Am I Vain After Cancer? I Will Cry If I Want To


Breast cancer survivor discusses her upcoming prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction.

Am I being vain? After becoming a seven-year breast cancer survivor and a four-year melanoma survivor, is it vain to still want to look and feel as "normal" as possible? I was in my mid 40s when I got breast cancer and I was just turning 50 when the melanoma appeared on my opposite shoulder. I have had a lumpectomy on my right breast, numerous mole biopsies, larger excisions when things were suspicious and several laparoscopies to monitor suspicious cysts on my ovaries before they were finally surgically removed as well. I now face a prophylactic double mastectomy (due to genetic testing results) with reconstruction at the age of 54. Is it vain to want to rebuild my breasts?

I am used to having breasts. I have had them since I was 12. My clothes are designed to fit someone who is curvy. In fact, I used to think that my breasts were my best feature! That was a while ago, quite a while ago. With time and gravity and weight gain, and a lumpectomy in one, and some personal growing up, the term "best feature" is no longer the case.

Both breasts are now oversized and suffering from gravity, though the lumpectomy breast sort of got a mini lift from that procedure, Unfortunately, that just made it so that my breasts no longer line up together or face forward quite the same way. Still, in a bra, my breasts stick out past my belly and I like that. I really do. I still have a "shape," though it is not the same shape I had when I was young.

Are my breasts sexual? Hmm. Again, since breast cancer and some personal realizations about mortality, it is hard to have fun with tools that may, at any moment, become implements of personal destruction. I know I will no longer have feeling in my breasts post-mastectomy but sexuality has long since moved on to different, and hopefully safer, locales. Am I being vain to do reconstruction?

I am actually hoping the new breasts will be higher, smaller and have better symmetry than the old ones. Out of all the fear and worry and anxiety that breast cancer has created, maybe something good can come out of this mess for me? I hope so. I hope it is not vain to want to look normal and to blend in with the pack. Time will tell. We will see.

Oh, and speaking of seeing, my husband is in the middle of having his cataracts done and so he will no longer need his glasses for distance vision. I had my eyes fixed in a moment of optimism a few years ago, but then I wound up back in progressive eyeglasses out of laziness and convenience (I spend a lot of time in front of a computer). Now that he will also have the capacity to wander around glasses-free, I feel like I should be taking mine off, too (and off and on and off and on which was the laziness part). To my horror, I now have smile lines in the corners of my eyes and bags underneath them! Some of these signs of aging have been hidden by the bottom of my glasses. Oh Vanity, thy name is Barb!

I count myself fortunate and blessed to be here, to be here whining about the "problems" with aging. Having the luxury to see clearly and having the luxury to decide to choose to proceed with getting some brand-new replacement breasts are truly positives, not negatives. So, now what do I do about those wrinkles and bags under my eyes?

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