Learning to accept my body after a double mastectomy.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
When I was first told I had breast cancer, I was devastated. My poor little A-cups were now going to be non-existent. For years, I’d waited to go through puberty and when I finally did, I didn’t get what I had hoped for! Mother Nature was cruel. While all my friends were getting their first real bras, I got a training bra. Oh, it was pretty — a lovely white lace stretch fabric that fit quite nicely over my tiny little breast buds — but I wanted real boobs. I wanted to be voluptuous! I wanted Dolly Parton-sized boobs.
“It just wasn’t in the cards,” my mother would say. “Be happy with what you’ve got.”
I tried, but I wasn’t happy.
When the breast surgeon presented my options, she gave me two. Option no. 1: a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation, and then reconstruction. Option no. 2: a mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and reconstruction.
But then she added, “Of course, you don’t have to choose reconstruction if you don’t want it.”
If I chose a lumpectomy, I’d have to have mammograms every three months. I hated mammograms, they hurt like the dickens! And if I went that route, there was always the chance the cancer would come back and I’d end up having to have a mastectomy anyway. If I chose mastectomy, I’d be lopsided since the cancer was only in my right breast. I discussed these things with my breast surgeon and she said I could opt for a double mastectomy. If I did that, I wouldn’t be lopsided but I’d be flat as a pancake. After a lot of thought and discussion with my husband, I opted for the double mastectomy. I knew it was going to be extreme surgery and it was going to be very painful. I wasn’t looking forward to it.
My surgeon accepted my decision and told me about reconstruction options that would be available to me. She said I could have fat taken from my abdomen to make two new breasts, that way, she said, “You’ll get a free tummy tuck!”
If I didn’t want to go that route, she said I could have fat taken from my back to make my new boobs. I knew I had more fat in my belly than on my back so that option was out. She also said they could take fat from under my arms and use it to make new breasts. I knew if I did that, I’d still be a tiny chested woman because there wasn’t much fat to work with there either. The more I thought about it, the more confused I got. If I didn’t want to use my own fat to make breasts, the surgeon said silicone implants could be used. She needed to know right away if I was considering any type of reconstruction because she’d need to leave space for expanders when they removed my breast tissue.Since I was already quickly approaching 60, I figured there wasn’t really any point in going through the extra pain and expense of having reconstruction surgery done. I’d read a lot about it and I’d found out that most breast cancer patients who opt for reconstruction are sorely disappointed in the results. Disappointments come from a loss of feeling in the breast tissue, a loss of the nipple and areola, and an unnatural appearance. With those things in mind, I decided to forego reconstruction and kiss my dream of Dolly Parton sized boobs goodbye.
It’s been 19 months since surgery. I’ve finally healed completely. When I want a good laugh, I turn and look at myself sideways in a mirror. I’m as flat as can be. I’m even flatter than I was when I was entering puberty. My blouses don’t fit any more because I don’t have breasts to fill them out. I usually opt for shirts that camouflage my flat chest or wear unisex clothing like sweatshirts or t-shirts.
When I look down at my chest, I sometimes get depressed. My boobs are gone. I liked my boobs. They nursed my children, they pleased my husband, they made me feel feminine ... they were a part of my identity. But as I smooth my hands over my chest, I feel satisfaction. I can smile knowing my cancer is gone, along with my boobs. I don’t have to wear bras any longer, unless I want to and if I want bigger prostheses, they’re available.
I do have a set of nice silicone breasts that I keep in my bedroom just in case I get the urge to feel voluptuous again, but most days, I opt for just being flat and fabulous. It’s all in the attitude and breasts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be anyway. I’m just happy to be alive, and if having no boobs reminds me that cancer didn’t win, I think I made the right choice.