancer treatment.

      If you choose to follow this blog series through my cancer diagnosis and lengthy treatment process, you will see fears, insecurity and vanity magnified. Then regrets revisited, humility considered, existential questions manifested, considered, rejected, then peacefully accepted only to repeat this entire process with every new procedure.

      Pic. from


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Cancer: Bald, burnt and tired
Rejected by Victoria Secret