Why I’m Struggling to Accept the Loss of My Breasts
“You look like a boy, mom!”
These are painfully honest words from my kids that are not said to hurt me. Their little toddler minds just say things as they see it. No hair, a flat chest, a little extra squishy in spots where I wasn’t before.
Nearly six months have passed since my radical double mastectomy, scheduled just two weeks after I found the mass in my right breast. I have been saying it hasn’t bothered me to lose my breasts and in some ways that is true. I felt relief when my surgeon told me I was a candidate to remove both breasts, instead of just one. It gave me a sense of security. I am only 30 years old, I didn’t want to give cancer a chance to attack my left side, as it had attacked my right. But after the surgery I felt some pressure to be “OK” with my new body; to be happy that I got the chance to have this lifesaving procedure. I put pressure on myself to be “okay” with the changes and then struggled with guilt when I wasn’t able to accept it as easily as I felt I should. I told myself “Life is more important than vanity” and I stuffed those feelings down.
Now the summer months are coming and I see the tank tops and bathing suits in my drawer. There is no more hiding behind my big bulky sweaters. I look different, and these reminders are coming more frequently than they were in the winter months. So, I am finally saying it: I am sad I lost my breasts.
My chest is not just “flat”. It is concave, with ridges of skin and tissues saved for a possible future reconstruction. There are bumps and lumps from inflammation that take months to come down. There are peaks of tissue under my arms that cause my back to look broader. My scars are beautiful, thanks to a talented surgeon, but they are still scars. Like two smiles, drawn across my chest by the shaky hand of a child. Permanent marks made on a scary day.
My anniversary is also looming. A day I would pull out and admire my wedding dress, even slipping it on just for fun to show my young daughters. I will never fill out that dress again. The feminine lace stiffly gapes away from my chest. A reminder that what made me feel most feminine is now gone. I’m not the same woman physically that my husband married, and that hurts my confidence too.
There is extra weight around my tummy, from medications that cause water bloat and weight gain. Yet another change that I am having a hard time accepting.
There are so many mental trials in this breast cancer journey: fear, anxiety, sadness. On top of that, I am now mourning a body that has seen a sudden and startling change. This grief is a very real part of the battle too.
I’m going to practice seeing the beauty in my new self. A beauty so many people have lovingly pointed out. A brave and strong body, gifted to me by God. With His providence, it will be a body that will see me to the end of this battle. Bald, mis-shaped, but beautiful in a different way while fighting a battle to live. Some days I need the extra reminder that it is okay to mourn this loss but to also acknowledge what my body has done for me. I’m alive. I don’t regret my bold decision to change my body, but it was not an easy one. – Anna Van Meppelen Scheppink