The fact that I had to amputate my boobs is hilariously ironic (re: terribly tragic) for two reasons.  For one, I had to cut them off when they were DOING THE ONLY JOB THEY WOULD EVER HAVE: breastfeeding.  (I mean, other than snagging a husband.  Hey-O!  😉 )  But seriously, out of all my years, I was only actually going to put my boobs to use for, like, two of them, and in the middle of THEIR ONLY FREAKING JOB IN LIFE, they decided to try to kill me.  Lazy bastards.

It’s also hilariously ironic (re: decidedly heartbreaking) because my breasts were pretty much my only body parts that I didn’t have a problem with.  They were kind of awesome, really.  Smallish but packed a punch, you know?  Quality over quantity and stuff.  I couldn’t have had buttcheek cancer or carcinoma of the stained teeth?  Or needed an amputation of thigh fat?  (JK.  No cancer is good cancer.  Also, I made those up.)

I think a lot of people wonder why I didn’t have reconstruction.  The truth is that I couldn’t handle it.  It was just too much.

What I'm currently working with.  Also, oh nos!  My boobs on the internets!
What I’m currently working with…  Also, oh nos! My boobs on the internets!  Sorry, dad!

Breast reconstruction IS NOT the same as getting a boob job.  Not at all.  So please don’t, “Well, at least you get new boobs!  YAY!” anyone who tells you that they have breast cancer.   She will be silently cursing you and probably giving you some pretty serious side eye.  Because no.

To my surprise at the time, there are many ways to build new boobs, but they all involve lots of pain and often multiple surgeries for a result that probably won’t ever look natural.  And if you go the implant route, you’ve got to swap those out every ten years or so.  Ugh.

I was all signed up to start reconstruction immediately following the mastectomy.  Like, I had literally signed the consent form and had a plastic surgeon on board.  Then something that the doctor said — that they have to say — just didn’t sit well with me.  There was a ten percent infection risk.

Hey man, that seems high, no?

There is very little time to make such an important decision, and your head is not exactly clear.  I tried to get the breast surgeon to tell me what to do because I also had to decide what to do with the healthy breast (Spoiler alert: I gave it the old chop-off too.) and sometimes you just don’t want to have to make the big decisions.

“If I were your wife, if I were your daughter, what would you recommend?” I asked.

“I would tell you that it’s your choice,” he answered as if he has this conversation dozens of times a week — which he probably does.

“No, I mean, what would you tell your daughter to do?” I repeated with what I thought was an edge of ‘It’s cool; we’re friends here’ in my voice but was probably more akin to hysteria.

“It would be her choice.”

“But you’re a doctor.  This is your specialty,”  I pleaded.

“It’s your choice.”

Gah.

Nope.  I couldn’t handle it.  The thought of anything else (besides the cancer) going wrong was too much.  I just wanted to be healthy.  I just wanted to raise my daughters.  I cancelled the reconstruction.

I’m still not sure if that was the right choice.  But that’s easy to say now that I am healthy and back to raising my daughters.

When I woke up from surgery, I couldn’t look down.  When the nurses came to empty my drains and assess the incision sites, I tilted my head and rolled my eyes toward the ceiling as they pulled back the dressing.

At home, Josh took care of everything.  In the shower, I turned my head and averted my eyes and he washed me.  I studied his face for a tell of how bad it was.  He doesn’t have a very good poker face, but his post-mastectomy face is impressive.

It took me almost a week to look.

I gingerly unvelcroed my sexy new surgical bra and forced myself to look in the mirror.  I couldn’t do it head on so I met myself with half-open eyes.

I was horrified.

It took me much longer to really look.

In the short year since, I have grown used to it.  I don’t surprise myself in the mirror anymore, and I can face myself head on.

20150512_165138

But I do have conversations like this:

“Penny, do you think I’m pretty?”  Yes, I know.  Probably not the healthiest question to pose to my four-year-old daughter, but cancer was a pretty heavy blow to my sense of vanity.

“Yeah!” she responded thoughtfully.  “I like the sparkle on your eyes.”

