Plastic surgery and post breast cancer vanity / guilt

When I told one of my colleagues at the University of Ottawa that I was moving to Silicon Valley in California, she comment that she thought it was “Silicone valley, because of all the fake boobs”. At the time it was rather funny.

Living in California especially, the whole idea of cosmetic plastic surgery is loaded. It brings to mind women who feel the need to change their looks in order to be accepted, or to get that acting job. It brings to mind millionaires who can afford to have their bodies sculpted as a way to try to increase their self confidence. It reeks of vanity for vanity sake, and feels judgmental.

In the last couple of weeks others have posted about the frail body image of women who have gone through breast cancer treatment: Nancy talks about reclaiming body image, and Diane talks about coming to terms with your post-cancer body.

I never would have thought of myself as the type of person who would have voluntarily opted for cosmetic surgery. So far, I’ve been able to self-justify my surgical decisions. My first plastic-only surgery is scheduled for tomorrow (or next Tuesday, I’m awaiting word). If I didn’t have a hole in my belly, it would be considered strictly cosmetic (scar tissue clean up and liposuction of the abdomen). It would not be medically necessary – and yet it would still be covered under insurance. One benefit to breast cancer is that while I’m insured in the US, I’ll have unlimited access to revision surgeries.  This means that if I decide 6 months from now that I want larger breasts, I can go in for a fat grafting procedure, where my plastic surgeon will do liposuction on a secondary site (e.g. my thighs). I can choose to have my body surgically sculpted.

With this comes waves of guilt. I find myself self-justifying the procedure. I’m more interested in the lipo of the thighs than I am in want of larger breasts.

Unlike many women who go through breast cancer treatment, I’ve always been able to look at myself in the mirror. When I look at my wounds and my scars, I am not judgmental of what I see. My lines are kind of funny at the moment, which is what I’m hoping the plastic surgery will fix – I feel guilty that I want my body lines to run smoothly without the extra pouches of fat.

I’m more concerned when I look at the scale. I hate that chemo and now the anti-hormone treatments make it nearly impossible to loose weight. I do eat right. I do exercise. Nothing seems to work, so there is that ray of hope that comes with the thought of plastic surgery – but also that twinge of guilt at the thought that I’m letting my vanity get the best of me.

I’m afraid to go clothes shopping – I’ve completely avoided it for the last 9-months – such that many of my clothes are threadbare and in desperate need of replacing. My body is a completely different shape now. The last surgery changed my hourglass shape into something more of an A-frame. It may change again with this next surgery, so I’m waiting to go shopping – I’m waiting for things to be a little more stable but I cannot wait indefinitely.

My emotional self gives me permission to do any of the plastic surgeries that I want. I’ve earned the right to choose to have my body sculpted. My thinking self argues back that I’m being vain – that I might be opting for surgeries for vanity reasons only, and really they are not necessary. But then I ask myself, does reclaiming a positive body image worth the surgeries? Will the surgeries really help? Am I being weak by feeling that I might need the surgery in order to have a positive self body image?


  • Becky


  • I worked for a not very likable contractor once and not nice construction site rumor was that he had “bought a boob job” for his wife for Christmas. It seemed ridiculous and vain but after finding out she’d had breast surgery it made sense. Cancer had taken a lot away from that couple, so why begrudge her a bit of comfort? With Leslie working in aquatics and the kids in swim club for years, I know there’s lots people out there working on their body image that aren’t vain or self-involved, they just like to look good.

  • Yesterday I received a beautiful bouquet from the parents of your husband, celebrating 9 years since my last round of chemotherapy. I am thinking of you today, hoping that everything goes well with your surgery and that you can celebrate 9 years, 19 years and many more.

    Karen Wight

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