On Growing Resilience Through Breastlessness
Photograph by Click Photography
Last year, at the age of 41, I was diagnosed with stage-1 node-negative hormone-positive breast cancer. I found the cancer myself, during a self-breast exam, before the imaging could see it. When I found those first lumps, I knew in my gut what I had found, having been trained in clinical breast exam in my previous career as a midwife. Also, I knew how I would handle it; this wasn’t the first time I had managed health challenges, three autoimmune diseases and a car accident later, I was brilliantly resilient. The day of my first ultrasound I said out loud that if I received a positive diagnosis, I would be strong in my body without breasts, without reconstruction, and would have beautiful scars and beautiful tattoos to honour myself into my new version of myself that was without cancer. I decided then that I would manage my diagnosis without an attachment to a part of my body I adored but no longer needed, that I had held through love and fed my babies with. With a combination of grace for myself, grace for expectations of femininity in the world, medical research, and an understanding of my most authentic version of myself, I began to know a version of me that is automatically whole without breasts. I built a version of myself that is fierce, without breasts.
There is a searching for authenticity in all of us, interwoven throughout our lives and days. It is embedded in our interactions, love, work, and in our dreams for our future. In me this is most felt internally, as a feeling of rightness, of knowing, an intuition. I try to trust this as a knowing of how I am my most true version of myself, ebbing and flowing through the waves of the world while remaining anchored to what feels most right in my heart. Through all of my resiliences, I have learned that when I can separate myself from my fears and believe in what I know is true and right, I am able to both thrive and survive, feeling confident in that rightness despite the world around me. Part of this is a world that expects me to need to replace my breasts after they were amputated.
Research showed me that a bilateral mastectomy was the best course of action for my cancer management and my long-term health, but I also knew in my gut and heart that it was the best course of action for me in my body and life. I would not need to worry when, not if, the other breast would try to fight me. I would not need to deep-dive into the scan-anxiety of high-risk MRI’s every six months for the rest of my life, which would have been necessary due to having tested positive for a high-risk gene mutation that predisposed me to contralateral breast cancer at an alarming rate. I would not need to worry about the possibility of missed recurrence if a new cancer were to grow around reconstructed tissue where it couldn’t be felt easily on an exam. So I settled into the idea of breastlessness. Like a repetitive meditation, I gave all these things that I would never need to do room to seed comfort in my scars, room to grow confidence in my flatness, and space to bloom beauty in my new version of myself that is whole without breasts. – Alanna Kibbe