Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy half birthday to my new rack

Happy half birthday to my new rack! Six months ago today, I traded in my natural breasts, cancer free though they may have been at the time, for a new set that would never try to kill me.

The first six months haven't been easy. If this were a new relationship -- a new love affair with a new boy -- this is around the time we'd be testing out those three little words, the sweetest of them all. But I can't really look at my breasts and say "I love you" yet. And unlike a new relationship, where it's all acrobatic sex and hopeful fantasies about a life together, it's been a slower courtship for me. And I'm pretty sure these aren't the breasts I'll have for the rest of my life. In fact, I'm pretty sure righty won't live to see her first birthday. (More on that in a moment.)

It took be a long time to even look at my breasts. I mean really look at them. At first, I was so relieved that I'd made it to the other side, I didn't want temper my euphoria by becoming critical of my surgical result. After at all, especially at first, that wasn't the point. For a long time, the girls we bruised, hard, flat, and swollen. I knew they wouldn't be perfect, and until I fully healed, I didn't want to get too nit-picky. But now that things have settled and the swelling has receded (I would say, truthfully, I was swollen -- to varying degrees -- for a good five months), I've been looking closer -- really examining them from all angles (hands up, bent forward, jumping, etc) -- and I can begin to admit I'm not totally happy with what I see.

I've written about it before, and from what Teri tells me, lots of women in the BRCA community have problems with their right breasts (she calls it something not PC which I won't repeat here; suffice it to say our right breasts ride the short bus to school). I surmised it was because the majority of us are right-handed and that side is given less time to heal before we're reaching for things, slinging purses over our shoulder, and picking thing up, than our left. She guessed it might have something to do with blood flow (our hearts being somewhat to the left). In my case, the reason my right breast isn't as full as my left is that simply, the implant doesn't fill the entire pocket left by my mastectomy. It was always the larger of the pair, and now, while the implant fully inflates the runty pocket of lefty, righty is like a saggy balloon, dented on one side. You can see the edges of the implant. I've got a dent on the top of my breast and the inside slope, and the implant sits closer to my armpit. To me, it's very noticeable. And I'm beginning to realize I want to have it fixed.

I've heard stories of women, pre-surgery, ogling other women's breasts. I never really did that. But post-surgery, I can't stop checking out strangers' racks. And when I stare covetously at their natural breasts, I don't envy their size, their bounce, their cleavage. I lust after their slope, the way their chest swells seamlessly into their bosom. I don't have that right now, and I realize I want it back.

It's hard for me to admit I'm considering revision surgery. For one, I feel vain. Part of the mental and emotional preparation for surgery was forgiving myself for seeking elective plastic surgery; in my pre-BRCA life, I never aspired to self-improvement under the knife. I'd never considered paring down my rather substantial schnoz or tapering my beefy inner thighs. And when I first considered reconstruction -- especially implant reconstruction -- I was torn between understanding on one hand that it wasn't about vanity and hating myself on the other for thinking it was. I was having surgery to prevent cancer. It wasn't supposed to be about anything else. And eventually I forgave myself and was able to proceed, knowing I wasn't shallow. I was brave.

But now I realize that, in the post-surgery world, aesthetics matter, and they matter a lot. I've talked time and time again here about the peace of mind that comes with risk-reducing surgery. All those dark shadows of fear that kept my world overcast have dispersed; I'm free to be me again. But while I feel great about my decision to have surgery, and I feel great that I'm no longer burdened by the fear of breast cancer, I don't feel all that great about the result. And I think I need to allow myself to feel great, even if that means having more surgery.

Things have been pretty good since surgery. Mentally, I feel about a thousand pounds lighter (and physically, too, there's less of me to love. My year of stress eating behind me, I've lost about 10 pounds since surgery). I'm running, I'm powerful, I'm capable. But I'm just not comfortable with my right breast. It's a small thing, to be sure, but when you don't have confidence in your appearance, it can be far reaching. I want to live life fully -- as fully as I did before I'd ever heard of a breast cancer gene -- and to do that, I want to feel good about myself physically and emotionally. And, I need to remind myself, I deserve this. There's no point in going through all of this just to withdraw because your relationship to your body has changed for the worse. This is about celebrating life, and I'll be happier when I can look down at my new rack and say with confidence, they're fake and they're spectacular.

