Saturday, June 20, 2009

my new rack

Warning: This post may contain too much information for some readers.

I have not worn a prosthesis for more than two years. Lymphedema and then scarring from radiation made the experience of wearing it excruciating. The last time I tried to wear it, I was on a date with my spouse in Florida. After an hour, I was in tears, it hurt so much.

Out it came and I haven't looked back.

At least not much.

I find that I'm pretty comfortable without a prosthesis. Sometimes I dress to camouflage and others I just don't care. And most of the time, I don't think about it at all.

Lately, though, I've wanted the chance to blend in a little more, to not have to lead with my cancer when I meet people. And although I have some great tops that work with my asymmetrical body, (from Rhea Belle, of course) I do get tired of the limited options open to me (it's hard enough finding funky clothes in larger sizes).

So, while feeling slightly guilty about giving into societal notions of beauty (in hiding my asymmetry, am I implying that I think there is something wrong with it?), I set out to visit Kelly's Mastectomy Boutique.

The entire operation took all of ten minutes ("Oh look! Boobs!" I exclaimed as I tried on prosthesis and bra) and cost several hundreds of dollars (recuperable, thanks to the government and my insurance plan. I wonder though, why do we need a referral from a doctor? Does anyone get a prosthesis for fun? What would they do with it?). I brought it home, stuck it in my closet and didn't wear it for almost a week.

Yesterday, I decided it was time for the prosthetic equivalent of a test drive. I was meeting Sassymonkey for pints and knitting on a sunny patio. It seemed like a low stakes endeavour, in that if I arrived with my boobs pointing in different directions, Sassymonkey was likely to be unperturbed. It was also a good opportunity to put the boob through it's paces, as I would be biking, knitting, eating, sitting in the warm sun and engaging in a social encounter.

My new fake boob is squishier in back and is supposed to be lighter - better for both my uneven chest wall and lymphedema. I wore it under a t-shirt with a picture on it (much harder to wear with an uneven chest) and one that is slightly snugger than I have been wearing lately. I noticed immediately that my waist, gone for ages, seemed to reappear. I also noticed that my posture seemed to improve.

I ran into someone I knew on my way to the pub. She said, "You look different. Have you done something to your hair?"

And after Sassymonkey and I had been sitting for a while, I pointed out my newly symmetrical rack to her. "That's what's different!" she exclaimed.

"You'd tell me if I were unbalanced right?" She assure me that she would (I felt unbalanced, I'm so unused to having this weird mound on the right side of my chest).

All in all, I declare the outing a success. The thing felt odd but there was no pain. I even forgot I was wearing it for a while.

When Sassymonkey and I parted we hugged goodbye (I later repeated this experience with T. Hugging feels very odd, like we are squishing a big pillow between us) and she noted, "You're still balanced."

I said I was glad but that I was going to take it off when I got home. "It's like breaking in a pair of shoes, you know?"

She said that she did.

As I type this, the stand-in for my right boob is nestled in it's box in my closet. I am toying with taking it out for a spin again this evening.

And one last thing: there needs to be more support and encouragement of women who create clothing for the post-mastectomy body. Also, it would be great if the bigger clothing companies would come across, by supporting the work of women like Jacqueline and modifying their own designs. I can't be the only woman who has had a mastectomy, does not love prosthesis and cannot/would not choose surgical reconstruction.


Anonymous said...

I'm proud of you either way. Today your blog made me feel less wimpy for sometimes just not having the strength to lead with my leg brace (easy to hide in the winter; hellishly hot under pants in the summer). And while I try to use another friend's mantra that "most people do not care or even remember" on a daily basis, it can be so draining to always be brave, ready to smile back,knowing that they know something about me - something painful - that I would not usually share with strangers. Thanks for sharing - you are beautiful for a whole nation!!

Nat said...

You know, I think it should be about choice...

Oh... and I'll totally tell you if your booob is lopsided. (Also if you have lipstick on your teeth.)

FlippyO said...

