The Road to OK

In the few weeks that I’ve been a cancer-card-toting member of this exclusive club, “Mothers with Cancer,” I’ve been amazed at (and sometimes intimidated by) the quality of the writing by the women here. As I read their stories and their essays and their poetry, I am moved by their writing abilities, for sure. I’m also moved by their ability to cope. But what I find especially moving is the solidarity I find here–the power of shared experiences.

Lately, some of us have been talking about acceptance. Read Jen’s “What Now” post or Laurie’s “on perspective” post or Stella’s “Validation” post. The common thread among these stories is that these women are seeking ways to understand, incorporate and accept their experiences. I, too, have been floating the idea of acceptance; of packing up my experiences and outcomes and moving on to the next town.

But this is where I have to come clean and say that I’m still sitting at the station. One day, I find myself ready to leave the familiar topics of bad hair days and bad boob jobs behind me. The next day, all I want to write about are my curls behaving badly and my girls gone wild.

Back in the day (a year ago), my blog was the hair and boobs show. I angsted about my hair. But that topic actually was a clever cover for my real angst–my reconstructed boobs. In a nutshell (no pun intended) I had my little, nearly-a-cup breasts removed by bilateral mastectomy, followed by expansion. The outcome? Here’s what I said last October, in the post Tits Are for Kids:

“It looks like the kids sucked the architecture out of your boobs,” my ex used to note. To his credit, he usually followed that observation with one of his basic tenets of life: Tits are for kids. It’s one reason I loved being married to my ex. While other husbands were sent into another orbit by an ample rack, mine seemed satisfied with an ample hip-to-waist ratio, which I was able to supply non-surgically.

These days I’m slightly tit-centric myself. I see breasts everywhere: in the double D-cup muffins at Starbucks, on the Bebe mannequins in the mall, under the Prana yoga tops at the gym, at my daughter’s middle school. On the first day of 6th grade, my daughter asked that I wait in the quad with her until a few friends arrived. While waiting, I noticed a mom with a blond pony tail wearing tight boot-cut jeans and a snug little black T, under which were perfect Barbie cones. “Dang,” I said to my daughter. “Do you think she’s a student? Try competing with that!” K. asked me to get in the car and go to work.

In other words, during my expansion I was as totally and completely focused on breasts as a pre-teen boy. They occupied a startling number of my waking and sleeping thoughts. And despite my best efforts to make sure my new-boob expectations were realistic, I was deeply dissatisfied with the physical outcome of my reconstruction.

The unveiling of my new breasts in my plastic surgeon’s office was probably one of the most difficult moments of my life. As the bandages came off and my flat, uneven “breasts” with the misplaced nipples were revealed, I held back the tears. The end of the long, hard road I’d traveled was unremarkable, forgettable, disappointing. I think one of the things holding me up during chemo and radiation was the vision of my new breasts–not like they were, but realistic enough for me to feel comfortable in my body again. When that didn’t happen, I fell into a deep, dark funk unlike any I’ve ever experienced before. All that postponed and suppressed grief came to the surface, demanding expression.

Since then, there have been moments when I thought I’d found complete acceptance. Moments in which I experience deep gratitude for my health and for a boyfriend who, like my ex, seems to see me as a complete (if not moderately damaged) package. Would he prefer that I had my original breasts? Yes. Absolutely. But he constantly reassures me that I’m “much more than my boobs.”

I felt a wave of relief when I finally made the surgery appointment for my reconstruction revision this November with a new plastic surgeon. I would love to say that I’ve moved on, that I’ve accepted the circumstances of my new life, which include very odd-looking breasts that may or may not be improved upon this Fall. The truth is, I don’t think I can do really do that until it’s really, truly done. Until someone says, “Jill, this is as good as it gets.”

Jen said in a comment recently, “work in progress, baby.” I want to believe that. I would like to join her and the others here in their ability to accept. For now, I’m waiting at the station in this little town. But, I’m grateful for the people who ocassionaly sit down next to me and share their travel stories.


8 Responses to The Road to OK

  1. cancervisa says:

    Do you really want your original breast back? The ones that were spitting out hormones that were feeding your cancer? I too have a scoop out of my breast because plastic surgery was not covered by my insurance at the time. I think even at this late stage in my life of lopping them off for a better chance of survival.

  2. Jill Aldrich says:


    I’m sorry to read your insurance didn’t cover reconstruction. And I understand the question of whether to have a mastectomy(ies) to increase your chances of survival. That’s an incredibly tough decision.

    To answer your question, Yes, absolutely, I would like my original cancer-free breasts back if that were an option. That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with my decision to have a bilateral mastectomy. I have never once regretted the decision.



  3. Laurie says:

    You seriously have no need to feel intimidated by any writer on this site (although, I do know where this fears come from, at least for me). You are a beautiful writer.

    I had a single mastectomy without reconstruction. I cannot wear a prosthesis because of truncal lymphedema (caused by surgery and radiation). Some days I don’t care and some days I feel like a freak. And I stare at women’s breasts all the time, now too. I even wrote a post about it last summer.

    However, even if I couldn’t relate, I would say this. You feel how you feel and that, in and of itself, is valid.

  4. imstell says:

    My mom has lymphedema across her chest and down her rib cage. Is that the same thing as truncal lymphedema? She has really struggled with it over the last year. She sleeps with a bicycle shirt (spandex) to bed at night the help with the swelling. She also decided to skip reconstruction. She can wear prosthesis, however. She says she’s just so glad to be able to take them off at night that she doesn’t miss the originals. 😉

    Looks like whatever was going on with the comments has been fixed. Maybe it was Commenter Error???


  5. Laurie says:

    Stella, you just described truncal lymphedema perfectly. I think it’s the radiation burn scars that compound my problem and make it worse. I wore a prosthesis comfortably before that. Most days I don’t care. I do admit though that I do wish I could pop one in for special occasions. Dresses, especially, look funny and I don’t wear them anymore.

  6. Anonymous says:

    […] The Road to OK […]

  7. imstell says:

    That might explain it. She didn’t need radiation. If she hadn’t been BRCA2 positive she could have gotten away with a lumpectomy.

  8. I flew to the US for reconstruction and highly recommend my plastic surgeon. I must admit that my insurance did cover the reconstruction, so that was not a consideration.

    Reconstruction was the only easy decision for me. I knew I wanted it, and I knew which type I wanted.

    That said, I am constantly in awe of one of the best physicians in my medical clinic, whose stethoscope rests where her missing breast used to be, and emphasizes the fact that one breast is missing.

    I think she’s the bravest, coolest, strongest woman around. She is truly an AMAZON woman!

    “Among Classical Greeks, amazon was given a naive etymology as from a- (privative) + mazos, “without breast”, connected with an etiological tradition that Amazons had their right breast cut off or burnt out, so they would be able to use a bow more freely and throw spears without the physical limitation and obstruction”

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