Embracing imperfection

I have an app on my phone that gives me a yoga quote every day. The idea is to take a quiet moment and read the daily quote, reflect upon its wisdom, then go about my day in a serene and float-y way. 

Instead, I usually read the daily quote as I’m loading the dishwasher and scooting our little piggie Piper out of the way and hollering at my kids to turn down the TV and wondering where my grocery list is and trying to remember if I paid the lawn guys and hoping I remember to water the new shrubs before they shrivel and die a brown, crinkly death in these dog days of Texas summer. 

What part of that is serene and float-y? 

None. Nada. Zilch. 

I’m coming to grips with the fact that I just don’t lead a serene and float-y life. Going to yoga helps, although I don’t think I’ll ever master the art of calming my mind, even in the midst of a perfect yoga class, in a darkened room with my favorite instructor with her calming voice and lovely music. 

Adding the daily yoga quote to my hectic, too-busy day and to my static-y, not-calm mind was a somewhat-desperate attempt to impart even more calm to my spastic self. Some days a quote resonates with me, and some days I think, “Yeah, right.” 

Today’s quote grabbed me, and not necessarily in a yoga way but in a more all-encompassing way. 

“These days, my practice is teaching me to embrace imperfection: to have compassion for all the ways things haven’t turned out as I planned, in my body and in my life — for the ways things keep falling apart, and failing, and breaking down. It’s less about fixing things, and more about learning to be present for exactly what is”.  — Anne Cushman

That one got my attention and forced me to slow down (and to ignore the dishwasher, et al). My guess is that this quote applies to everyone, regardless of whether you’ve ever set foot in a yoga class or attempted a reclining pigeon pose. Of course this quote applies doubly to any of us who have faced a serious health crisis, such as a cancer diagnosis. 

My first thought when I read this quote was about how much I’d love to be in the presence of Anne Cushman, whoever she is, and hope for osmosis. I’d love for her acceptance to permeate my body and mind. I’d really love to emulate her practice of “being present for exactly what is” especially as it relates to my post-cancer body.

If only there were a “being present” fairy. A lovely, serene, calming cousin to the Tooth Fairy, who would visit those of us who struggle after diagnosis. She could float into our windows while we sleep and sprinkle yoga-fairy dust around our pillows. She could whisper words of wisdom into our ears and smile knowingly as we nodded sleepily, eyes closed and minds calm. We would fall under her spell without even knowing it, and would awake from our typically-disjointed sleep, no longer plagued by hot flashes or night sweats or nightmares about recurrence. We would emerge from non-tangled, not-sweaty sheets, refreshed and renewed and filled with compassion for the many ways in which things didn’t turn out how we expected. We would smile as we alighted from bed, bathed in calm and knowing that we now have the power to embrace our imperfections. We would no longer instinctively avoid our reflections in the mirror; that part of our minds that tells us “Don’t look! It’s not pretty! It’s not the same!” would be erased, no longer needed. We would cease the relentless and futile pursuit of “fixing things” about our bodies and souls post-cancer. Instead, we would smile sweetly at the broken parts and love them because of, not despite, their imperfections. 

Namaste, y’all.


“awareness”

In my ongoing rant against Pinktober, I’ve asked the question many times without getting an answer: what does all the breast cancer “awareness” make us more aware of, exactly?

I ask in all seriousness. I know what I think when I see a package of paper towels all decked out in a pink-ribboned wrapper, but I’m curious about the average, non-cancer-infested person. How does breast cancer “awareness” affect those who’ve not personally been waylaid by breast cancer? If I were just some normal person, going about my daily life and I saw an ad in the window of the TGF Hair Salon advertising their “Clip for the Cure” promotion, what would my reaction be? If I were not unwillingly strapped into the pink dress, would the “squeeze a boob, save a life” bumper stickers make me want to choke someone?

When people see breast cancer “awareness” products and services, do they think, “Oh my gosh, women (and men) are suffering from and dying from this terrible disease?” Do they think, “Damn, I’m sure glad I don’t have that!” or perhaps “Why does that damned breast cancer get all the attention?” or maybe even “mmmmm, breasts” in a caveman-like tone?

