Why I Show my Reconstructed Breasts
I was 40 years old, at the peak of my career, when I was diagnosed with multifocal invasive ductal carcinoma. I didn’t have time to be sick. After years of struggling and multiple challenges, I founded the only private, interdisciplinary rehabilitation center for chronic pain, in the province of Quebec. I had about 30 people depending on me to oversee their programs and help them get their lives back, after an accident or debilitating illness. I had become at last, comfortable in my finances and ready to settle down and have a family. I could hear my biological clock screaming out to me that it was “last call” to have children.
All of a sudden, I felt like I was on a hijacked plane. My trajectory redirected on a journey of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, and multiple surgeries. Given my age, family history of breast cancer, and considering the two tumours squatting in my right breast were estrogen/progesterone positive and HER2+, after two years of administration of the Zoladex injections, an ovario-hysterectomy was recommended and undertaken. This brought an end to my dream to have children of my own. A bilateral mastectomy was also recommended. My 34-D breasts had a prominent place in my identity considering I am 5″4, just shy of 120 pounds. I loved wearing lacy lingerie, bikinis, little and low-cut dresses. My friends would poke fun at me at pool parties, calling me “Baywatch” and “Boobwatch.”
When deciding on reconstruction options, I was desperate to find at least one whole image of a young, vibrant woman’s final result after mastectomy and reconstruction. Although I found many whole images of women courageously showing us their results after mastectomies without reconstructive surgery, the only images of reconstructed breasts I could find were on headless torsos, mostly on plastic surgeons’ websites. When I lost my breasts, I was determined to regain a sense of feeling whole again. But how can we aspire to wholeness, when all we have to inspire us is a headless torso? I felt lost and did not know where to turn.
In surgeons’ waiting rooms, while nervously awaiting consultation regarding mastectomy and reconstruction, I searched the coffee tables for some inspirational reading for distraction. Ironically, I found mostly fashion magazines showing cleavage and body contouring trends that left me feeling even more discouraged.
I opted for a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, not because I was encouraged by the images with no heads, but because going through life without breasts did not fit my ideal. I discovered that reconstructed breasts on headless torsos left others feeling alone and scared too. Many times at my doctor’s office, I witnessed women weeping, struggling with their decision to have a mastectomy. Once, when my surgeon tried to console one young woman, he sensed my eagerness to help and brought me into the conversation. When she found out I had completed the entire process, she asked me if she could see my reconstructed breasts in private. I felt a bit shy, but I empathized with the terror she was feeling and I knew she would be comforted by my end result. When she saw my new breasts, her tears of fear turned into tears of hope. She hugged me with gratitude and told me that when she starts to panic about her upcoming surgery, she will remember me and my end result to get her through. This was the first of many requests for me to encourage women facing imminent mastectomy.
Seeing the impact I could have, I wanted to comfort everyone going through this ordeal and their loved ones everywhere, but I could not pull my top up for everybody. My best friend had a solution and that is why we launched the Shirts Off for Breast Reconstruction Initiative and produced a photo-centric book, with whole images of my reconstructed breasts. You will see in this book, I still wear the attire I enjoy! Along with inspirational notes, I offer a narrative with simple explanations of the journey with and beyond breast cancer. Of course, I add a touch of humour, my favourite coping mechanism.
The goal of this book, Harmony after Breast Cancer and Reconstruction, is simple. I want other women to know that a mastectomy is not the end of feeling feminine and sexy. In fact, it is just the beginning! I know the breasts I have now opened the most important door ever—the door to the rest of my beautiful and more meaningful life, when sexy is something that emanates from the inside out. – Christina Anston