Mastectomy. Though I won't know for sure until November 1st's biopsy results come in, that's what I'm expecting I'll have to face two weeks later. Have I told you that surgery is scheduled for November 15th? What kind of surgery is yet to be determined, but this is what I expect. A call from Dr. Z yesterday confirms this; she wanted to prepare me for the possibility, told me to think about what questions I might have.
I read about mastectomy in Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book last night after J~ fell asleep, and cried silently over the details. There will be pain, there will be rehabilitation issues for my arm, and a long, slow recovery — my doctor tells her patients to expect to be out of work for six weeks. There will be permanent numbness where the breast once was. Something akin to phantom limb, which I'll call phantom boob, occasionally happens. Some people have nerve damage that leaves them with permanent pain. A huge swath of flesh will be taken, tunneling up to the collarbone and into the armpit. I've got little more than two weeks to wrap my mind around this.
Then there's the question of reconstructive surgery. Though I'll hear out a plastic surgeon, I expect I'll decide that this is not for me. I don't dye my hair, I almost never shave my legs. With the exception of my wedding ring, I don't wear makeup or jewelry except on the most special of occasions. Of course it's a very very individual decision and I would never fault those who choose it, but the extra surgeries and the possible complications and the very idea of a prosthetic that I can't remove at the end of the day does not appeal to me in the least.
I've already Googled clothing for women who've had mastectomies and so far I've not come across what I want - bras and bathing suits that will support my remaining breast (assuming I have a remaining breast) without gaping on the other side, or filling in the asymmetry with ruffles or padding. I want fitted tops that don't disguise the truth. I think of Aimee Mullins running on her high-tech carbon fiber cheetah legs, and wonder - can't I be powerfully, bravely asymmetrical? Can't I have extra racing stripes from neck to armpit and leave it at that? (If anyone knows any resources for this kind of thing, please send them my way.)
Don't get me wrong, I'm dreading the stares and the discomfort I cause for others. I know this is not going to be easy. I've had a hard enough time in the locker room already, feeling shame and inhibition over the bruising from my first biopsy.
I also worry about balance and the health of my back. My breasts are not small, the weight differential will not be insignificant.
There are a group of women I swim with regularly. I think I will ask them to come to my house and be with me and my new appearance before I go public with it. I'm sure they will be wonderful, and I'll probably weep. I'd want to also give them a chance to talk and think about how it feels to them to see me this way. We all fear breast cancer, and by "we" I mean all of us women. And now I'm going to be a living reminder of that fear. I want to be okay with that. And I'll need that human moment before venturing back into the world of strangers with all the pretense that will surround their feelings.
I'll get a lightweight prosthetic and special bras with a pocket to hold it in place, and once once the surgery wound is fully healed, I'll get a silicone prosthetic too, the kind that adheres tightly to the skin. I'll wear that whenever I want to simply fit in. And I'll keep in mind what my sister-in-law said: I'm allowed to change my mind.