I stretched up, reaching for the box on the shelf of my closet, the box that had only been out for a short time in September until the radiation burns made it too uncomfortable for me to try to wear the breast prosthesis. I brought the box down, looking at the notations on the side: TruLife, the name of the company; Harmony Silk Allure, the name of the prosthesis. Almost everything with this cancer is named, you know. My wig had a name, not given by me, but given by the wig company: Angie. A wig that I ended up not wearing much at all because I just felt false in it. I tended toward the funky scarves and hats.
I open the box and remember what Harmony looks like. It’s inserted nipple-side down, so you see the back side first. Flesh-toned and wrinkled, I lift her out of her box, the weight of her in my hands. I look at her, trying to remember how she fits into the mastectomy bra. I find the bra which also, naturally, has a name. This one is Jamie, and is the only style I ended up buying. I have three Jamie bras. It’s been so long since I got the instructions from the nice ladies at the hospital boutique. I’m trying to remember how Harmony fits into Jamie. Is it this side up? No, that doesn’t look right. Is it this side up? Dammit, if it weren’t for my skin being so burned for so long, I’d have a better chance of remembering.
In a way, this all seems surreal yet so very real. This is my life. Even a few years ago, even one year ago before I was diagnosed, I wouldn’t have dreamed that this would be my life now — without one breast, with a prosthesis, fitting it into a bra so I can look like everyone else, so I can look more like I have two matching breasts. With a terminal illness. Shit, what life is like when you don’t know. What life is like when you know and have to deal with all of it.
Many people have prostheses for various reasons — they were born without body parts, they’ve lost body parts in accidents, in a war, to cancer. Looking at things that way, losing a breast doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. I don’t need a breast to write, to walk, to pick up things, to ride a bike, to hug my family members. I don’t need one at all. Still, it’s a strange thing to have a breast one morning and wake up later that day and realize you don’t have it any longer, although that area was so covered with gauze and a surgical bra that I couldn’t see anything.
Today, the day when I feel safe enough that my burns are finally healed, I end up putting Harmony in Jamie. I think I have it right. I can’t put the bra on with the grace that the ladies at the boutique taught me; the weight of the prosthesis makes that impossible, so I put it on clumsily, hooks to the front first and then bring the breast part around to the front. It’s all so very clumsy for me now, even four months out from my mastectomy a newbie to the prosthesis. It’s all taken much longer than I thought it would.
I look down, but as the ladies in the boutique said, you can’t tell much by looking down. You have to look at yourself in the mirror. I do so and am not sure if the breasts look the same. Maybe Harmony is fuller on the left side, maybe she needs to be readjusted. I readjust and readjust and then I finally readjust one final time and say, “that has to be good enough; I’m just not sure and besides, are every woman’s boobs exactly symmetrical?” I feel Harmony; she feels enough like a real boob to fool anyone; then again, who in the world would be feeling my left boob, or my right boob, for that matter?
I’m so used to nothing being there, that Harmony feels in the way. My left arm isn’t used to her. She feels like something I have to get used to, like she’s all of a sudden something that my arm has to fit around. Whenever I wore the fluff (and I didn’t very often; I just got creative with scarves and flowers most of the time), it didn’t have the weight of Harmony so it didn’t have the same sensation that Harmony does.
I want to look “normal,” to look even, to look like I have two breasts, but the sensation of having two breasts again is, believe it or not, going to take some getting used to. Who’d a thunk it? Certainly not me, that’s for sure!
Almost each step in this journey, if not each step, brings me someplace I wouldn’t have dreamed I would have gone. I’m a different person now than I was before last year’s diagnosis. The same person in some ways but a different person in other ways.
By more than just a prosthesis.