Throughout this essay, the quotes depicted are found on actual t-shirts for sale on the Internet.
My breast implants are shifting. The plastic surgeon warned me two years ago that it would likely happen. At the time, I had just finished up an intense year of multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. I was set to begin physical therapy to increase mobility in my left arm, and acupuncture to manage muscle pain. When he had suggested more surgery would be needed at some point to correct and/or maintain reconstruction, I brushed him off.
“I’m happy with how I look. Thanks for what you’ve done,” I told him.
He assured me that the issue wasn’t just appearance, but also comfort.
“It’s all under my clothing,” I said in reply. “I’m not worried about it. If I get an offer to model for Sports Illustrated, I’ll give you a call.”
In my normal style of eating my words, I have an appointment scheduled with him next week, but yet I have not signed a modeling contract.
Here’s the thing about breast reconstruction: I don’t want to maintain it. I’m jaded and apathetic about my breasts. I don’t want to wear a bra when I can’t even feel or experience the parts of my body that it would be supporting. I don’t want to deal with a professional fitting and having to put so much focus and attention on these two foreign objects attached to my chest. I try not think about my breasts at all because I don’t want to be reminded for the majority of my waking day that my own body tried to kill me, and that parts of my body are fake.
I have mourned the loss of my breasts. The first few months after the mastectomies, any contact with them was awkward, and I wanted to keep it at a minimum. I had to pay attention while in the shower because I didn’t feel the soap on my skin, or the softness of the sponge across my chest. What better place to have a good cry, or to reflect on the changes to my life? But then the water shut off, I was dried and dressed, and moving on with the day. It wasn’t something I could—or wanted to—dwell on. What I want from my “foobs” is that they stay in place, fill out my clothing, and cause me no further harm.
It was devastating the first few times I pulled one of the kids in for an embrace and discovered I didn’t feel anything sensory. One time an aunt hugged me tightly at an odd angle, and I had a brief moment of panic that she may have damaged an implant. From a hug. Seriously. People who know I’ve had reconstruction can’t help but glance down at my chest during conversation. I’m not angry about that, it’s inevitable, but as a woman, it puts being self-conscious about my body on a different level. Functionally, birthing more children is out of the question, so there is no remorse over losing the ability to breastfeed. I haven’t forgotten, though, that there are other biological roles that they breasts played in my life, and sexual dysfunction is too taboo to discuss frankly in most circles. Oh, and then there was the time I almost set myself on fire…
These days, when I lean forward, I can feel the implants lift off of my interior chest wall. I’m concerned that the amount of exercising I’ve been doing is creating a problem with holding the implants in place. The muscles supporting them are pinching and pulling. I woke up during the night last week to pain across my chest. After a few days, the pain dulled into an ache, but it hasn’t gone away. Could this be my ticket out of exercising with weights, even with having osteoporosis? I would jump for joy, but, you know, the whole bouncing breast thing isn’t working for me right now.
So what are my options? Eliminating exercise is not a wise choice, considering the health risks associated with being inactive. Repeat surgeries every few years (I’m speculating here) aren’t appealing, either. Having the implants removed and leaving no doubt to all whom I encounter that I am a breast cancer survivor is a bit scary, too. My breasts offer me no comfort, and they serve no purpose, yet I’m hesitant to let them go.
This is the life of a woman rocked by breast cancer. I have to decide if I want to do what it takes to keep up the appearance of normalcy, or if I want the social stigma of being unconventional and losing that womanly shape so glorified throughout our culture. It’s ironic that I spent my teenage years wishing for breasts. Then, in my early 20s, trying to maximize what I had, and my late 20s/early 30s using them for what they were designed to do. Now in my late 30s, I am contemplating giving them up altogether.