Dealing with cancer takes a toll on your mental health. You go through stages of depression, grief, and anger. Your emotions run wild. Then if you go through a bilateral mastectomy, you have to decide on reconstruction or not. Deciding on reconstruction comes down to learning to love yourself all over again and accepting yourself as you are or finding self-love in having new breasts. It all comes down to what makes you feel good about yourself and how you feel inside. Some women are comfortable without breasts and some feel they have to have breasts. It’s a personal choice that can’t be taken lightly.
Before my surgery, the surgeon said they could probably do reconstruction at the same time as my mastectomy. I was happy. This meant I would still wake up with breasts. I wouldn’t wake up flat-chested. I felt that having breasts defined me as a woman and made me sexier to my husband. I couldn’t even imagine not having them. When I met with the plastic surgeon, he burst my bubble. He told me because of the size of my breasts he couldn’t do reconstruction for three to four months after my surgery. My heart broke and tears threatened to spill.
This meant I’d wake up flat-chested. I’d have to go for a long time with nothing. This seemed like the end of the world to me. I went into a depression. I wouldn’t be a woman without breasts, people would look at me funny, my husband wouldn’t think I was sexy anymore, and I wouldn’t be able to look at myself the same way again. How could I love myself if I were missing part of what made me a woman? I cried in my husband’s arms and I got mad at God for allowing this to happen to me. None of this seemed fair. I had already been through enough in my life and now I was going through more. I was flooded with so many emotions.
Then I had my surgery. At first I couldn’t even look at myself. I cried and asked my husband if I was ugly.
He said, “No matter what, you look beautiful to me.”
Slowly I start peeking at my bandaged chest. Then once the bandages were off, I started standing in front of the mirror. I carefully rubbed my hands over the area where my breasts were and asked myself, “Can I love myself as I am or do I need to have breasts?” Then I heard Lou’s voice in my head, “You’re beautiful as you are.” In the days to follow I would stand in front of the mirror saying, “I am beautiful as I am.”
My friend told me I should make a list of the positives and negatives of having breast reconstruction and not having it. The positive of not having it outweighed the positives of having it. The skin left over from my breasts kind of looks like small breasts, I feel comfortable without having to wear a bra, the headaches and neck pain I had before surgery are gone, no heat rashes, no bouncing while walking, and so on. Most importantly I’m still me just with a flatter chest. I’m still woman and as beautiful as ever. I am in week three of my recovery and I am pretty confident I can love myself without reconstruction.
I’m still getting used to the loss of my breasts, but I am finding acceptance and a new love for myself. The greatest part is I am cancer free. I went to a cancer support group and heard from people who had reconstruction and others who have not. I have pretty much decided I can love myself as I am. I am emotionally stronger and I am feeling more confident in myself as a woman without breasts. I am a beautiful, strong woman reaching for the light of recovery from cancer.