Then she looked down. I wasn’t wearing my prosthetics.  She reached out her little hand and swept it across my chest.  She rubbed back and forth a few times before looking up at me.

“Mom, even though you don’t have boobs, you’re pretty when you wear your prosthetics.  When you don’t, you’re not.”

I realized that I don’t want my daughter to understand beauty as purely physical or only by conventional standards.

“Why don’t you think I’m pretty without them?”

“Because it looks like you’re dead.  Like someone scraped off your boobs or something like that.  It makes me sad.”

Whoa.

I muster, “It makes you sad to look at my scars?”

“Yeah.”

And, honestly, I can’t argue with that.  It makes me sad too.

Not having boobs isn’t alllllllll gloom and doom though.  In fact, I made a list of all the advantages of the ‘flat and fabulous’ lifestyle.  It’s short because, let’s be real, boobs are awesome.

  1. It doesn’t feel like you’re laying on a speed bump while STOMACH SLEEPING.
  2. My husband can get to second base without me around and/or noticing OR skip that base all together.
  3. I get to say fun things like, “Put mommy’s boobs down now!  They are not toys.  You know that.”
  4. Because they are now considered ‘medical equipment,’ insurance pays for my bras.

    Free bras for daysssss.
    Free bras for daysssss.

Also, although I may not win a wet T-shirt contest, I can do fun things like this.

BoobCollage

Can you pack your husband a picnic with treats as awesome as your boobs?  Or greet him so kindly at the door?  Comfort your daughter with a piece of you and LEAVE IT WITH HER?  (Jk.  I don’t actually do that.  That’s weird.)  A little surprise for the mailman?

I do what I can.

Two months ago, if you would have asked me if I was ever going to reconstruct, I would have told you probably not.  That I finally feel decent again and more surgery sounds sooooo terrible.  That I was okay like this.

More recently, though, I have been having lots of sad boob feelings.  I’m pretty sure it’s because things are returning to normal.  My hair is growing back.  Family dynamics are getting back on track.  It’s just not so cancery around here, you know?

But really, it’s because I don’t feel like myself without boobs.  It’s not as much about vanity as I thought.  It’s more about not feeling comfortable in my body.  You might think this is a stretch, but, in a very small way, I feel like I can relate with Bruce Jenner right now.  I feel like I understand the transgender community in a way that I didn’t before.  Feeling comfortable in your skin is so important.  It can be defining.

As a child, I watched my mother dress in awe.  Her body, her feminine movements were magical, and I couldn’t wait to also have a woman’s body — like her.  With this “haircut” (which I realize is temporary) and without breasts, I feel uncomfortable in my skin.  I feel like that part of my identity has been taken from me, and like Penny, it makes me sad.

It is for this reason that I am now *thinking* about reconstruction.

All of this to say: I have an appointment with my plastic surgeon in a week.  I am now weighing my options and trying to decide if it’s worth all the pain, time off, and money.  I also don’t know if I hope to have enough abdominal fat for a DIEP or not.  Amiright, breast cancer ladies?

34 comments on “A Boobless Year in Review.”

  1. I had a bilateral mastectomy in December, literally a week after my diagnosis with breast cancer. It was such a whirlwind of tests and scans and horrible news that I went through the whole process in autopilot. At the time, I couldn’t focus on things like “what breast size would you like to be?” ( first question my plastic surgeon asked me), I just wanted to be free from Cancer. On the recommendation of my surgeons, I went through the motions of reconstruction anyway, and now have two fleshy mounds with tissue expanders in situ, while I go through chemo and rads, and then we’ll decide where to go from there. I was initially very hesitant about putting more foreign objects into my breasts, but I’m glad I have shape now. It’s a very personal decision though. Goodluck. Xxx

  2. “I just wanted to be free from cancer.” <----- Yes! At the time, having breasts, choosing breasts, caring about it at all were so far from my worries. And thank you! Good luck with the rest of your treatments and reconstruction as well.