A few weeks ago, when visiting my dear friend B in Dallas, I bought a super cute top that just happens to be perilously low cut. I knew I was making a bold purchase, but I thought I was ready let it all hang out there, so to speak. I've worn it a few times, but instead of feeling sexy, empowered, and proud, I worry if I look strange, if I have Tori Spelling chest, if others can tell something isn't quite right with righty. I think I'm going to hang it up for now, not out of defeat, but with the goal that one day, I'll be able to wear that top again with full confidence. And that includes the confidence to allow myself to pursue the tweaks that will make me most happy.

So happy half birthday to my new rack. Not sure how much longer you'll last, but if we go our separate ways, I can assure you, it's not me, it's you.


  1. Great post, Steph. I think it's absolutely, 100% fine and normal to want to be happy with our reconstructions. Yes, it's awesome and wonderful to be happy that we drastically reduced our breast cancer risk, but we do have the right to feel happy with our bodies - not just that they may not kill us now, but with how we look. We are women, after all, vanity is our middle name. ;)

  2. Loved this post Steph. To undergo such an ordeal and not get what you asked for makes the whole thing unfair. The whole idea of having to cut out our tissue and basically have no feeling in our breasts is hard enough..we should at least be able to have them look the way we want. I say get them done as many times as you can handle until they look EXACTLY the way you want them to. =)

  3. Sorry, for not commenting on this post before we met "in the flesh". First, let me say, you are quite beautiful - I envy your height!

    I also suffer from Lefty being stubornly bigger thant Righty - and that is after revision when this problem was suppossed to be addressed. No dice. I do not plan on more surgery because I don't regard the disparity as significant enough to justify it but that is because I DO feel comfortable wearing just about anything. If that was not the case, I would be seeking additional surgery. Before I started down this road, I decided as a matter of entitlement that I would balance risk reduction against cosmetic concerns - isn't that one of key advantages of doing this prophylactically - the ability to take some control over outcome (e.g. nipple sparing, etc)? I also had to do some introspection and it wasn't hard for me to admit to myself a simple truth - I love clothes and I am very vain. I realized that I could live with scars, even big ones, so long as they were concealed, but I could not live with breasts that I wasn't 100% happy with, that I felt self-concious about, that limited my clothing choices - and I include bras and bikinis in that. Well, as you now know, I am quite happy with my results and although there are minor imperfections, my doctors, for the most part, delivered the boobs I asked for. I really do like my reconstruction and in some ways my new breasts are prettier (certainly perkier!) than the originals. But it did take two surgeries and lots of pain and recovery to get here. And yes, I do have the big scars.

    As I said, I think you look really great already. But it's your right to take your time deciding what you want to do. And you should never feel bad about wanting to look good!

  4. Thanks so much for your kind words, Dee. It was great to meet you (and see so much of you! Only in a community like ours do we meet a new friend and then, within moments, show her our tits. Such a strange world we inhabit). You look FABulous, as I'm sure you heard from many people. And I have to say, being complimented on my breasts over and over again (a full post on this is to come, I promise) in the Show and Tell room was a huge boost to my confidence. I'm feeling pretty OK with myself right now. Actually more than OK. Pretty darn good. Funny how a little shift in perspective can change things, huh?

  5. Wow. I love how you hit the nail on the head! I had my masectomies and reconstruction April 7, 2010. I feel how you described during your first 6 months, expect my problem is with the left breast! Oh what unexpected turmoil! I don't feel my doctor prepared me well for post surgery; from sex to feel, to looks to clothing. Thank you for your honesty, it was soooo refreshing!