Apparently there was a time, not so very long ago, in which I was some normal person, going about my daily life. I don’t recall specifically reacting to any breast cancer “awareness” messages or intentionally buying pinked-up crap because I thought it would save some unfortunate woman’s life. I doubt I gave it much thought at all. Even very recently, as I went about my daily life and scheduled my annual well-woman exam, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” When my OB-GYN wrote out the orders for my annual mammogram and I made the appointment and I showed up on that day and I changed into a gown and I stowed my belongings in a locker with a key and I waited in that ugly gown in a freezing cold room set up to look like a spa except for the TV blaring some dumb morning show that was most definitely not relaxing, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” (BTW, if I ever do go to a spa that has a TV blaring some dumb morning show, I will turn on my heel and walk out.)

When the mammogram tech chatted with me about how I’m young for an annual mammogram and I explained that I’ve been getting one since I was 36 because my mom died of a reproductive cancer, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” I expected the report to come back telling me I had dense breast tissue but no changes had been detected from the last year so I was free to go live my life unscathed for another year, until my next mammogram. When it didn’t exactly turn out like that, I still didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” After my last mammogram, as I waited in the freezing cold room once again with the TV still blaring some dumb morning show while the mammogram tech showed my images to the radiologist on duty, I thought not of breast cancer “awareness” but of how much longer that appointment would take because I had a long list of things to do. When instead of being told I was free to change out of the ugly gown and back into my regular clothes, I was called back into the screening room so the radiologist could get a few more images, I still didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” When the radiologist suggested we do an ultrasound in addition to the mammogram, and when her gel-covered want hovered over a certain part of my right breast while she made an upsetting and not-very-well-disguised frowny face, I still didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness.” When the frowny-faced radiologist declined to answer any of my questions about what she thought she was seeing on the ultrasound screen and when the mammo tech gently patted my shoulder, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness,” beyond being “aware” that this situation had all the makings of a disaster–a really big, really bad disaster.

When my OB-GYN got the radiologist’s report and called me to say I needed to make an appointment with a breast specialist, I didn’t think much about  breast cancer “awareness.” When I called to make the appointment with the specialist and noticed that the name of her practice was Southwest Surgical Associates, I didn’t think much breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy wondering why on earth my OB-GYN had given me the number of a surgeon. When the receptionist at Southwest Surgical Associates said I needed to go ahead and schedule a biopsy, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because my whirring brain had not quite caught up with my common sense, which would have told me to panic.

While the breast specialist injected me with lidocaine before she inserted a hollow-cored and very sharp needle into my right breast, then twisted that needle to extract a tissue sample deep within my body, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy going to my happy place to avoid the searing pain that spread across my chest, despite the lidocaine. When the breast specialist, who at that point was just the breast specialist and not my breast specialist, double checked the coordinates on the ultrasound machine that guided her as she scooped out the tissue sample, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was craning my neck trying to see what she was seeing on that screen. When she was all done and bent down to her little freezer to give me a few ice packs to stick into my bra, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was wondering if the ice packs were too noticeable to stop me from running into the grocery store on my way home.

When the breast surgeon’s nurse Sharon called me a few days later to make sure I wasn’t driving before she said that the doctor needed me to “put her on my social calendar” I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was consumed with a feeling of dread more palpable than anything I’d ever experienced. When I (unfairly) pressed Sharon to tell me over the phone how bad it was and she back pedaled, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was picking apart her every word and intonation for clues to how bad this really was.

When I drove to the breast surgeon’s office the next afternoon, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was instead thinking about how I was going to get ahold of Trevor, who was out of town, to deliver the verdict before he boarded his plane. While I waited in the breast surgeon’s waiting room, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was wondering whether I’d get out of there in time to go home and grab my kids then get across town–in rush hour–for my cousin’s 60th birthday celebration. When the breast specialist said that the biopsy did not look good, I wasn’t thinking about breast cancer “awareness” because I was wondering if I’d live to see my kids grow up. As the breast surgeon–who went from a breast surgeon to my breast surgeon–told me very matter-of-factly that it was indeed cancer, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was focused on the pounding of my heart and the feeling of life as I knew it being replaced by a very undesirable alternative. As my breast surgeon laid out the options for ridding my body of its unwelcome visitor, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was already dressing for battle. When she told me she didn’t want me to make a decision about surgery for at least 5 days, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because my brain was full of slash-and-burn thoughts toward this cancer. When Trevor said he was ditching his business trip and catching the next plane out, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy convincing him to stay, because if he changed his plans and aborted his trip, I could no longer operate under the (temporary) assumption that everything was ok.

