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.
Thnak you for your article. I have been breastless for a year now and surpringly miss my breasts very little. I hope that there are more people willing to speak out about being flat and being willing to embrace this new body and love it for what it is now. I think it is time to stop defining being a women in terms of breasts and hair ( both which are often compromised during cancer treatment) and be confident that we are still women- still feminine, still sensual, still...us! I benefited tremendously from a blog, thebreastlessyears, that helped me learn how to dress my new body...not to hide or disguise it, but to accept and adorn it. It is a process...sometimes I even forget how different my body is...and sometimes I just love it. Running and working out is actually easier with no chest:) I know this choice is not for everyone, but I do want woman to know that it is a perfectly reasonable option.
This article of yours described it very well. I went through similar emotions. I had the mastectomy in 2011 and 2012, since only my left breast was cancerous my oncologist did not want to do a bilateral mastectomy. She probably was hoping I would change my mind and keep the other breast, but even the 4% risk for cancer in the healthy one was too much for me because I had a very aggressive cancer. Besides, who wants to be "lopsided", not me. Wearing a bra, with a padded left side, was not an option for me either. My husband was ok with it too; he said, whatever I decide he would be fine with.
I lost my hair in a span of 3 days, after my third chemo. After 3 days my head look pathetic, so I gave myself a short cut. At first I wore a head scarf, but than I said to myself: why hide it. It is what it is, besides wearing your hair short or being almost bald is chic. It does look good. My sister sent me a wig, but I never wore it. Once the chemo was done, my hair started to grow back ( about 1/2 inch per month), not dark brown as it was but grayish. I was disappointed at first, but than my friends told me that this type of hair color is fashionable and looks good on me, and it does. I keep it short and I grew to love it.
I don't mind at all that I'm flat chested, and people around me are used to it. Most of the time I'm not thinking about it anyway - it grew on me.
The most important thing for me was to lick this disease, and today I'm cancer free. There is always that "big elephant" in the room, that what I call the possible showing up of the cancer in the future; but I have learned to live with it.
Toria, I agree with you wholeheartedly! It takes bravery to be able to live in a world that's focused on sensuality but it can be done! Just because we no longer have breasts doesn't mean we aren't still very vibrant feminine women. Thank you for reading my article!
Vroni, Good for you! Your positive attitude toward losing your breasts is wonderful. I think if we learn to accept ourselves exactly as we are, others will too. We should start a group of FLAT AND FABULOUS women! I'm sure there are more of us out there than we realize.
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