I was thinking today about other aspects associated with being diagnosed with breast cancer and the indignities that go along with all the physical aspects (tests, poking, prodding, biopsies, blood samples, surgeries, drains, pains and stitching) is what goes on in our heads through our journey. I’ve spoken to a few ladies who have been told by medical teams that they have or may have breast cancer. All of them (including me) said that there were two main thoughts that spring to mind instantly; will I die?; and if I live, will I still look like a woman?
Certainly, in my case, I’ve asked myself about the first question (‘will I die?’) and pragmatically worked through the ‘what if’s’ associated with that but disregarded it as I’m bugga’d if this is going to beat me!
The second question however keeps playing over and over, ‘will I still look like a woman?’. Probably more accurately for me, will the lack of breast (not so far!) or remaining disfigured reduced breast make me less attractive. In all honesty I don’t know the answer to that and I guess only when I meet someone new or get back in the real world of dating will I know. At what point do you talk about having had breast surgery due to cancer? How do you bring it up? Is there any social etiquette on how/when to do this?
I had thought about what I would do if a mastectomy was the only option and then if I would have reconstruction. For me, the conclusion was that I wouldn’t have reconstruction, the reason was simply practical – if I had a recurrence how would they find it behind a false implant? Given the speed at which phyllodes tumours grow it may have grown into the chest wall cavity before being detected – it’s partial to soft breast tissue so wouldn’t grow into the implant. If I had a reconstruction using tissue from my tummy or thighs, again the phyllodes would grow backwards into the chest wall cavity – which although the tissue is softer would be easier to detect than an implant but nonetheless there is risk associated with it. With both forms of reconstruction the detection may be slower and I would prefer to have a prosthetic breast or to remove the other breast to even me up than face potentially missing out on any detection of a recurrence. I also figured that, although I’m never been a tattoo fan, I’d have to have a cool tattoo along or over the scars… perhaps a climbing rose or wisteria… maybe with ‘where’s Wally’ or ‘Gromit’ (finally I could be Wallace & Gromit) in there for a giggle… hey, if I’ve gotta do it, I’m going to make it a bit mental!
There is an enormous amount of support and help to get us to and through surgery but once that’s all over, we’re left with our thoughts. We don’t just beat cancer, we’re also considering any recurrence and dealing with the after effects of the surgery, anaesthetic and physical scars but in addition we consider what this will do for our femininity and fighting for our rights to have a feminine form.
One thing I do know (and this is to you all) is if you are ever in the position of being a partner, lover or friend of someone who is going through or has gone through breast cancer surgery, please remember that the person they are is NOT determined by their breasts! Take time out to remind them that you still love them or care for them and (if appropriate) that you still find them attractive. We, breast cancer survivors, have to go through so much physically and mentally that to know that just because we look in the mirror at ourselves and see only the worst, the scarring, the reshaping, the missing, the bruising etc, it’s important to know that it doesn’t matter to you.
Whether the survivor is your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, your lover, we all need to know, to be told, to be touched and to be reminded, not in a checkbox sort of a way but in a caring way that we are, first and foremost, female, feminine and a sexual women… so… once in a while…
It’s not just about the cancer… it’s also about how our lives and bodies have changed.