That's great! I'm glad that you have a comfy boob, so you can wear if you feel like it...and that it isn't torture. I know how my own bras feel just if I'm retaining water, so I can't even imagine how much your original prosthetic hurt.

I'm also glad that you have friends who will tell if you're lopsided. ;)

And hey, feel free to talk about your rack any time.

sassymonkey said...

giggle Sometimes I'm so oblivious. I totally didn't notice until you pointed it out. I knew *something* was different.

Dee said...

I'm one of those people who chose reconstructive surgery and it was just for the same sorts of reasons why you chose to get a prosthesis - to feel "normal" in my clothes and also so that I had more choice of clothing. So many of the styles today emphasize a woman's anatomy that it took some searching on my part to find shirts last year that sorta camouflaged my flat chest. I also didn't want to constantly "advertise" that I have cancer because of my flat chest.

I chose reconstruction for the same reasons why I wear extended wear contact lenses. I don't like the bother of taking on and off glasses or daily wear contact lenses. I just want to get up and go and not worry about things.

Reconstruction did take a bit of effort on my part, but I figured that it was a short-term sort of thing. There were a few months where the expander was "pumped up" and, while I had complications from radiation and lost the expander last August, I eventually was healed enough for reconstruction in February this year.

Reconstruction still isn't perfect - I barely had enough belly fat to make a boob that was an A/B cup (I was a "B" before) - and with the TRAM on the right and an implant on the left, I look lopsided - but it was the right choice for me.

I had an open skin wound from skin mets on the right side that lasted for almost a year. I had to change my dressings daily and sometimes 2-3 times a day. I finally got to the point where I changed it once every three days. But still. The cost and expense and time spent dealing with dressings was a major PITA.

The TRAM flap took care of that open skin wound that wouldn't heal and also brought in a better blood supply to that area that I had before. I still have some lymphedema, but I also have greater range of movement than I had post-mastectomy. The tissue where the flap is has a good blood supply and now I can stretch my shoulder back and my posture is improving.

So, while I am self-conscious of the lopsidedness, it's a whole helluva lot better than having an open wound that won't heal, than having a caved-in area that was causing my shoulder to round forward, my body image in my clothes (and my choice of clothes) has improved, and when I wake up in the morning, I have boobs. I must also say that I feel sexier (although not as sexy as before the mastectomy) with the reconstruction than I did before surgery.

I guess what I'm saying is that it was worth having the surgery for me. But undergoing an extra surgery with the anesthesia (and nausea that goes with it) and recovery time did take some effort, so I understand that this is not the right choice for everyone. In general, I am not someone who goes for plastic surgery. But it has made a difference for me and I'm glad that I had that choice and that insurance paid for it.

Anyway, sorry to go on and on. I'm glad that you seem to like your new boob. And, if you can't talk about your experiences with it on your own blog, then when can you? I think talking about it can help others with making these kinds of choices! Congratulations!

Michelle said...

That was a nice blog. I have been struggling with the effects of face & stomach. I am finally feeling like I just have to change a few things to to make this whole experience better. I have to invest in a few scarves.
Hugs to you!

Lene Andersen said...

Yep. Not leading with cancer. Not that I can relate exactly, but when I first got a modem 20 years ago (yikes, I feel old!), I became a member of a BBS and for about a year, didn't tell anyone about my disability. It was incredibly liberating. Kinda fun to be like everyone else and not have to go through the usual song-and-dance.

Of course, this means that when we have the patio meet this summer, I'll be looking at your chest. And I promise to tell you if it's akimbo. ;)

nonlineargirl said...

As a collector of good quotes, I can not resist "It was also a good opportunity to put the boob through it's paces" - cracked me up.

Blondie said...

How interesting! As a very small breasted woman, I understand in this very strange way. I gained some weight, which I was feeling terrible about, but then my boobs actually got a little bigger. So instead of looking like an 11 year old boy in too large shirts, I suddenly had a slight lift. People also asked me what was different. I said, "I got a bra. That fits." It really does make a difference.