While I worked the phones and manipulated my calendar to get through the myriad scans and tests required to see if this cancer had spread to other parts of my body, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was still trying to make sense of the fact that at the age of 40, I was a cancer patient. As I researched oncologists and made appointments for them to review my case, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had a breast surgeon and an oncologist. Sitting in the oncologists’ waiting rooms, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was focused on the fact that every single person in those rooms was a good 20 years older than me, and I was pleading with the powers that be to please, please, please let me live another 20 years.

As I scheduled my bilateral mastectomy, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy counting exactly how many days there were between the surgery and the last day of school, knowing I would need as much child-free time as possible to heal. When I explained to my kids what was going on, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was desperately searching for the right words to convince them that they weren’t going to watch me die from cancer they way they’d watched my mom die from it.

Healing from the surgery that left me battered, bruised, sore, scarred, and very, very flat (and not just in my chest), I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy emptying the 4 JP drains that sprung from my body and tugged and hurt like hell. As I searched in vain in my closet for something, anything, that might make me feel good about myself when I put it on, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was preoccupied with wondering if I would ever get used to my new profile.

And when the post-mastectomy infection took over my body and once again turned my life upside down, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was trying rather hard to stay alive. Upon being hospitalized for 9 days straight just 3 weeks after my mastectomy, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy getting sicker and sicker while the doctors tried to keep me from going septic. When I was hospitalized a month later and then again 3 days after that hospital stay, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was consumed with worry about whether the infection could be contained. As I endured 267 days of powerful antibiotics, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was nauseated and utterly beaten down. When I decided to undergo DIEP reconstruction to get a blood supply to the oft-excavated and much-ruined chest wall, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was planning how to endure a 5-to-7 night hospital stay, including a night in the ICU. When I left the hospital with 6 JP drains and a fragile peace between the transplanted blood vessels and their new host site, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was on high alert for flap failure. As I recovered from that surgery, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was, well, recovering from a pretty intense surgery. As I endured two more revision surgeries, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was railing against the much-promoted fallacy that “at least you get new boobs.”

As I began life as a breast cancer survivor, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy trying to live my life as a breast cancer survivor. With the passage of time and the re-introduction of non-cancer-related things to my life, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was trying mighty hard to get back on track. As each cancerversary approached–date of diagnosis, date of mastectomy, date of infection, date of reconstruction–I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was thanking my lucky stars that all that was behind me. Then as I realized that “all that” may well be “behind” me but it’s always, always, always going to be a part of me, I didn’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I was busy feuding with the unruly monkey on my back. As thoughts of recurrence snake through my subconscious on a regular basis (say, every.single.day), I don’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I’m way too busy talking myself down off the ledge. When the inevitable thoughts of “why me?” enter my head, I don’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I’m committed to not RSVPing to that pity party. While I’m working my way back to my former state of fitness and wholeness at the gym and am surrounded by perfectly round, non-cancerfied breast implants, I don’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because it takes all my energy to not feel really bad about my post-cancer body. As I gear up for the thrice-yearly oncology appointments and the biannual checkups with my breast surgeon, I don’t think much about breast cancer “awareness” because I’m busy, very busy, following my dear friend Amy’s advice of “don’t borrow trouble” (yet those pesky thoughts of “what if” are very determined to infiltrate my postive-thinking brain).

While I spend a whole lot of my time not thinking much about breast cancer “awareness,” the current culture of Pinktober makes it damn near impossible to not think about it, multiple times a day. Open the newspaper and see the Wacoal ad. Flip on the TV and see pink splattered all over NFL stadiums. Drive down the road and see inane bumper stickers and their infuriating references to the ta tas and the boobies and the girls. Go to the grocery store for necessities and run smack-dab into a sky-high pyramid of pink-labeled Campbells soup cans, which more than likely are chock full of BPA, which has been shown to cause cancer. While in the store, run across a woman wearing a ridiculous t-shirt and accost her for doing so. Tune in for the presidential candidates’ debate hoping to hear a reference to a plan to confront the breast cancer epidemic but come away with nothing but a watered-down homage by the First Lady and the first lady wannabe.

After all this, my question still stands: what does all the breast cancer “awareness” make us more aware of, exactly?

