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Facing a Mastectomy
“I’m afraid that you need to have a mastectomy,” said the breast surgeon with the dodgy wig who couldn’t meet my eye.
This was when the wall of emotions that I’d been carefully building to protect myself from future knocks completely collapsed and I began to sob.
Not only would I soon be bald as a result of the chemotherapy, but I’d also be one breasted. At that moment, I couldn’t imagine anything worse.
A month earlier in January 2016, I’d been diagnosed with Grade 2 breast cancer in my left breast, following my second routine mammogram, at the age of 54. The doctors thought the tumour was only 20mm, so the original treatment plan was for me to have a lumpectomy followed by radiation – it sounded scary but doable.
Unfortunately, like many cancer patients, my treatment plan changed for the worse. It turned out that the tumour was Grade 3, multifocal and was actually 70mm in total. The surgeons couldn’t get a large enough clear margin around the tumour and this was why I had to have a total mastectomy.
How Did I Accept it?
When I woke up with only one breast it was one of the lowest and most shocking moments of my life.
It took me a few days before I could look at the flat side of my chest and I really doubted my decision not to have reconstruction. As the days and weeks went on though, it became easier to look at and I got used to seeing a scar where my breast used to be.
What I couldn’t get used to was my GG cup remaining breast. I hated being so lopsided and it took a long time to become used to wearing my huge silicone prosthetic breast. I did wear it every day but really looked forward to taking my bra off with my breast attached to it at the end of the day – it certainly made a thud as it hit the floor!
Eighteen months after my first mastectomy I had my second breast removed. My surgeon had finally agreed to remove my healthy breast after I had persuaded him that I wanted to be symmetrical. Having lost one breast to cancer, I had decided to face my fear of operations and have the other one removed – I found that to be very empowering.
We’re all individuals with our own viewpoints, fears and wishes. There are so many factors to consider and, early on in our cancer journey, we are bombarded with information and made to make many treatment decisions. I wonder why so many hospitals don’t give all the options when mastectomy is required.
Reconstruction wasn’t for me because I didn’t want to have any more operations than were absolutely necessary. If I had chosen reconstruction, it would have taken a few procedures to get the result I would have been happy with, and probably an operation to reduce my other breast. Reconstruction is definitely the right decision for many, many women – I’m just not one of them and it’s my right to decide that.
Confident, Brave & Strong
I’m so happy with my new shape – I feel as though I have the body that I always should have had. How extreme that it took breast cancer to get me there. I feel confident, brave and strong, not to mention that I don’t carry around two huge breasts. This is not to say that there are no down sides. There definitely are.... I’m numb under both of my arms and over most of my chest, I have excess folds of skin under both my arms and I have strange aches and pains and sometimes flashes of pain. But these are nothing compared with the joy of never having to wear a bra again if I don’t want to and, if I do, to be able to choose the size I’d like to wear. I’m thinking a C cup!!
I am trying to embrace my new life after cancer. I feel that I have made the best of a pretty bad situation and taken control of how I want to live.
I want to advocate for the right of woman to be given all of the options after a mastectomy, and that includes the option to remain flat. And
I want to increase the visibility of women who choose to live flat. I’ve discovered that I don’t need breasts to feel like a woman. I think that I look pretty darned great topless – a little different to the norm, but great nonetheless.
Juliet writes a blog called Blooming Cancer and flowers are the reason for the “blooming” part of the title. She sees this both in terms of blooming flowers and also as a blooming of her personal development. Just as a seed grows, is nourished and thrives, so she has grown from a negative, anxious, fearful woman into one who is positive, happy and excited about the future.
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