  3. I had a mastectomy with implant reconstruction. I totally respect your decision not to do it or to wait to do it. It IS a lot to deal with at the time, and you’re right, all the choices are very intimidating. I had the expanders switched out for implants four weeks ago, and I am very happy with my results. Best wishes and blessings to you as you make the decision and do what is right for you. 🙂

  4. I had a lumpectomy but I am thinking of getting a mastectomy without reconstruction (because of how crazy my mind can be). Especially if I decide to risk my life to have a child. I often hear it is a very personal choice. I think after speaking with your Dr. You will have a better idea. One important thing is that timing is right for you. Go with your comfort zone.

    • I basically did a double because of how crazy I knew my mind would be too. Whether or not it actually helps me in terms of cancer, I don’t know, but it does give me a little peace of mind and, at the time, some sense of control. Good luck with your decision as well!

  5. I had a bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders on September. I did get an infection on my radiated side a few months ago and had to get the expander replaced. But I’m going to continue with the “fills” and hopefully I’ll be able to get the implant exchange in a few months. Even with the infection, the process hasn’t been that bad.

  6. I did not get reconstruction and still haven’t and I’m happy with that choice. I did, however, get the amazing Amanda Pepper at http://www.bemycanvas.com to tattoo my scar. She does very good work with breast cancer patients.

    I am older and I think that makes a difference; if I were your age I might get reconstruction. But for me, the tit-for-tat swap works.

  7. You are spectacular, and this post brought me to tears. I had reconstruction and I STILL miss mine. I miss the nipples, I miss having sensations other than random zingers of nerve pain, and I miss feeling wholly myself. The way you describe your feelings about getting used to living in your own skin, it’s like you’ve visited inside my head. I wish we’d had more time to hang out in Jersey City, and I hope to see you again soon. And good luck next week!

    • Well, thank you! I’m hoping that there will be another Healthevoices conference next year.

      I miss all of those things too.

  8. Thank you for writing this post. I really appreciate that you have written it and and have been so open, honest and hilarious! I will be sharing this with my MIL. I can’t imagine what it is like to go through what you have, but I know you bring all the beauty, grace and real-life humor to it as anyone could. I’m really happy to have connected with you.

    • Thanks for the kind words. Nice to have connected with you too. I love how much you are doing for your community!

  9. Heather,

    After reading this post I need to have a tea with you!!! Hilarious, heart warming and honest.

    Your story reminds me of the time shortly after my husband died when my 7 yr son came up to me and said “You need to look nicer, Mom. You’re not going to find me a new dad if you look like that!”

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Haha. They sure do keep it real, don’t they? I actually love it. Sometimes it’s just so refreshing to have brutal honesty.

  10. I had a double mastectomy with no reconstruction 3 years ago. It depends on the day how I feel about the decision, but only in regards to treatment option. I never wanted to chance more harm to my body. It is such an intensely personal choice but it helps to see how others handle being “flat and fabulous.” Please join our Facebook group called exactly like, Flat and Fabulous, and hear about the ups and downs and see others are deciding their next step too! There are over 1500 of us!

    • “I never wanted to chance more harm to my body.” Yes! That’s a whole lot of what I’m feeling, but I’m also feeling other stuff. Hrumph.

      I am part of the F&F group. I’m just not really active. I actually think I turned off the notifications over the summer when I was in ‘cancer overload.’ I should probably fix that.

      • HA! I can definitely see why you’d shut off the notifications! Now that you’re in a better place it may really be helpful. Good luck with your decision making process. As much as I don’t “love” being F&F, there is certainly a comfort in knowing that this is my decision. Sending you good thoughts for coming to terms what is best for you. <3

  11. Thanks for sharing. Such a great insight. I scheduled reconstruction and cancelled too. My only problem is I still have one boob. My biggest regret was not just getting that one off too. I’m lopsided but most of the time can’t be bothered to wear a fake one so I just wear jogging bras and undershirts and forget about it. It’s weird, I know, but I can’t justify another surgery for this. I feel healthy now and really can’t bear to think of feeling helpless again after a painful operation. I’d say be happy that you at least have balance 🙂

  12. I had a bilateral 3 years ago. Had immediate expanders placed. Of course I got one of those infections your surgeon mentioned. LOL. Tried again after chemo. Nope. Had to make a decision to try 3rd time, I wanted to be DONE!!!!. But since my ortho wouldn’t even consider me for surgery on my knee unless I could show I could keep an implant, i had to try. Got it right that time. So after all my Scenic Detours on my Cancer journey, i was finally on the express train. Now I’m a proud owner of new foobs and a new knee! LOL. Many decisions we need to make because of that d*MN cancer thing. You will make your decision and it will be right for you. No matter what it us.