 

 

 

 


Nice try, NFL

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A woman I know from the gym told me that when she saw that the NFL has gone pink for Breast Cancer “Awareness” Month, she thought of me. I smiled politely and said thanks; she’s about the age my mom would have been had she lived, so I want to be respectful.  I’m never quite sure how to handle this. On one hand, I don’t want to be the poster girl for breast cancer. On the other hand, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for an acquaintance’s goodwill and kind thoughts. I always limp along in such encounters, then I flee the scene wondering if I reacted in an acceptable way. But, like so much associated with the cancer “journey,” there’s no road map, no guidebook, no real clue on how to handle this stuff.

At first blush, the NFL going pink to support breast cancer seems like a pretty cool thing. I wrote about it last year, and my first impression was how cute! NFL players in pink cleats, gloves, chin guards, skull caps, and sweatbands was so cute! I took it at face value, not being much of a football fan, and I wasn’t bothered by the coaches’ pink ribbons or pink caps, nor by the refs’ pink whistles or the pink tees on the field. However, another year wiser about the pinkwashing phenomenon and another year exhausted by the “awareness” campaign, I’m thinking it’s not so cute. Some of the players have personal ties to breast cancer, having lost a loved one to or had someone they love affected by the dreaded disease. I give them a pass. Guys like Ravens’ wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who has two aunts who have survived breast cancer. He says that wearing pink shoes and pink gloves “means something. For my aunts to fight through that and beat it, that’s some strong women. So I’ll wear it for them.” Another wide receiver, Kyle Williams of the 49ers, will put on the pink for game days in honor of his grandmother, who died from breast cancer in 2005.

If it were just about the National Football League’s largesse and compassion toward a disease that kills nearly 40,000 women in this country every year, I’d say, that’s cool. If it were about players showing their love and admiration for friends and family members who’ve battled breast cancer, I’d be behind them. Even if it were about the NFL designating breast cancer as the charity du jour and earmarking some of the $9.5 million dollars earned in revenue last year, I’m good with that.

However, it’s never that simple, and because breast cancer is the “sexy” cancer, the “glamour” disease, there’s something inherently rotten in the pink plethora splattered all over pro football stadiums across the country. Because breast cancer involves well, yeah, breasts, it easily grabs everyone’s attention, and like so many other things that have been pinkwashed in the name of “awareness,” it means a breast cancer patient or survivor can’t even watch a football game without being smacked in the face, yet again, with the reminder of this damned disease.

I. am.so.ready.for.October.to.be.over.

In trying to nail down exactly what it is about the pinkwashing of the NFL that bugs me, I came up with this. First and foremost is the emphasis on breast cancer “awareness.” Perhaps the Vikings cheerleader pictured below wants and/or needs everyone to be “aware” of her breasts (BTW, the Denver Broncos cheerleaders are sponsored by Dr Ben Lee, a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast augmentation, and Laura Vikmanis, a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader, says in her memoir that at least half of the 36 cheerleaders have implants, and a third of those without are planning to get them, and that there was much dissension in the cheerleaders’ locker room between the haves vs the have nots. A Philadelphia plastic surgeon cited Vikmanis’s book on his website in relation to the Philidelphia Eagles cheerleader tryouts. He commented on the rigors of NFL cheerleading: “Twice-a-week weigh ins and the grueling conditioning routines make it hard for women to maintain adequate fat reserves to have proportionate and shapely breasts, so breast implants are often the only way for women on the squad to remain both fit and feminine.” Breast implants are the only way for an NFL cheerleader to look fit and feminine? Wow. We certainly wouldn’t want women out there running around with disproportionate and unshapely breasts, would we?)

The NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” program aims to increase breast cancer “awareness” but I can’t help but ask why we’re so fixated on awareness, when being aware of the disease does nothing to cure it. Why does the program exhort women older than 40 to get an annual mammogram, when mammograms don’t save lives? Does anyone really find the “early detection” message touted by programs such as this to be effective? Sports Illustrated writer Peter King is of like mind, and after he tweeted “Please. Not pink for a month, NFL. A week, great. But a month?” he found himself on the receiving end of a lot of criticism, with people responding outright hatefully. Writer Mary Elizabeth Williams came to King’s defense on salon.com. She pointed out that it’s possible to hate the disease as well as the commodification. And, as she astutely points out, “because if we didn’t see pink on the football field throughout October, how else would any of us know that it’s breast cancer awareness month? How would we be aware?” Breast Cancer Action executive director Karuna Jaggar adds “We don’t need more awareness; we need solutions. We’re looking for progress that makes a difference in addressing and ending this breast cancer epidemic.” Does anything about A Crucial Catch speak to the breast cancer epidemic?

