Several women in the breast cancer blogosphere have commented on how inappropriate it is to say to someone with breast cancer that “at least you get a free boob job” or any variant thereof (see Reconstruction after breast cancer: It’s not a boob job). I agree. If you have never had breast cancer, you really do not understand how difficult reconstruction is – especially after your body has gone through chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments, which make reconstruction that much more difficult. It is certainly not a route that the majority of us would have chosen to go through. On top of that, reconstruction is also a difficult personal choice – to choose the physical pain of the surgery over the emotional well being and struggle with body image, a struggle that many of the women had even before their breast cancer diagnosis.
With that being said, as someone who is still recovering, but recently (Dec 17) had a double-nipple-sparing-mastectomy with immediate DIEP Flap reconstruction (a 12-hour surgery), I have the right to celebrate my new breasts (noobs). I am one of the luckier ones – I didn’t need radiation as part of my cancer treatment. I did neo-adjuvant chemotherapy, which meant that my reconstruction did not need to be delayed. I was able to get through the worst of the surgeries in two surgeries (I’ll have a third to clean things up once the current one has fully healed). Instead of years of reconstruction, I have a reasonable hope of being done with surgery before the end of 2015. The reconstruction surgery wasn’t 100% successful – in that I did loose some skin in the process. My nipples aren’t what they used to be – but they are still all mine and I won’t need to go through the process of nipple reconstruction. My noobs are perky – now that four weeks have passed I’m allowed to set them free. I can go without a bra. I tried one of my favourite shirts on, one that I always needed a bra to wear, and I’m quite happy with how it looks. It will look even better when I’m not wearing the abdominal binder. I need to wear the binder for another 4-weeks. It almost feelings like my original buddha belly – but even as the picture shows, I do have a slimmer profile (and I’m still a bit swelly overall from the surgery). I’m sure the post-cancer me will look ‘healthier’ and slimmer than the pre-cancer me – which is rather ironic really.
This brings us to another cancer language ‘trap’ as Nancy calls them – see Nine Cancer Language Traps. That of cancer being a ‘gift’. Honestly, I would rather go back to the pre-cancer me – the lumpy chubby me. The one that was strong, and growing stronger each day as I enjoyed regular 30+km bike rides. I may growth through this experience – as we grow through all of life’s experiences, but this last 8 months has been anything but a gift.
So, as I struggle through the aches and pains of recovery, I will celebrate how I look even when I’m not yet feeling great. Feel free to tell me ‘you look great’ … but don’t ever use the term ‘free boob job’ unless you too have experienced a breast cancer reconstruction, in which case, we can share that ‘insider’ experience.