Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
Please, the words "free boob job" and "breast cancer reconstruction" never belong in the same sentence.
If I hear about one more person who tells a breast cancer survivor that they are "lucky" to get a "free boob job," I may start banging my head against a wall — literally. October is breast cancer awareness month. but comments like this make me wonder just how aware we really are. Yes, I am sensitive to this topic because the parts of my body formerly known as "Barb's breasts" are currently under reconstruction. Under clothing, the ultimate results will look "normal," but they will be without sensation for the rest of my life and they may require future surgeries. Seriously. Is that a "free" boob job?
Many women with a diagnosis of breast cancer or a genetic mutation that may increase their chance of getting breast cancer are faced with difficult choices: Does it make sense to get a double mastectomy? And, do I want to go flat or to do reconstruction? If I do want reconstruction, what kind? These are challenging, gut-wrenching, and very time-consuming choices that are not made lightly or carried out easily. Survival is the goal. Appearances are secondary. Most of us (breast cancer survivors or breast cancer previvors) just want to blend back in with the pack and to get on with our lives as soon and as normally as possible.
Cancer-related breast reconstruction is not a free "boob job." The goal is to have something that blends easily and normally under clothing. No one who does reconstruction, with its accompanying scars, numbness and sometimes ongoing pain, is out to win a beauty contest. We just want some version of normal again.
The permanent implants I got a few weeks ago seem to be more comfortable than the tissue expanders they replaced. I am grateful that I am healing and have less pain now than a few weeks ago. It is kind of a relief to be complaining about the little stuff: the discomfort and difficulty sleeping at night, and the minor, but hopefully fixable, differences between my left and right sides right now.
Still, simple questions, like why I need a nap or why a vacation with friends or family needs to be scheduled to fall at a different time because of yet another surgery gets interesting. I want to be honest with the people in my life, but I worry about TMI (too much information). Some of this comes about because I am reluctant to tell. Some of this is because they probably don't really want to hear it, and I don't blame them!
Is there a stigma to plastic surgery? Maybe? Breast cancer survivors choose it in the search for normal. It wasn't fun to wait for hair to grow back after chemotherapy, and it isn't fun to go through the pain of several plastic surgeries to have fake boobs. Breast cancer survivors desperately just want normal. We want to blend back into the human pack — to appear to be like everyone else. When "foobs" (fake breasts) are involved, it is a long and sometimes painful process. It often involves several surgeries, not just one.
Breast reconstruction isn't something that I am comfortable sharing and it isn't always a process that other people are comfortable hearing about. Even after surviving breast cancer and melanoma, I continue to find myself in uncharted waters. Breast reconstruction is a crazy unique experience and I am fortunate to have it as a tool to help me get back to normal, but it is not a "free boob job."