Secondly, show me the money. Several groups have had a little look-see into the NFL’s A Crucial Catch program and found that while it may be eye-catching, all that pink isn’t doing all that much good for the actual disease or the people suffering from it. Proceeds from the NFL pinking it up go to The American Cancer Society, which sounds pretty good, but Business Week discovered that just 5 percentage of sales will make its way to the ACS. According to Business Week, for every $100 in sales of pink products, $3.54 goes toward research while the NFL keeps approximately $45. Considering the NFL’s healthy revenue last year, and the crazy salaries NFL employees make, this seems particularly stingy. An NFL spokesperson countered the Business Week report by saying that while the league does not dispute the numbers above, it does not profit from the sale of pink merchandise, but that whatever money isn’t donated to the ACS is spent covering the cost of the Crucial Catch program, which is designed to increase “awareness.” Ah yes, the same type of accounting that caused the Susan G Komen for the Cure to fall out of favor with the very women it’s supposed to be helping. Spending such a disproportional amount of money on “awareness” instead of research is nothing short of irresponsible.

My third issue with the NFL going pink may be unpopular, but the fact is, the NFL doesn’t seem overly concerned with women’s issues or our bodies. Exhibit A: the cheerleaders. What exactly does a bunch of tarted-up, implant-sporting women gyrating on the sidelines have to do with the game? Do the fans in the stadium need to be encouraged to cheer for their team? Do the viewers at home require a bit of eye candy to break up the monotony of seeing big, sweaty men up close and in high def? More importantly, did anyone from the NFL think about how breast cancer survivors might feel seeing the NFL cheerleaders decked out in pink boy shorts and itty bitty tshirts that can barely contain all the breastly goodness of those augmented cheerleaders? Does the NFL think that breast cancer survivors need yet another hit to their flagging body images and fledgling self-esteem after radiation mutilates our breasts and surgeries remove them altogether?

Exhibit B: the league is historically soft on players who’ve been charged with crimes against women. Columnist Maura Kelly wrote about this for the New York Daily News, citing cases such as the one against Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, in which he admitted to raping a 16-year-old girl in 2010. And that of famed quarterback Brett Favre being accused by more than one woman of sexual harassment. And that of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being accused of sexual assault by two different women. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth got handsy with a waitress last year and pleaded no contest to her charges of sexual assault. None of these players received more than a slap on the wrist from the National Football League. Yet, during the month of October, the league wants me to believe that it cares about me and million of women across the country? Throw a bunch of pink on the field and call it good?

Nice try, NFL, but I’m not buying it. It’s going to take more than pink accessories and lip service about the importance of screening to convince me that the league really cares about women.

How many more days until October ends?

 

 


Topless Kate

My first thought when I heard about the latest British Royal scandal was, poor Kate. The Duchess of Cambridge was busted by prying paparazzi while sunbathing topless in Provence. At a private residence. While not on official duty or fulfilling her role as a member of the royal family. What a shame. She seems like a smart girl who’s got her stuff together. She’s young, in love, and on holiday — who can blame her for enjoying the sun with her hubby in [supposed] private?

Closer magazine has been ordered to hand over the original photos to the royal family. Can you imagine the stodgy, never-smiling Queen having an envelope of these photos cross her desk? Yikes. Poor Kate.

Aurelien Hamelle, attorney for the royal couple, declared that the photos were a violation of Will & Kate’s privacy.  She was quoted as saying, “It is a scene of married life, intimate, personal, that has nothing to do on a magazine.” I have to agree. Yes, she is a public figure, and yes she lives very  much in the public eye and therefore must endure the barrage of photographers everywhere she goes. But why can’t there be a moratorium on following and photographing while she’s on vacation?

Yesterday, Closer‘s sister publication Chi published 26 pages of photos of William and Kate on vacation, including the topless pics. Chi’s editor-in-chief Alfonso Signorini defended the decision to publish, saying, “It is a story worth publishing in an extraordinary edition because it shows in a natural light the everyday life of a very famous contemporary young couple in love.”

Who’s he think he’s kidding? It’s not about a famous couple in love, it’s about Kate’s breasts.

