Thursday, 3 February 2011

Beastly blessings

I was having a cup of tea the other day with a friend who's also had a mastectomy and we were comparing our breast reconstructions and talking about how we've felt about our bodies during our recovery. Breast surgery eliminates all sorts of inhibitions, I've found. I showed her mine over the top of my cuppa (white, no sugar) and then we discussed hers over her cuppa (black, two dunks). We were talking about how far we'd come in accepting the enormous change to our bodies.

We're not there yet -- both of us have our Frankenstein moments. So many women I've spoken to self-conciously refer to themselves as unattractive or even monstrous as they deal with their unasked-for body changes — whether it's losing hair from chemo, or losing a breast, or having a lumpectomy. I was so relieved to have my disease caught early, I assumed I wouldn't care what my body looked like as long as the rogue cells were all gone. Getting early treatment was a blessing. Yet I was surprised to feel so down about it at various points. I did (and I do) care. I've found dealing with body image a lengthy process; an awkward voyage of self discovery.

For me, it has helped to look back at photos of the state my breast was in when, soon after the surgery, I developed necrosis. A ping-pong ball of new breast, made from my own back (LD) muscle, withered and died. The black-edged hole that was left behind gave me a graphic window into the inside of my body: shiny, mincemeat pieces of pink-red muscle and mustard fat. At the time, it didn't bother me; I was perhaps still shell-shocked at the situation I found myself in and perversely proud of having complications (possibly due to feeling guilty at not having chemo like other patients? I don't know).

After a while though, it did upset me. It took so very long to heal. And oddly, I felt more ashamed of the way it looked when the worst was over. Close, but not close enough. But look now; here we are. I'm almost at the end of my reconstruction shenanigans. I've gained some amazing insights into the world of surgery, the extraordinary craft of the surgeon, and the resilience and power of the body.  In April, I'm having minor surgery to tidy up the sinewy, white and pink speckled scar, the evidence of my skin's desperation to heal itself (leaving hypertrophic scarring, where the skin stages an uprising and 'overheals'). After April's tidy-up, I shall have an areola tattoo. And then — though I can't take it for granted, not yet, perhaps not ever — the physical haul will be nearing closure.


  1. So many women (maybe all?) have issues to do with our bodies to begin with - even when we're as perfect as we'll ever be. And then we start to age, and wonder what we were so worried about before. And then we have children, and we try to convince ourselves it was all for a good cause, and so the inevitable droops and marks are reminders of the wonderful beings in our lives. But when we have disfiguring surgeries, it's just one more thing... is it mens' expectations that make us this way, or our ideas of what mens' expectations are? Or are we just mean to ourselves?

  2. But I like the idea that we're walking works of art, as you say in your profile...

  3. I think we are mean to ourselves. I have a friend whose husband is trying so hard to tell her how much he loves her and how her disfigurement doesn't make him feel differently, but she feels that she doesn't know herself any more. It's just not her body when she looks down. It is a hard thing to cope with.

  4. That is how I felt after having our first child... I didn't know myself anymore. Funny enough, I felt fine during the pregnancy. I wonder how male amptuees cope with their disfigurement differently (or similarly?)