If you google breast reconstruction, you will see photos of very symmetrical, round, shapely “foobs”. Most photos show women with nipples still in tact and scars that are barely visible. That is not my reality, nor will it ever be I’m afraid.
Tuesday, I saw my surgeon for my post-op examination and to have my bandages removed. I knew what to expect as I’ve been through this before. But this time there was a lot more riding on the results. This is my second reconstructive surgery as the first set of implants didn’t fit and had to be removed. With every surgery comes more scars and and moves me further and further away from the body that I once knew. I can barely remember what I looked like before and that’s probably a good thing as I have to accept that what I see in the mirror is and will remain my new reality.
As I waited in the examining room, disrobed and feeling very exposed I could hear my surgeon’s muffled voice through the walls. He sounded very “up” and I hoped that when he examined me he would remain that way. The door opened and a large ruddy faced man in scrubs entered. He said, “Hi Patti. Do I know you?”. That’s a strange greeting, I thought.
“Um, I don’t think so. I think this is the first we’ve met.”
“Ya, that’s what I thought. I see so many patients that I always rely on them to let me know if we’ve met.”
He quickly ripped away the bandages. OUCH. Then he grabbed some scissors and tweezers and began to pull and cut my sutures. Several areas started to bleed and he apologized for hurting me.
“You look like you’re enjoying this” I said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Oh NO” he gasped. “I did not go into medicine to hurt people”
“I’m just kidding”, I reassured him. ” I know that.” Geez. This guy needs to lighten up.
He finished with cutting my sutures, looked at his work and said “Nice meeting you. Dr. “A” will be right in.” And with that he was gone; leaving me to deal with the “reveal” of my new chest alone.
A few minutes later, my surgeon came through the door, full of enthusiasm and smiles.
“Let’s see how they look. Are you happy?”
Happy. That’s relative I guess. Happier than the first set of implants…yes. Happy with what I have….NO. But I put a smile on my face and said “they are definitely better than what they were.”
“Yes, I’d say these look a lot better.”
These. That’s how we refer to the implants. They are something that are not really a part of me. They are talked about like inanimate objects. “They” will always be something that is outside of me even though they are inside of me.
We talked about the fact that I still need another surgery to remove this damn hematoma. The bulge under my left arm is big enough to look like I have a third boob. Charming right? This procedure however, will be performed under local anaesthetic. The area under my arm will be frozen and he will cut away all the flesh, scar tissue and hematoma while I am awake. He will suture me up ensuring that he doesn’t sew the skin too tight causing issues with the mobility of my arm. He also suggested that if he has enough “freezing”, he will extend one of the incisions on my left foob and re-suture it so that it becomes round in shape rather than square. Yup, one of my foobs is actually square looking on the area in the middle leading down to my breast bone. As if it isn’t bad enough I have a foob that looks more like Sponge Bob Square Pants than a breast . He also wants to inject some more saline into the implants to create a fuller look on the top. REAL breasts are rounder. Mine right now look like shelves stuck to my chest.
“What do you mean by ‘if you have enough freezing?’ I didn’t know there was a limit.”
“Each procedure we do in the clinic we have only so much “freezing” given to us. All these procedures are now considered cosmetic. So for OHIP to cover it, we have to do it in stages.”
FU#K. Really? Who makes up these rules?! Cosmetic? This isn’t a boob job. This is reconstruction after a mastectomy. I didn’t elect to have this surgery. I had no choice….if I wanted to live!!!!
“My nurse Cindy will give you a call to set up the next procedure. See ya.”
I was now alone, dealing with the news that I still had not just ONE but perhaps several more procedures ahead before I could close this chapter of my life. I got dressed, not even bothering to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t want to see myself yet. I didn’t want to deal with the reality once again. I needed to wait til I got home to process it all. I needed to hold it all together. I needed to leave this hospital where I have spent far too much time already. I needed not to cry. I needed to be strong.
Dealing with breast cancer is not just a physical journey. It is very much an emotional one. And to be honest, the emotional healing has been just as painful as the physical one. Breasts are an important part of how women are defined. Society has made them an integral part of how we are expected to look. Our society is very much breast obsessed. Whether big or small, women are supposed to have them. And I don’t. I know I am still a woman. I know that my mastectomy has not changed that. BUT, do I feel the same? No. DO I feel attractive? No.
I hold onto the fact that I am one of the lucky ones; that cancer hasn’t taken my life. That I was given a second chance. That I am here and that one day this will all be over. I try to stay positive. I try to celebrate every day to the fullest. And I try not to think too much about the scars that have been left on my chest and on my soul.
President of As You Like It Marketing & Communications Inc. Award winning speaker and author. Breast cancer fighter and blogger. I’m sharing my journey…the good, the bad and the ugly. Hoping to help anyone else that has been touched by breast cancer be it you or someone you know or love.