What a shame. And the fact that the pics used were ill-gained and taken in secret with a very long lens is especially shameful.

Even worse are those who are speaking out against Kate, saying it’s her fault. If she didn’t want nudie pics published, she shouldn’t have taken off her top. A CNN blogger says “…it also creates a situation that requires common sense. Kate, unless you know for sure that no one else’s prying eyes — or camera — will see you, don’t sunbathe naked.”

Donald Trump opened his big mouth and Tweeted, “Kate Middleton is great—but she shouldn’t be sunbathing in the nude—only herself to blame. Who wouldn’t take Kate’s picture and make lots of money if she does the nude sunbathing thing. Come on Kate!”

Way to blame the victim, Donald. As if anyone gives a rip what he thinks.

Also Tweeting was teen actress Emma Roberts: “I LOVE Kate Middleton…but when you’re A PRINCESS you shouldn’t be topless anywhere except the shower or the bedroom.” Thanks for that very valuable advice, Emma.

Kelly Osborne stood up for the Duchess, though, saying “The one thing that is hers is her body you know what I’m saying. Everything else belongs to the country.”

In the midst of the firestorm that surrounds this topic, I can’t help but think of myself and legions of other members of the Pink Ribbon Club. Radiated, surgically excised, and reconstructed breasts don’t exactly lend themselves to topless sunbathing. Negative body images abound after a bout with breast cancer, and the idea of hanging the surviving girls out there, even in private, is not likely on many BC girls’ list of favorite things to do. What a shame.

P.S. If you’re planning on leaving a comment saying “who cares if the breasts have been radiated, sliced & diced, and reconstructed, we want to see them anyway” — don’t. Just don’t.

 


The phoenix

Yesterday’s visit to the doctor was the usual highlight of my day. We laughed, we sparred, we talked about my new Fiat, and I once again stood buck-naked in front of his omnipotent eyes for my three-week post-op checkup. Here’s where it got interesting: I told him that while I appreciate his valiant efforts in the OR, I’m not happy w the results. Shape, size, asymmetry, bumpiness…. I’m sure I wounded him deeply, but had to get it out there. And of course, it goes without saying that I’m not dissatisfied with his work, quite the opposite, but with the ongoing, multi-step drudge that is reconstruction.

I asked about options if the fat transfer doesn’t yield good results. It’s a relatively new procedure and data is scarce, so it’s hard to predict the final results. But I need options. Can he suck out the fat he’s transferred? Can I go back to being totally flat-chested? Because honestly, I’d rather be flat as a board than have an elliptical uniboob. The cleavage line looks great, but only from a distance, and I’d sacrifice it to get back to the point of being satisfied with my chest.

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I know it’s hard for a plastic surgeon to grasp that a woman in the USA doesn’t want the biggest knockers she can possibly get, but I keep hammering away at the fact that I am indeed that woman. I’m all for a curvy silhouette but do not want big boobs.

To fix the aspects I’m dissatisfied with, we need to inject more fat, which results in a bigger bust. I don’t want that. I’ve said from Day One that I don’t want that. In fact, I think my exact words to the doc in my consultation right after diagnosis were “If I wake up from surgery with DDs I will kick your teeth in.” Direct quote. In fact, I need to get him a little pillow for his office couch with that message needle-pointed on it. That, and my other recurring message to him, also uttered at that first meeting: I know I’m not your only patient, but I’m your most important patient. I have threatened to get that needle-pointed for him, too.


Not quite able to wrap his brain around my crazy-ass request, the doc asked if I’m talking about sucking out the fat transfer part or the entire DIEP flap. I said the latter. If I’m going to go back to being totally flat-chested, I can’t have former-tummy-nee-breasts hanging around. To say he was stunned is the understatement of the day. Probably of the week. Maybe even the year, and perhaps this question would score high on the top 10 list of most shocking things I’ve ever asked for. googleimages.com

