An Unexpected Love Story
I started forming this blog in my mind as a letter that would hopefully help women who are struggling to accept their new breasts (or lack there of) post-mastectomy. And while I hope it achieves that goal, what poured out of me in a moment of quiet reflection sounds much more like a love story than a letter. A love story between me and myself, between me and my boyfriend, and between me and the implants I finally embraced only months before I had them removed.
Do you believe that people don’t truly appreciate what they have until it’s gone? While I can’t say I subscribe to that belief, it is true when it comes to my experience with my natural breasts. I realized in the years that followed my double mastectomy and reconstruction (at 28 years old) – during the thaw that followed years of body-altering surgeries – that it was my supposed lack of appreciation for and love of my natural breasts that made me feel their loss so greatly. Not only was I grieving losing them, I was grieving all the years I wasted not loving them every day I was blessed to have them. I had this realization while in a session with my therapist and I remember looking at her with tears in my eyes and saying, I didn’t love them enough (why didn’t I tell them?), didn’t show them enough (why didn’t I wear lower cut shirts?!), didn’t embrace them enough (why didn’t I fully turn myself over to the sensuality of my femininity and sexuality?). I believed them to be my right, not my gift, and I didn’t fully know what I had until it was gone. Until they were gone. Until it was too late.
It was an emotional process that slowly led to a heartbreaking realization – I finally understood my grief, but it didn’t change the fact that I’d never get my natural breasts back. I couldn’t do those years over again, this time loving them as they should have been loved.
If this was a love story, this would be the point where the heroine is hopeless about ever loving her breasts again. But another saying is also true – it’s always darkest before the dawn. And a love story should always have a healthy serving of hope.
In traditional love stories, we know that the beginning is normally sad/with adversities and the ending should be happy. But what about the middle? Isn’t that where the magic happens? In the waiting.
I want to begin the middle of this love story by saying that I completely believe that healing comes through self work. Thinking of recovering from losing my breasts, there are many things I did (and continue to do) to increase positive thoughts and feelings towards my body. That said, self work is also about allowing yourself to be vulnerable and connect with someone who sees the beauty in you when you can’t see it in yourself. And healing comes from someone loving you exactly as you are – big scars and all.
Enter, my boyfriend.
I dated on and off for a couple of years following my cancer “journey.” In short, I’d had a double mastectomy, seven rounds of chemo, and genetic results that showed I’m BRCA1 positive, which led to my hysterectomy. All of this within three years. I figured that after years off the dating scene, I would manage just fine after being through all that crap. As it happens, I didn’t particularly enjoy dating. And by that, I mean I hated it. I didn’t click with anyone I met, and I truly felt like cancer had broken my ability to find love in a romantic relationship.
Eventually, I met my boyfriend. Ironically, I met him soon after I blogged about not talking about my cancer experience on first dates – which is exactly what happened the first night I met him. I hadn’t wanted to tell him, but the discussion we were having caused me to have to choose now or a really awkward later.
From the moment I sat across from him at that Greek restaurant on that cold January night, I knew that his strength matched mine. I knew it even before I stumbled out the words, “ummm well actually I kind of sort of had a bit of breast cancer years ago.” My history doesn’t phase him. On the contrary – he views me as a stronger person because of what I’ve been through. My experience with cancer doesn’t define me, and he doesn’t view me in that light either. He’s my cheerleader. He truly believes I can do anything, and his confidence helps me to be brave. To be bold. His strength lifts me up as much as it holds me when I’m down. Just like my breasts, to receive his love is not my right, but one of my life’s most precious gifts.
I told him that dating him has been an awakening and I mean it in every aspect. He awakened how I show up in relationships. He awakened choices I make for creating a future I truly want. He awakened how I view my body – especially my breasts. I know I should have loved them on my own and it saddens me to admit that I couldn’t love my new breasts fully sooner than I did. The truth is that I didn’t have that way of thinking or feeling available to me. I was stuck and unsure of how to get out. He awakened me to feel comfortable in my own skin. He never judged me. Never limited me. Never shamed me. Never made me “less than.” That belief is what helped me to create a strong foundation to rise from.
There Is No End
That’s the truth. There really is no end to an awakening. To self love. To returning to your grief, visiting the pain, exploring how healing has changed it, giving yourself the grace to bear witness to it, and moving on when you’re ready.
The universe works in mysterious ways and it isn’t lost on me that this story finally burst from my heart when my implant removal and replacement surgery will take place not long from now. (Praying that the pandemic doesn’t cause yet another delay.) But this time I know I won’t be starting at the beginning. I’ve spent the weeks leading up to the surgery quietly honouring my implants – speaking to them and thanking them for allowing me to have breasts, working so well with my body, and coming into my life during such a difficult time. I set aside my guilt for not loving them sooner and focused on loving them now. The exhausting nature of guilt is instead replaced by the energetic boost that gratitude always brings.
To the woman who’s reading this and the struggle of it all resonates… I want you to know that it’s possible. You can love your new body. You can meet someone who honours who you are. If I could, I would save you from having to go through the ups and downs, but I know that it’s the ebb and flow that makes us who we truly are. And who you are is much more than your breasts. Believe that.
To read more from Cassandra, click here.
Cassandra Umbriaco is a guest blogger for Rethink Breast Cancer. Since being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer at 28 years old, she combines her love of writing with a passion to help women affected by cancer. Check out her blog at cancerunder30.wordpress.com
Cassandra is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) who hopes to connect with and support women affected by cancer. Visit www.cutherapy.ca to learn more about Cassandra and her therapeutic approach.