Thursday, September 8, 2011

Evolution of a scar

I've been doing some reading lately about breast reconstruction.  Not about the gross science-y stuff about reconstruction, but the social and psychological stuff.  I'm not at all considering reconstruction, but now that I'm not in the thick of cancer treatment I've found myself curious about why women get reconstruction.  Yea yea, isn't it obvious that the appearance of two breasts is better than one or no breasts?  This is probably what I would have thought, if I had thought about it Before.  But now that I've journeyed through the cancer treatment gauntlet, I'm not so sure.

First of all, surgeries are both painful and a pain in the a$$.  Everything hurts, and continues to hurt long after the hurt is supposed to be gone.  Electing for surgeries that are not a necessary part of cancer treatment is currently beyond my capacity.   

Secondly, if I was uncomfortable with artificial body parts before, why should I suddenly be more comfortable now?  Especially with a relatively expendable body part?

We all know, or at least have learned by now, that I am a practical person.  The above viewpoints should therefore come as no surprise.  However, I am in full support of other women choosing reconstruction.  I am therefore trying to learn why they make this choice.  My purpose is not to see if I'm right or wrong, but to learn about these other viewpoints.

In my small, non-scientific survey, I have found that the perception of others is the primary reason that women choose to reconstruct.  I have determined this by reading dozens of anecdotes in numerous books. Most women want to look good (normal?) in clothes, and they want to be sexually attractive.  What I find interesting about this is that it seems to me that retaining attractiveness is at their own expense, both in terms of potential medical problems with the reconstruction and the fact that the reconstructed breast often has no feeling.  Did you know that latter fact, about the loss of feeling?  It seems obvious, but I never thought about it before and I didn't know that.  It seems to me that if I had no feeling in my reconstructed breast that that would be a constant reminder that it was for someone else and not me.  Call me selfish, but I would hate that.

The other way of thinking about "wanting to look good in clothes" is a positive self-image.  Many women state that they just don't feel like women without the appearance of two breasts.  This underscores the importance of continued improvements in reconstruction technology and healthcare support.  Also, mastectomy is not the only condition that might lead someone to opt for breast work.  Reconstruction is a good choice for women who may psychologically struggle otherwise.  

I'm sure there are others, but I've only read about one woman thus far with an attitude similar to mine.  She thinks of herself as an Amazon, a strong and active woman who can now execute her life with improved physical prowess in the absence of a breast.  I don't yet see myself as an Amazon, but I can relate to the improved functionality of my new physique.

Also, I'm learning to see the beauty in my asymmetry.  I hold my head high and walk around with confidence.  My spouse constantly affirms my beauty.  I have bought a few new shirts that are asymmetric and complimentary.  I can now see asymmetry everywhere in the world, and it has unusual beauty.  I truly do not feel that I need a reconstructed breast.  

My scar itself is also remarkable.  It keeps changing.  Will it ever stop?  It started pink, then turned to white (perhaps because of radiation?), then pink with white in the middle, then red with white in the middle, and now a deep red.  It's slightly raised in some places, yet exceedingly smooth in others.  It itches sometimes.  The evolution of my scar is symbolic of the psychological journey about breasts, sexuality, and beauty that I am on.  Always interesting and never done changing.              


  1. I knew a woman who got a viney sort of tatoo along part of her mastectomy scar - it was quite beautiful. We've come to categorize beauty in such narrow ways - I hope you truly know how beautiful you, and all the parts of your life, truly are.

    I must also share, I am so excited to see some real research being funded for IBC - perhaps in knowing the why and where of the genesis, we can understand a what and when for a treatment. Here's the link to an article about it:

  2. I'm a woman with 1 D cup. My shirts won't even stay in place without my heavy rubber prosthetic breast. I wanted to do the bilateral mastectomy from the beginning but doc wouldn't do it until reconstruction. I really dislike being lopsided. The prosthesis is a hassle. Also sometimes I see or feel my mastectomy side and it makes me sad, especially next to the breast that is still there that should eventually be removed. Sometimes I think I'll be ok with 2 mastectomy without reconstruction, and other times I do want something built in (smaller though)to fill a swimsuit.

  3. @Emily: I didn't consider what a dramatic difference a larger breast would make to the lopsided issue. We should invent a single-cup bra that would support the lingering breast while not requiring a prosthesis to stay in place. I enjoy your insights, and look forward to following your blog to keep track of your changing body and sentiments.

  4. Asymmetry is beautiful. As humans we look for balance, but that doesn't mean everything needs to be matchy matchy. Thank you. This blog helped me feel a little better about my own slightly mismatched pair.

  5. I have been reading more and more about this, in the aftermath of my own cancer, mastectomy, and reconstruction. I struggled with reconstruction at the time (10 years ago!!!) -- and finally opted to have it done, mainly under pressure from: my parents, my boyfriend, my surgeon, etc. I was 27 at the time. I was in a relationship -- lots of pressure -- and had I been more emotionally healthy at the time, I would have been able to see with much more clarity. Now -- 10 years on, 6 years into a very healthy marriage to a wonderful man (NOT the aforementioned boyfriend, thank goodness), with two small daughters, I am actually reconsidering my reconstruction. I longed to be an Amazon back then, but I was surrounded by people who could not understand that choice, and I was not strong enough to stand on my own. Wish I had been. One of the deals was that my reconstruction was done at the same time as my mastectomy. The surgeons (both the breast surgeon and the plastic surgeon) made it seem as though if I waited until later to do the reconstruction, it wouldn't be as easy. I was so tired at that point. Tired from chemo (I did 8 rounds of chemo prior to mastectomy and recon), tired from fear, tired from pressure, and tired of making decisions. I was really lost. I was afraid that if I had the mastectomy and opted to wait for recon, I would be sorry. What is ironic is that I kept holding off on the nipple tattoo -- it just annoyed me that I had to go in for yet another *procedure,* so that my fake, unfeeling boob, could look more *normal,* for another person. Oh, AND, my boyfriend left me right around the time they were doing nipple reconstruction. Good Lord. Thinking back, it just makes me sick. I never did get my nipple tattooed. Seemed stupid. There's a lot more...but I won't waste comment space with it! Of course, now, my little daughters (3 and 4) are starting to pay attention to body parts, and I am starting to wish I had never reconstructed. I sit here wanting to raise them to know that they are not their bodies...and yet, I feel like a hypocrite. I cannot explain the existence of this fake breast except in terms of its superficial, *normalizing* quality...for others. I wonder how many women out there have had a reconstruction removed after the fact? Isn't it ironic that insurance will pay for ANY procedure that is designed to make a woman symmetrical after breast cancer? There's a topic to think about!