There are a lot of misconceptions around mastectomies and the recovery process. In this blog post, one survivor tries to set the record straight. Read more.
From the moment my doctor told me I had cancer, life rushed by with blood draws, scans, decisions and appointments. I was 28 years old and one week away from my wedding, which was quickly postponed.
In the midst of all this, my friends, unsure of what to say, graciously offered the silver lining, "At least you'll get a free boob job".
But I wasn't convinced or comforted by the sentiment. The prospect of trading in for perky, enhanced breasts had never crossed my mind. Besides, I wasn't flipping through magazines shopping for my new rack. I was making lists of pros and cons and looking at statistics – I was focused on the "get the cancer out of me" part.
My cancer was caught early, so I had options. Each choice had its upside and downside. But the scales weren't being tipped by what this surgery was going to look like in 20 years, or which had the shortest recovery time. Instead, it came down to a number - 85% - and the desire to look as close to normal as I had before.
I'll remind you, I was in my late 20s. I wanted to wear a strapless gown to my as-of-then postponed wedding. I wanted to get back to my career and travel plans. My mastectomy was not about lift or enlargement; it was about my survival chances, and still being able to fill out a slinky top at my 30th birthday, all things considered. Most of all, I wanted to be healthy. And I wanted to feel whole.
But despite all of my research, I was unprepared for the aftermath. It would be months before I would have anything resembling breasts on my body. The post-op wasn't glamorous- I wasn't resting comfortably, catching up on reality TV - instead I felt helpless relying on my mom and fiancé to help me do anything, from turning on a lamp to going to the bathroom. I also didn't go home with gingerly-wrapped breasts, excitedly sneaking a peek underneath. I had square expanders and drains.
My mastectomy was one of the hardest parts of my treatment. A year out of my diagnosis and treatment, I still felt unfinished. My body was starting to settle into its post-cancer, Tamoxifen-fueled future, but something was missing. I was also tired. Tired of surgery, tired of recovering, tired of medication, tired of my doctors' multiple choice questions.
As I mentioned in my last post I was dealing with fear, loss of self, loss of confidence. I had the appearance of a woman in limbo between illness and health.
So I decided that I wanted to be the one who penned the last line of my cancer story. And I wanted it to be filled with beauty, so I chose to get my breasts tattooed. The idea came to me while staring at my at my body, hoping to see something different. I was beyond grateful. I was cancer-free, I had a terrific medical team, everything had gone relatively smoothly in the surgical department. But instead of seeing what I had, all I could see was what I was missing.
When I was looking for a body wrapped in a permanent, abstract demi-bra, I immediately thought of a cherry blossom tree of life. I wanted to mark my ending and beginning with rebirth and renewal. It was one of the greatest gifts I've ever given myself. The process of getting the tattoo was both cathartic and healing. It was what I needed, what I chose, to be the bridge that took me back to being whole again.
No, my mastectomy was not a boob job; it wasn't something I decided on a whim or chose guided by vanity.
But it was life-changing. It was life-affirming. It is a part of who I am, and what I look like now. And, in the end, I did decide how it would all play out. That's the best outcome I could've ever hoped for. Five years later, I have no regrets. I wouldn't change a single thing.