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Life After Losing a Boob

It's not at all how I thought it would be. After I was diagnosed with high grade DCIS breast cancer and learned that a mastectomy would be my best option, I wasn't too phased about the fact I would be losing part of what makes every woman a woman. That's because even before I was diagnosed, from the time I went in for the biopsy in fact, I had already decided if I had cancer, both of those babies were coming off.

When the doctor laid out the options, I told her immediately I had already thought about it, and I wanted a bilateral mastectomy, both breasts removed. Part of what made that decision okay for me was that I was a candidate for direct implants. All of it would happen at once. There would be no 12-15 month period of time for me to go through reconstruction. The surgery would be long, but I would wake up looking like I did (minus the bruises, incisions, bandages of course) when I went in to the operating room.

When the first plastic surgeon disagreed with that option, I went to another one. Then another one. I had two plastic surgeons on my side; they agreed they could put implants in as soon as the breast cancer surgeon did her job. They would save skin. They would save nipples.

I was warned, however, they wouldn't be the same. I was told to be prepared to lose feeling from side to side and collarbone down to below the breast bone.

I was advised to spend time with my breasts and see if I was mentally and emotionally ready. I was.

I knew if I could wake up the same way I went in I'd be okay.

And it all worked out that way.... until it didn't. A week after surgery, pathology labs showed more cancer, cancer in the upper chest near my shoulder and cancer at the nipple. There was no choice this time. It all had to go.

The very thing I didn't want - the loss of a breast - the rebuilding over time - was now the only option. My husband said, well then let's find out what our options are and decide. No, I said, that's just it, this time there is no option. We used our one shot.

I left that appointment crying. Upset. Fearing the very thing I knew from the beginning that would drive me into a pit, an emotional hole I wouldn't be able to get out of. Months of reconstruction, expanders to stretch my skin, at least 2 more surgeries, a fake nipple, a tattoo even that will restore the color. All fake. Too fake. Too long. How would I look at myself? How would my husband be able to look at me? For months... not days, not weeks, but months... maybe a year.

It was a defeating day.




Surprisingly, as surgery approached, I wasn't fearful of it anymore. I knew it had to happen. Again, eye on the prize: be alive to watch my babies grow. Get the cancer out. My friends kept reminding me of that. They joked with me, you're not a stripper, it's not like you need a boob for your job! How true! That was an eye opener! What did I need that boob for? Going into surgery I felt like I was going to wake up okay.

I still didn't look. I didn't even look at the doctor's appointment the following week when the bandages came off. I had my mom and sister tell me what they saw. Not too bad, they said. I thought I'd have a hot cross buns style incision going up and down, but they said it was just straight across. And the other incisions from the first surgeries looked great, they said.

That night, when I changed into pajamas, I decided what they told me didn't sound so bad, so I figured I'd see what it looked like for myself. I'd get comfortable with this new body, this new phase of this cancer journey (the word I still don't like). It wasn't pretty. I sent that picture to a few friends - I want people to know the reality. This isn't getting a set of new boobs. It's not fun. It's painful. My pectoral muscles were cut twice in less than 3 weeks.

And yeah, I'm now missing a boob and a nipple. And I will be for a while. (I joke that I'm creating my own Hallmark movie, "A Boob by Christmas.")

I haven't been sad about it, though. I choked up for a minute and I moved on. As the days went on, I didn't fall into a pit. I didn't go off an emotional cliff. I didn't have that pity party I thought I'd have. I certainly didn't feel any less like a woman than I did before. I still just felt like Richelle; but this Richelle felt stronger, braver, more courageous. This Richelle felt like, hey, I have cancer, I lost a boob, and I'm still standing. I'm still doing this. I'm still lucky. People are dying. God's giving me life.  And this body is just an earthly body. One, by the way, that doctors can make look whole again. And even if they couldn't, this body isn't what makes me beautiful. This body is what carries the beauty within. So I'm sharing my new body with you, because I want you to stay strong, be brave and have the courage to carry on. And know that a body doesn't tell people who you are. In fact, missing a physical piece of me has filled a missing piece of my heart; it has given me grace, forgiveness, patience, love, humility, kindness. If losing a boob, gives me all that, then I choose life with a little less physical beauty any day of the week.




Comments

  1. Just so you hear it from others, you are beautiful. That beauty glows from within so no physical change will ever diminish that beauty. Prayers are lifting you up.

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  2. I have always been proud of my kids and you have just made me more proud!! Love ya for sharing your trials to try and help others.

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  3. I think it looks great! I have 4 female relatives who have the Braca gene and all had double mastectomies. 3 had the surgery in New Orleans where they use your own tissue to rebuild. (One cousin a year younger than me had terrible set backs.. but is thankfully ok now) and one had the expanders and implants. Even if they didn't have that option.. they would have done it. (2 opted to have the surgery before the cancer came and were starting to show signs). I myself am a survivor of NHL (I HATE saying the C-word! So much so that when a friend got me an Alex & Ani bracelet for my zodiac sign that had that word.. I couldn't wear it.. and exchanged it for a pineapple which means warmth & hospitality). I just went for my yearly checkup coming up on 9-years clean and thank goodness I am still ok. (they use the word cured with me). I had to have chemo and lost all my hair. I had to have radiation as my "insurance". You do what you have to do to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. I am helping a childhood friend through the colon kind right now. The chemo is HER "insurance" after the surgery. You are beautiful and GOT THIS! If you ever need someone along for moral support. PM me through Facebook. :) Wendy Brown Chapkis XO

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing- means everything to hear someone else's journey.

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