  13. You my dear are beautifully flat. My story is very similar to yours. Nursing baby, found lump, bilateral mastectomy, stage II IDC, 4 AC, 12 Taxol, 25 Rads. I am a lumpy bumpy mess. The one difference is I have more than enough tummy fat for DIEP. I went to the plastic surgeon at a little over the two year past diagnosis mark. Couldn’t do it. Now as we turn the corner to three years I have many of the same feelings you do. I embrace my flat self, but I also worry. Worry about my son, who does not remember me any other way than flat growing up with this odd sense of my mom is difference. My own daughter who is 12, and how this whole process has effected her. It is so much to think about. I will never regret my decision to forgo reconstruction, but I just may ready to take the leap.

  14. Had a bilateral done 8 months ago. No reconstruction. I don’t have prosthetics either, just never got around to it…in fact I think I lost the script the surgeon gave me for them. Glad there are others out there, I’ve been looking for other women online, living “breast free” just to share in a community. I enjoyed reading your entry.
    Thanks!

  15. Thanks for sharing. Amputation sounds so odd, but that is what it is. I’m a single amputee, one boob gone, one left. I’m not worried about the one on the right, but I am envious on your flat smooth look. Right now, I’m working on making the resources for a bigger cup size for my DIEP in the fall. I’m sure whatever you do, you’ll doing with positivity and humor. Good luck!

  16. I love your humor! I also had to quit nursing when diagnosed…what crap luck to get breast cancer while USING your breasts for their natural purpose! I had a double, then five months later the DIEP. Yes, it was rough…but truthfully not as rough as I thought, and now (4 years later) I am very glad I chose that option. Still don’t like to look at my scars so much, but with clothes on I feel very comfortable. And yes, getting rid of (or rather, moving) the tummy fat was a silver lining.

  17. I had immediate reconstruction because I couldn’t bear the thought of going from a lsrge DD to absolutely nothing in the blink of an eye. I had issues with my left implant and endured a replacement and six months of physical therapy. After my sixth hospitalization for cellulitis in two years, I had my implants removed and got a free tram flap reconstruction. My surgeon is gifted, I travelled halfway across the country for him. I am happy with them, comfortable in my own skin again, and finally pain free. I wish you happiness and comfort with whatever decision you make.

  18. I am new to your blog and just have to tell you that I loved reading this post. I absolutely love it when anyone has the guts to call a mastectomy an amputation because that’s exactly what it is. I miss my breasts terribly and I had reconstruction. Too many times reconstruction decisions are made in haste, so good for you for taking time to think things through. Whatever you decide to do, I wish you well. Thanks for the post.

  19. Hi Heather, I have been reading your blog ever since I heard about it for the contest (congrats btw!). I posted a note before the holidays to thank you for making this whole cancer thing seem a bit less scary after I was diagnosed. While there is no right or wrong about the choices regarding reconstruction, I wanted to drop a quick note to let you know that physically the surgery and recovery for implants was nothing like the double mastectomy recovery. You rocked that and will do the same here if you decide to. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and feelings on this personal subject. As your previous post noted, we are not alone on this path. Take care!! ❤️

  20. Heather. This was a great entry and I’m curious what you decided. I had a single mastectomy last year with DIEP recon, and while it was a rough recovery, I’m ultimately glad that I did it. My second choice was bilateral mastectomy with no recon. I really didn’t want an implant.

    I think age is a big factor. I am 41 (40 at my diagnosis), so older than you, but still young in the breast cancer world. Ultimately it was hard for me to picture being comfortable in my body for (hopefully) many more years without breasts, so I completely understand where you are coming from. OTOH, having experienced recon, I totally understand why one would opt out of it as well.

    Good luck with your decision.

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