breast envy

I find myself continuously inspired by the group of bloggers in our little community. Today’s post was provoked into being by Lahdeedah’s post The Road to OK” and imstell (Stella)’s response, Acceptance.”

I have always felt ambivalent about my breasts. As a young woman (I was an early bloomer, it must be said) they brought me attention that was at times unwelcome and at times confusingly gratifying. They fed two children for a total of more than three years. Once large and round, they were irrevocably changed by motherhood, as my nipples moved southward and seemed to stretch ever more closely towards my toes.

And then my right breast betrayed me, playing host to the tumour that would eventually spread to my lymph nodes and then to my liver. On February 2nd (“Groundhog Day!” I exclaimed when my surgeon told me the date. I had to explain that I was not objecting on the basis of this being a special holiday for me), I had a mastectomy.

I feel no less ambivalent now that I have only one breast. I was consumed with terror before the surgery and relieved afterwards to see only one bandage across my chest. I was frustrated by drains and then by the fact that healing seemed to take a step back two weeks after the surgery (no one had warned me this would happen).

More than two years later, I am still plagued with post surgical issues, including a limited range of motion and lymphedema in my chest, back and rib cage (when I showed this to my surgeon, couple of weeks after surgery, he shrugged it off as “just back fat,” so loathe was he to admit that he didn’t know. He actually said that the fact that my breast was no longer pulling it forward the fat was sticking out more. My physiotherapist just about had an aneurysm when I told her that story).

Radiation left me with serious scarring that exacerbated the lymphedema and made it painful to wear a prosthesis. Most days I am perfectly fine with this. At other times, I feel extremely self-conscious. Some days I dress to camouflage and some days I am quite content with the altered landscape of my body.

It is in the summer time when I most miss having two breasts, when I sometimes long to look “normal” in a tank top. It is also when I find myself (as Jill confesses in her post), ogling other women with envy.

However, I remind myself that how I look is perfectly normal to those who know and love me. My older son has even said as much, as has my spouse. And along with the lines around my eyes and mouth (I smile a lot), the stretch marks on my belly (I have borne and birthed two beautiful boys) and even the little scar that runs from the corner of my left eye (I hit a metal bar when I was chasing a cute boy in my class during a game of tag in Grade 6), the scar on my chest and my asymmetrical shape tell the story of the experiences that have shaped who I am.

The following poem was originally posted on my blog, Not Just About Cancer:

voyeur

Women’s breasts emerge in the heat of the summer.
Big ones and small ones.
Perky ones (I could fit them in my hand).
Breasts nursing babies.
Freckled cleavage.
Wrinkled cleavage.
And breasts that can’t possibly be real.
I stare at women’s breasts now with great fascination.
And not a little envy.
I have never seen a woman with one breast.
Except in the mirror.

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11 Responses to breast envy

  1. imstell says:

    Laurie, I’m curious. Now that you can’t wear a prosthetic have you considered removing your remaining breast? While I was doing radiation I had only had the single mastectomy & continued to wear a bra with underwire throughout treatment (much to my rad. onc’s annoyance). I refused to do the one and none thing. I was just too self-conscious. My radiation oncologist assured me no one would notice. I didn’t believe him. Do you find that to be true?

    Also, my oncologist gave me the same crap about fat after mastectomy. For me it wasn’t lymphedema but a large roll of adipose tissue under both arms on my ribcage. It was horribly uncomfortable But my plastic surgeon removed it during reconstruction. I still do have issues with it from time to time but nothing major. I wonder if that is a bit of lymphedema also.

    Stella

  2. Jill Aldrich says:

    Laurie,

    Have you ever been to the Rebel 1 in 8 website? Jacqueline is the blogger, and her company is Rhea Belle. She makes very cool and beautiful garments for one-breasted women.

    Laurie and Stella,

    This is really interesting. I got the exact same info about the noticeable fat above my bra line (which i never had before). And i found the explanation curious since I was very small breasted. I can’t imagine that fat appearing as a result of my lack of those tiny little boobies. They didn’t have enough weight to pull anything down. And it can’t be lymphedema because I didn’t have lymph node involvement; I had one sentinel node removed. What is adipose tissue?

  3. Jill Aldrich says:

    PS: Laurie, great post. I love the poem. And it’s comforting to know that someone else ogles 🙂

  4. Sarah S. says:

    I too ogle! And I often wonder why woman get fake boobs by choice not because of reconstruction. It really does not make sense to me. I guess I just miss mine and do not understand why any one would just get new ones just for the heck of it. 🙂

  5. Laurie says:

    Stella-I have thought of it but more surgery, while still inchemo would be dangerous. I wonder, too, if it would only make the lymphedema on the other side worse…

    Jill- I do know Jacqueline. I actually link to a blog post of hers featuring pictures of me in my post! 😉 (also if you go the rebel 1 in 8 site and click on Jacqueline’s slide show, I am one of the three models! I went to visit her in New York in December. It was amazing! Jacqueline has returned to full time work, though, so I am not sure how much time she has at the moment to make clothes.

  6. Jill Aldrich says:

    Ohmigosh, you’re the friend she just raved about. I saw that post and the cool photos. I hadn’t put two and two together. I also don’t have time to read people’s blogs like I used to so I’m kind of out of the loop. All the same, you are like a whole new Laurie to me now 🙂 Smart, funny *and* and oh-so-stylish!

  7. Laurie says:

    LOL! Jill you just made me smile ear to ear! And I hear you on the blog reading…

  8. Christi says:

    Jill,

    Thanks so much for the Rebel 1 in 8 mention. I’m a 34-y-o mother of three with one breast, and I often go out and about without my prosthesis. I’ve often thought of making my own clothes/bras because I get sick of the sports bra look. It’s so cool to see someone else actually taking action!

    Christi :0)

  9. MamaShift says:

    Just had my mastectomy last week. Thanks for this post. I feel like the world has changed. I can’t look at women or magazines or any of it the same way anymore. I’m constantly telling women, in my mind, how lucky they are.

    What’s this about the week 2 setback?

  10. xin says:

    My mother lost both of her breasts in her mastectomy. I think she’s the most beautiful woman in the world just for being that strong.

    You are beautiful too.

  11. Radhika Agarwal says:

    Hi,
    I am a student of Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, India.
    I came across a link to this blog in The Indian Express. As part of an assignment, we have been asked to look for human interest stories.
    Would it be too touchy if I request for some communication. I’d like to talk to you over e-mail (if that’s alright with you) and ask you some specific questions. Also if it is okay with you, would you mind very much if I take parts of your blog to supplement your story.
    If you’e not okay with the whole idea, i apologise for bothering you.

    Thanks,
    Radhika Agarwal
    radhikame@gmail.com

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