At age 25 with plenty of planned years of awesome boobage ahead of me, I never really considered not having reconstruction after my mastectomy. Although the reconstruction procedure added 4 hours to my surgery and meant considerably more pain and discomfort, there was and is something important to me about maintaining these bastions of my femininity – and I think it goes deeper than just wanting to look good in a tank top, although that’s certainly a consideration.
I found this beautiful quote in the book Reconstructing Aphrodite, a series of essays from women who decided to rebuild their bodies after the devastation of a mastectomy. It really spoke to me, and I hope it will speak to you too.
From the moment I was diagnosed with breast cancer and faced a possible mastectomy, I knew I wanted reconstruction. This response was out of my own sense of art, symmetry, and aesthetic. It was the same response I would have to a tooth extraction or the loss of any body part. It speaks of how I approach an environment that to me is visually out-of-balance.
How could I be concerned about something so superficial while facing cancer? Perhaps because I did not believe that I had the worst disease in the world. Princess Diana said, “The worst disease in the world is the lack of love.” Mother Teresa said, “The worst disease in the world is to be nothing to nobody.”
I live in the abundant love of God amid friends and family who express God’s loving kindness. We are surrounded by survivors of all life’s troubles and grief, surrounded by hope, peace, and joy. I saw the choice for reconstruction as only one of the endless ways to create beauty in my world. It was my surgeon’s sense of art and beauty and her respect for the female form that gave me the confidence to pursue this path.
Yesterday I had my second expander fill. I popped another Ativan beforehand, so that I could remain calm in the face of the MegaNeedle. Alas, I do not possess quite the same level of mental zen as the author of the above quote, although I have been doing a variety of yoga poses to ease my tense back. Child pose is THE BEST.
I was too calm about the fill, perhaps, because the MegaNeedle got the best of me this time. I felt everything as my right breast was punctured. I shouted out in alarm more than pain, because I was so surprised to have any sensation. The plastic surgeon apologized, but said it was good news, because it could herald the return of feeling in my breasts. Sweet! Maybe I won’t have to go the rest of my life unsure whether or not I’m having a nip-slip.
It’s quite weird to be numb across such a wide swath of my body. For example, I noticed that the DermaBond skin glue the surgeons used to close up my wounds – which, as I previously mentioned, looked like the Joker’s face – had started to crack, peel and fall off. I’m sure that if I had sensation, that would be unbearably itchy, but I can’t feel a thing. Side note: Can you believe that after surgery they still patch you up using things that can be found at OfficeMax? Staples, thread, glue? What year is this?
Anyway, the plastic surgeon noticed it, and accelerated the process by peeling off the remainder of the DermaBond with sterile tweezers. Again, I’m willing to bet this would be uncomfortable if I could feel it. When she was done, I was absolutely stunned. The dark, bumpy, scarlike appearance of my wound was approximately 95% due to the DermaBond itself. The actual scar is probably less than an 1/8 of an inch thick and is currently sort of a medium-pink, likely to fade to skin color within a couple of years. Although scar tissue is basically the least of my worries, considering that my life is literally on the line here, I can’t lie: I’m happy that I’ll be able to bare sideboob with abandon by 2015.
Every time I leave USC, I pass a promise on the wall:
I never fail to marvel at the hundreds of thousands of scientists who work every day to heal people like me. After my diagnosis, I read the book The Emperor of All Maladies, a biological history of cancer written by an oncologist. It was like picking at a scab – painful at times, but equally addicting – and it gave me an enormous appreciation for all that we’ve been able to achieve in the long history of cancer. Gordie read it too, and is considering getting a tattoo of a crab in my honor. You guys, I SWOON.