“She got her looks from her father. He’s a plastic surgeon.” Groucho Marx
It’s not easy to walk into a plastic surgeon’s office for reconstruction after breast cancer. On my first visit, I sat in the waiting room and fumed. All around me were glossy pamphlets and posters promising “enhancement” and “transformative” procedures that would “rejuvenate, polish and refine.”
My transformation felt like staring into a fun house mirror. With the stereotactic and surgical biopsies, my body was becoming more and more freakish and unfamiliar. Being deconstructed bit by bit, I feared reconstruction meant more damage, not less. I wasn’t one of those smiling happy pamphlet people thrilled at the prospect of bigger breasts, smaller noses or fuller lips. I wanted nothing of lifts, tucks, fills, augmentations and reductions. And don’t get me started on “mommy makeovers.”
No. No. No. I was there under protest. I was not one of those happy people, submitting to the knife to find my “best and most beautiful self.” I was fine with my body (such as it was) before this all started and did not want to be “constructed” like some kind of inanimate object. I didn’t belong there and wanted desperately to leave.
After the plastic surgeon discussed my options, he asked if I had any other questions. I had a statement, “I just want you to know that I hate this.”
It’s been four and a half years and I still do.
To this day, the scar tissue created by my TRAM flap surgery causes constant discomfort in my abdomen. I’m also numb from just above my groin to the area between my breasts and my right breast is numb too. So basically, I have too much feeling and not enough feeling going on at the same time.
Aesthetically, I’ve been told by many medical professionals that my surgeon did a beautiful job and my breasts are certainly higher than they were before the surgeries. I’ve talked to enough survivors to know I’m very lucky to have the result I do. Even so, my right breast is oddly shaped and my cleavage is far from symmetrical. While medical professionals see beautiful “work,” I see a transformation I never wanted.
That’s just one of the many struggles we have, isn’t it? How to accept the naked truth when it’s just me, a mirror and my scars. I’ve written about scars many times and have noticed that I’ve gone from begrudging to slightly more accepting. My good friend Lockey Maisonneuve has gone through the same process and proclaimed her acceptance by revealing her scars to the world. I could never find the courage to reveal all as she has done, but I completely get where she is coming from: “I have the scars. My scars went from reminding me that I’m busted to reminding me that I’m strong. I faced my own mortality. I survived. I am happy. I love and accept my body.”
Another struggle is dealing with side effects no one warned us about. My plastic surgeon told me about the numbness, but never discussed the scar tissue issue with me. Interviewed by writer and fellow blogger Diane Mapes, blogger Lisa Ducanson felt like she “was “sold a bill of goods” by doctors who weren’t completely forthcoming about the risks.” Instead, Duncanson’s first plastic surgeon told her, “You’re going to have even better boobs!” My plastic surgeon used the word “better” with me too. Although I understand what he was trying to say now, at the time it just made me mad that anyone would suggest that reconstruction was a benefit of having cancer.
The truth is that reconstruction after breast surgery is not a boob job, as Mapes points out in her must-read article. Reading Diane’s words made me mad all over again, as I remembered the many times a TRAM flap was referred to as a “tummy tuck” in my presence.
Thank you Diane for pointing out the many painful differences between elective breast enhancement and reconstructive surgery after breast cancer. I’m right behind you should you have to smack the next person who refers to all you’ve been through as a “boob job.”
And God help the next person who refers to a TRAM flap as a “tummy tuck.”
Survival > Existence,
Image courtesy Airman Magazine