I reminded him that I understand that reconstruction — and revisions — can be a process. In my case, a multi-step process. As much as I’d love 1-stop reconstruction, that was not in the cards for me (thanks for nothing, mycobacterium, you wily bastard). Revisions to reconstruction are a process. I get it. Change comes incrementally and require more than 1 surgery. I get it. But being an “I wanted it yesterday” kind of girl, I’m impatient. And being a procedural rather than big-picture kind of girl, it’s hard for me to imagine how this is all going to turn out once the scalpel is laid down, the anesthesia wears off, and the final revision is complete. Whenever the hell that may be.Needless to say, the good doctor wasn’t crazy about my idea of sucking out and throwing away all of his hard work. We discussed the biggest source of unhappiness with my newly created breasts: the shape. Granted, it’s mind-boggling to me that a surgeon can cut a gal open from hip to hip, harvest the skin, fat, and blood vessels from her belly, stretch the remaining skin back together and stitch it up into straight line, replant the blood vessels into the chest wall, and form the skin and fat into any semblance of breasts. That truly boggles my mind. And yet, it happens, every day.
While I understand on an intellectual level how difficult this surgery is, and that the shape of the belly-turned-breasts may need some fine-tuning, and while I have every confidence in the doc’s skill and artistic ability, I still have a hard time believing that what I see today will ever look right. I know i twill, but I just can’t see it right now. I can’t envision how the oval-shaped uniboob will ever evolve into separate but equal, nicely rounded, not-too-big breasts. I just don’t see it. I’m accustomed to the sports-bra-induced uniboob, and I realize that sometimes bad things happen to good boobs, even Oprah’s. 

All this talk we Cancerchicks hear about how lucky we are to get new boobs is utter horseshit. I’m on the record saying that is a humongous load of crap. I was perfectly satisfied with my pre-cancer body, and there’s not one thing I can name that is better now. Ok, except for the absence of the tumors that would have eventually spread and killed me. That part is definitely better. And I’m no longer afraid of needles. Having been poked and shot up more times that I could ever count, and with a boatload of port flushes and blood draws and monthly B12 shots and quarterly Lupron shots and injections for scans ahead of me, I don’t even flinch anymore. Not even the thought of a 20-gauge needle piercing my skin and extracting my lifeblood scares me anymore. But conquering the fear of needles doesn’t really count as a way in which my body is better after my cancer “journey.” 

I’ve never been one to be hung up on body image (thankfully, because that can mess you up bad). I’ve never aspired to be a super model, which is a good thing because I’m pretty sure there’s not much of a market for 5-feet-tall candidates who aren’t stick-thin. I’ve always viewed my body as a workhorse: the vessel that contains the essence of who I am; the engine that drives me in sport and play; the carrier that allows me to complete the mundane tasks of domestic life such as unloading groceries and maintaining my home; and most importantly, as the oven and keeper of 2 precious babies who are growing up to be amazing people, if I do say so myself. 
From Day One of my cancer “journey,” I knew in my heart of hearts that losing my breasts but keeping my life was a trade I was willing to make. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am more than my breasts. While clothes may make the man, breasts do not define the woman. I certainly wasn’t happy about being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a bilateral mastectomy, but I wasn’t sad about losing my breasts. I looked at them the same way I look at a spot of mold on a hunk of my favorite manchago cheese: cut it off so it doesn’t spoil the rest. 

I will admit, however, that I bought into the whole “new boobs” scam. I thought, well at least I’ll be nice and perky in the old folks’ home. No one tells you, though, that the “new boobs” may never be better than the old ones. Hell, they may never even be equal too, and dammit, they might even be lesser than. This is a closely-guarded secret of the “new boobs” scam, and I’m happy to expose this untruth for all the world to hear. 

Now before you start sending me hate mail or telling me I’m flat-out wrong, I will concede that for a lot of women, reconstructed breasts are better than their saggy, flabby, pre-cancer breasts. I’ve seen plenty of photos on the web from countless plastic surgeons, so I know this much is true. But guess what? I’m not one of those women. Most of those women are 20+ years older than me and 40+ pounds heavier than me. For them, the “tummy tuck” part of DIEP reconstruction is a godsend. For me, not so much. I’d happily go back to having a slight pooch if it meant not having a 17-inch scar across my belly. No question. 

Lest I’m not clear, let me reiterate: I’m thrilled with the fine work that the highly skilled docs did. Going from a concaved chest wall that had endured multiple tissue excisions to an adequately stacked chest was a small miracle, performed by my 2 docs and their professional team. Knowing that there were 4 people conducting the transformation was immensely reassuring as I underwent the DIEP. This talented group made it possible for this beleaguered phoenix rise from the ashes, no doubt.

But this phoenix isn’t happy with reincarnation alone. This phoenix craves the return to what used to be, but what is no more.