It’s been six months since I had a preventative double mastectomy, thanks to the BRCA 1 gene mutation that has run roughshod through the women in my family and to paraphrase one of my daughter’s favorite bands, it’s been a long, strange ride. There have been moments of hilarity and others of sadness. Sometimes, I go for days without thinking about the implants that are in my chest now and other times when I think about them constantly. There are days when I forget the rule I imposed on myself about a month after surgery – never accidentally glance in the full length mirror while naked – and when I catch that unexpected glimpse, I don’t recoil the way I did when I made up the rule.
I guess time does heal all wounds…and what time won’t heal, a good plastic surgeon will!
I had a follow up surgery two days ago, a “revision” as the plastic surgeon calls it. One of my good friends asked me why in the world I was having another surgery “at my age” so I told her to shut the hell up. She said, “You look fine with your clothes on so why bother?”
I answered, “Because sometimes I have to take off my clothes…like, I don’t know…to shower? And because sometimes when I’m in a hurry and brush my teeth while still dripping from the shower, I’m disgusted by the puckers, folds and pockets that I can see, right where my breasts used to be. And because I’m a woman, albeit an old one, who would still like to have breasts.”
And then I told her to shut the hell up again, just for good measure.
There was some aspect of cosmetic to this surgery but mostly it was done because I didn’t want to spend another day with my boobs refusing to go where I’m going or another night when the left one decides not to roll over with the rest of me. When I bend down to pick something up or to feed the cats, the boobs don’t want to stand back up, too. The type of reconstruction I had involved a small “muscle pocket,” whatever that is, with the implant snuggled in it but they didn’t feel snuggled. The way the damn things were moving around in my chest, I was afraid if we didn’t do something to anchor them better they might end up on my back.
The surgeon re-tucked the bottom incision under each breast, making them tighter and less likely to go their own way. It seems like the surgery might have done the trick because this morning when I bent forward to wrap my wet hair in a towel, my boobs were with me by the time I was upright. As an added bonus, the surgeon suctioned some fat from my abdomen and injected it around the implant to serve as a cushion. I told him to feel free to do any sculpting he wanted while he was at it but I don’t think he did. I’m black, blue, yellow and green from my upper chest to my lower abdomen but even through all the bruising, I can see that I still don’t have a flat belly…I’ve never had one but an old gal can dream, can’t she?
Another friend suggested that I had this surgery purely for vanity’s sake. I couldn’t believe she would say that to me because she knows I’m not the slightest bit vain.
Okay, I’ll admit it…I am sort of vain.
But it wasn’t vanity that drove me back to surgery. It was the discomfort, the rolling implants, the frustration with not being able to find a comfortable sleeping position, the implants stubborn refusal to cooperate with my movements that made me want to “tweak” (the plastic surgeon’s word, not mine) my breasts one more time. And it was the hope that by securing them better, I might be less aware of them…every minute of every day.
When I first wrote about my conflicting feelings about having a preventative mastectomy, I received hundreds of messages from women around the globe, women who are facing the same tough choices I had or women who have battled cancer. One woman wrote to me, “The entire process – the decision-making, the surgery, the recovery – will take a physical and emotional toll on you that no one can prepare you for.” Boy was she ever right! There are still times when I want to cry over the loss of my breasts – and sometimes, I allow myself to. But most of the time I can fend off the melancholy by reminding myself how lucky I am.
Lucky that I found out I carry the gene mutation, lucky that I have a supportive husband and children to nurse me back to health, lucky that I dodged the breast and ovarian cancer bullet that was headed straight for me. At those moments when I feel sorry for myself – like the first time I wore a swimsuit or the first time I bought new bras – I remember what the pathologist told me a few days after my mastectomy; that my left breast was riddled with pre-cancerous and atypical cells and that I would have definitely found a lump in two years or less. So lucky.
Now that I’ve been through the pain and indignity of a mastectomy, I don’t know how women who have cancer do it…how they suffer through a surgery so awful and then immediately go to war with an enemy as insidious as cancer. Sometimes, I feel guilty that my fate was easier than theirs, guilty that I’m complaining about implants that bob around while they are fighting for their lives. My friends who have cancer tell me they are glad that genetics have advanced to this point and they are happy we have options that were unheard of just a few years ago.
The doctor says it will only take three to four days to heal and that if I’m not satisfied with the result, he can “tweak” some more but I’m done with tweaks. As long as we’re headed in the same direction, my boobs and I will be just fine from now on.