In last week’s episode: excitement at my impending fake boob (foob) operation; awe at the medical science involved — then the whacked-out, overwhelmed aftermath to having had my torso chopped up and put back together again as one tummy tuck and one new breast, compounded by the thought: ‘And chose to have this done to me?’
This week: Foob Love. I have the womanly curve of a breast where formerly there was a flat scar and, albeit covered in bandages, it’s fabulous. Was it worth it? ‘Yes’ times a million.
I was trounced for one day after the operation, but, the day after that, the deadness lifted, the reality became apparent and back, almost, to my usual self, I asked anyone who came for a visit if they’d like a look. They got one anyway, whatever their answer. And the reaction was universal — amazement. Amazement that it’s possible to transplant skin and fat from one part of the body to another, and shape it into a form so beautifully analogous to a breast. ‘It’s a miracle,’ said one visitor. Another simply expressed it by bursting into tears when I open the surgical binding I have to wear and showed her my new chest.
Even in this early aftermath, the fact of that foob being there answers a huge doubt that had played on my mind: looking at it practically, having been through the long and very expensive treatment for cancer that saved your life, isn’t it just a vanity project to want a replacement? Emotionally, having just had the reconstruction operation, I have to say unreservedly, absolutely no. It feels essential.
I couldn’t connect to what was lost with mastectomy, until I got this new breast. The emotion of it all is overwhelming, like I’m grieving everything around the shock of breast cancer while delighting in this signal that it’s over. It’s a reconnection with life again and, oh, it has to be said, that huge part of it: one’s sexuality. I’ve always had a sense of myself as ‘living in my head’, not as me being my body, so it’s been a revelation to me how much having this mound of flesh on my chest, balancing back my bust, means. I don’t even want to try and explain it all logically — I just know, deep in my gut, that I felt this absolute connection with my female mammal-ness again when I was in a position to feel and appreciate how my body has been reconstructed.
The notion of it being ‘reconstruction’ is important too. This is not a ‘cosmetic’ procedure. It’s about seriously trying to heal the trauma of amputation, with a view to psychological healing in the
Underneath all the bandages I have the womanly curve of a breast where once there was a flat scar. It’s fabulous
aftermath of cancer. I never knew my godmother had had breast cancer until I had to research my family history to see if I was a candidate for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene test, post-treatment (I was). She was a very sexy, body-conscious ‘bombshell’ of a woman. The radical mastectomy she would have had at the time involved removing not only the breast and underarm lymph nodes but the muscles of the chest wall beneath. She was only in her late 30s — reconstruction science was in its infancy back then, and anyway wouldn’t have been possible with that muscle removal.
By all accounts, such operations were hugely disfiguring and left ever-after discomfort. In a word, devastating, particularly for a woman like my aunt. Suffice it to say she subsequently developed other problems and, having been ‘cured’ of her cancer, she died prematurely anyway.
I mention that, in the context of my experience of having been given the opportunity of undergoing a reconstruction, to proffer a ‘this is why’ to women who may find themselves resisting reconstruction, even if they would appreciate the results. My question: it’s not The Guilt that’s stopping you, is it? The Guilt that it’s somehow frivolous, merely cosmetic; guilt that cancer has caused enough ‘ time out’ for you from your role as mother, wife, career person, whatever; guilt that you don’t want to use up any more of the hospitalbed time, medical expertise and resources of our health system? On the latter, I’ll just note that they wouldn’t offer the operations if they didn’t deem them hugely significant. If it is The Guilt, (and how naturally Irish is that), my advice: park it. Do your research, consider your options, decide what’s best for the woman that is you, and feasible in your circumstances, but do so without the fug of that useless emotion.
And if you do go for it, remember — it’s not exactly like the old one. Most importantly, it doesn’t have the same sensation. So for instance, you might get home from hospital, be feeling insecure without all that support, worry that the new breast is a bit cooler than the other, and shouldn’t it be as warm? So you put a hot water bottle on it while you’re watching the telly, just to keep it cosy, and half an hour later when you look it’s somehow managed to become blistered all over what was the okay-skin bit. And then you’re being treated for a large burn wound, as well as the still rather major wounds of the slowly healing tissue transplant, and you’re choked by your own stupidity. That could happen. But enough of my idiocy.
Next week: off the topic of my chest…