A Shock After Cancer

Breast cancer is filled with surprises and unexpected challenges.

My breasts had been removed. I was devastated. The breast surgeon told me she needed to tell me something. I was puzzled. We’d already discussed the stage and grade of my tumor. She’d already told me what hormones caused the tumor to grow in my body. We’d already gone over a course of treatment. What more could she want to tell me? I prepared for the worst. As I looked into her eyes, I tried to read her thoughts. “We’ll discuss it at your next appointment.” Wait, what? She couldn’t just leave me hanging like that, but she did.

Weeks later, sitting in the surgeon’s office, I waited to have my drains removed. Happy about losing the bothersome drains, I couldn’t help but wonder what the doc was going to say. Dr. S entered the exam room. We exchanged pleasantries. After a brief exam, she pulled the first drain out of my body. I thought I was going to pass out. I wasn’t expecting her to do it so quickly. She explained that it was easier to pull the drain out while I was preoccupied. After the second drain had been removed, I asked what she wanted to share with me. She’d failed to mention anything yet, and I was anxious. She sat on her doctor’s stool and rolled over close to the exam table where I was sitting. Putting her hand on my knee, she looked at me with a serious expression. I felt my heart beating hard within my chest.

“Listen,” she said, in a very soft tone. “You’re going to have to get used to seeing your stomach.”

It took a few minutes for me to process what she’d said. I questioned wondering why I needed to get used to seeing my stomach. She explained that most women are shocked to find out their stomach is bigger than they thought. I grinned and said, “You’re kidding, right?” No, she was dead serious. She told me some women get depressed after surgery to remove their breasts, and it wasn’t only due to losing those vital parts of their body. Without breasts to block their view, she said, the belly looks more prominent.

I went home from that appointment feeling concerned. I’d never really paid much attention to the size of my stomach except when it growled to indicate hunger or balked at being forced into jeans that were too tight. As I got undressed, I looked down. Below the empty space where my breasts used to be, I noticed a rather large protrusion. When did my stomach get to be so big? I hadn’t been overeating. This was not good. Now I was focused on my belly. I heard the words of the doctor echo in my head. When I lost my breasts I guess I gained a belly. This was going to take some getting used to but I knew I could do it. No boobs and a big tummy, but I was still living, and that’s all that mattered.