I Feel Like My Breasts Betrayed Me
Photography by Rebecca Dann
“I want them gone.”
These were the first words out of my mouth when the doctor gave me my biopsy results.
When I got into bed on the night of my diagnosis, I was aware of my breasts in a way I’d never been before. I was careful to lie on my back, so I wouldn’t have to feel them. I felt betrayed by my own body, and I couldn’t bring myself to look at them, let alone feel them.
The next morning, and for the next several weeks, I showered in a sports bra and actively avoided going anywhere near my chest.
In hindsight, this wasn’t just because of the betrayal I felt. The anxiety you feel before, during and after your pre-chemo scans is something I would never wish on anyone. When I was waiting to find out the extent of the cancer, and whether it was in both breasts or had spread, I was petrified of coming across another lump. I knew this would send me into a fresh spiral, and make the wait for results that much worse.
This new aversion to my own breasts (and my body in general) wasn’t something I considered “normal” for a cancer patient. Before my diagnosis (and especially now), I’d always been a hypochondriac, so I assumed this was the result of my generalized health anxiety, rather than my actual diagnosis.
It wasn’t until I saw the hospital psychologist, who explained that a lot of her breast cancer patients feel this way, that I understood this is one of the “side effects” no one seems to talk about. After I posted about my experience with breast discomfort on Instagram, I was flooded with messages from women who had been through the same thing, who also thought that showering in a bikini or bra was something unusual that only they were doing.
This made me realize just how important it is to share the more human side of cancer journeys. Cancer and treatment are so much more than the facts the doctor presents to you on paper. It’s more than the list of side effects the nurse takes you through before your first appointment. It’s a series of strained relationships–with yourself, your body, your loved ones, your partner. It’s realizing that you’re not in control of your own body. It’s understanding that at some point, you need to relinquish control to the medical teams around you.
But it’s also realizing that you’re not alone. As someone who didn’t particularly like the idea of attending group sessions, social media became my safe space. It was through Instagram that I found this community of strong, kind and caring women who do nothing but lift each other up on a daily basis.
The discomfort I feel with my breasts and my body will take time and therapy to heal, but understanding that this is normal, and that this kind of body dysmorphia is experienced by so many breast cancer fighters, survivors and previvors gives me the strength I need to be kind and patient with myself. – Selin Esendagli