February 21, 2015

What they Won’t Tell You About Surviving Breast Cancer.

Photo: Courtesy of author.

To put into words what it feels like to look down and see two perfect breasts, to feel with my hands two perfect shapes, to run my fingers over two perfect mounds of flesh symbolic of womanhood is an impossibility.

I don’t give a damn about any feminist ideologies.

I don’t care to hear about how breasts do not define an individual as a woman.

I care about my feelings on the subject.

I have been in the medical field for almost 20 years, and I thought when the time came for me to make the choice to have a bilateral mastectomy that I was as prepared as anyone could be for the physical outcome. I had worked in plastic surgery for a number of years prior to my own diagnosis and I believed I had seen the best case scenarios and the worst case scenarios.

I thought I had a better understanding of what and where my journey would take me.

I was young. I was “healthy.” I never smoked. I exercised. I had healed pretty well from other minor procedures or illnesses.

I could handle it.

I took my breasts for granted. It was a love-hate relationship. I complained about how large they were, wearing sports bras most of the time. I also reveled in the attention they received at times. I got out of a few traffic tickets, was flirted with—hell, for a while in my youth, they made me money. I took for granted the role they played in my life, in my sex life with my husband. They were part of the “routine,” the repertoire, if you will.

I took for granted how hard-wired the importance of my breasts were to my husband, and to most men. I was so optimistic in my expectation of my ability to adapt to what my post mastectomy breasts would look like that I refused to fall victim to self pity, anger or loss and vanity.

What a lesson I learned.

If you are a woman, take a good hard look in the mirror one day, in morning light, no makeup, no clothes, fresh from the shower and really see the body you are occupying.

Most women will focus on every wrinkle, dimple, roll, extra pound, pimple, spider vein, stretch mark, what’s too big or too small—and that’s on a normal day.

Now take that body that you are so critical of and slice off your breasts, put a big scar or two right across the center where each breast would have been and have the same conversation with your body. And then have sex with your husband—and feel sexy and sensual and desirable.

Go out with your girlfriends, put on your favorite outfit, have your makeup done, have the best hair day of your life and sit with them in their tank tops and sundresses, cleavage showing, hair blowing and soak up the femininity because although you are projecting on the outside that you are “handling” it, you know when you go home and strip off those clothes and you are standing there staring in the mirror again having that conversation with yourself that you are not okay.

It is a loss.

You have to learn a new and different acceptance of the body you occupy. And I did. I had an excellent surgeon help me rebuild what cancer took from me. Dr. Hatem Abou-Sayed was understanding and compassionate. He heard me and expertly helped piece me together with a realistic view of my new shell. The breasts he created were fabulous and for years I was confident and happy and accepting of this body of mine.

There were times that I had my insecurities like all women do, but for the most part, it was good to be me. And then came the night that my boyfriend hit me with his truck and my body became a mangled mess. Abrasions, lacerations, punctures, road rash and a breast on the left side of my body that looked like a twisted piece of meat. The left side took the brunt of the hit, drag and fall.

Dealing with the accident, the fact that my boyfriend was responsible, the fact that he withheld insurance information from me (all the while knowing he had no insurance) all of that was traumatic enough. Devastating. Heart wrenching. But looking at my body in the light of day, the body that took me so long to accept, the body I battled to find peace with—seeing it there battered and broken, torn and tattered was soul splitting.

I fractured into so many pieces that night I did not know if it would be possible to ever find peace again.

I felt incomplete.

I felt damaged.

I felt as if all the fabric of my life that I had painstakingly stitched together came unraveled and there was no recovering it.

I felt sorry my body survived what my soul had not.

Wow. Those words. Writing them “out loud.” I had to step away from the computer. It’s not that I wanted to die in any way physically, it’s that I felt I already had and was reborn—a Frankenstein.

I had learned to love myself again after a battlefield of anorexia, bulimia, abuse and cancer. A Frankenstein who had accepted being loved despite the scars, physical and otherwise.

My boyfriend took that from me in a single instant and never looked back. He has never contributed a dime for my medical care. He has never been held responsible for his actions because the people around him have allowed his actions to be acceptable. They greet him with a smile, a hello, after all, it wasn’t them he did this to.

That was in August of last year, and it has been 10 months of living tormented on the inside, screaming for my loss, screaming for justice, screaming for someone, anyone to understand this rage, this splintered soul, this Frankenstein. And finally, after many agonizing months I have once again been blessed by another amazing plastic surgeon. Dr. P. Dudley Giles performed the task of removing my existing implants, excising all the scar tissue and deformity of my left breast, (which when everything was removed the scrub techs said they could see my heart beating right beneath my chest) and replacing them with new implants that fill in the space.

Fill out the deformity.

Fill in a piece of my soul and I once again have my femininity back.

I can once again look in that mirror and have that conversation with myself, and look down and feel whole again.

To feel whole again is immeasurable.

I feel like an ember of fire that has lifted from the ashes and I am on my way back to setting this world on fire—and still I rise.


Relephant read:

How Having Cancer Renewed My Faith in Humanity.


Author: Christie Page

Volunteer Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Used with Permission from Jason D. Page

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