I never really paid much attention to my stomach until after I'd had surgery to remove both breasts. Looking down, I couldn't help but notice that nice, pink, mound of flesh protruding from my midsection. Wow, it looked bigger than I remembered! Or was it more prominent now because I could see it more clearly? In the past, I barely noticed it, although I knew it was there. Years of childbearing had taken their toll on my belly and left their mark in the form of light, colored service stripes of motherhood, also known as stretch marks.
Bellies come in all shapes and sizes. They are quite laughable, especially when they jiggle, like mine. But tummies aren't the focus of this article. My missing breasts are.
Many women who've lost one or more breasts now have a clearer view of their bellies. It's not a laughing matter. They're not very likely to give their tummies much attention. Instead, they are concerned about their missing body part(s) and rightly so.
When a woman loses a breast, its life altering. These symbols of femininity are important. They're also functional. They can feed babies or offer pleasure. But when taken, our bodies respond to the loss.
Doctors know the importance of replacing that missing body part. The medical reason behind the need to offer the body a substitute, whether it be a surgical option or a prosthetic, is because our bodies will try to compensate for the loss. Just as teeth tend to shift when the body loses a tooth, the body responds to a lost breast. Over time, shoulders will round, and the spine may curve. These changes appear gradually, but if left unchecked, can cause more severe health problems.
If the breasts were heavy, the missing breast or breasts could cause imbalance while walking. This is especially true in older women. Replacing the lost breast, of course, is optional, but those who choose to do so find there are many choices available.
Surgical choices include reconstructive options such as using the patient's own body tissues and fat for procedures such as DIEP flap, or tram flap procedures. There are also options available for surgical implants which involve the use of man-made materials such as saline or silicone implants. For those who choose not to replace the missing breast by surgical means, prostheses are available. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.
For those choosing not to replace the missing breast(s), like me, the option to wear or not wear prostheses is personal choice. If opting for the flat and fabulous look, it's important to learn to make friends with your belly because you're going to see it more often. That's not necessarily a bad thing, unless, like me, you've got some work to do on decreasing its size and jiggle ability.
It might be wise, for those choosing not to reconstruct, to perform daily exercises to help strengthen the upper body. Bending and stretching, especially pulling the elbows back, will help to increase the muscle strength of the chest and back thereby offering more support to the spine.
Breasts and bellies are important parts of a woman's anatomy. Our soft shapes make us who we are and help differentiate our physique from that of the male anatomy. I'm thankful we have so many options to replace our missing body parts if we choose to do so and I'm also thankful I've made peace with my belly since I can see it so much more clearly these days. Whoever thought I'd be saying I enjoy my jelly belly? Certainly not I! Were it not for breast cancer, it would probably still go unnoticed other than obstructing the view of my feet, but that's another story.
If you've lost a breast, chances are you'll be faced with a decision to replace it. Weigh your options carefully. Talk to your doctor and ask about the possibility of long-term complications related to each choice. And, if you choose not to replace your missing breast(s), look at your tummy with love because it means cancer only took a small piece of you. It didn't take all of you. Take time to laugh and do so often. Laughter is good for the soul.