Breast cancer brought about many questions in my life but one of the biggest was, did I want to continue the relationship I had with what I thought were, my two life-long buddies, my breasts. Throughout my life, I have had a shifting relationship with my boobs. While I have always thought them aesthetically pleasing and a great source of comfort for some, they seem to have had their own agenda, committed to causing me embarrassment, discomfort and more recently, enforcing the adage “Be careful what you wish for.”
My adolescence, like many girls, had been spent eagerly waiting for my boobs to grow. I would have swapped my entire Cindy doll wardrobe for a AAA bra and to be allowed to ditch the liberty bodice. When they did begin to make an appearance they paid me back for my impatience by ballooning out of all reasonable proportion. In today’s age of over inflated lips, faces and boobs, I would have been the envy of many but back in the days when the only over inflated things were your shoulder pads, my boobs were nothing short of an embarrassment. They prevented me from wearing tight tee shirts or close-fitting tops. Men spoke to me with their eyes fixed on my chest, never making eye contact and oblivious to the beer soaking through their suede shoes. Thankfully, my thick Yorkshire skin was able to laugh off the many inappropriate jokes and I gave back as good as I got.
Things are different today, this is the age of ‘The Bigger The Better’ and now would be the time to love my big boobs. Sadly, this was not to be, as it was now that my face began to show the ravages of time, it was now when I really needed those perky little devils with their chapel hat peg nipples to draw attention away from my face but it was now that they decided to begin the inevitable deflation process .
I like to think that I am not a vain person and I’ve never really been that hung up on how I look. Working with horses and spending most of your days in big coats and muddy wellies tends to do that to you. My philosophy was ‘You are what you are, make the best of it and live!’
Sadly, this carefree attitude began to take a bit of a dip when I hit the big 5 0. My lack of interest in make-up and fashion no longer gave the appearance of a ‘girl with better things to do’ and instead was replaced by the ‘bag lady’ look. I began to miss my much bemoaned 18-year-old boobs and where previously, I would never have considered any kind of cosmetic surgery and scoffed at those who did, I couldn’t help thinking that my beagle eared boobs could do with a bit of medical intervention but as the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.” It was about this time that my boobs decided to develop breast cancer.
I’m one of those annoying people who likes to look for the positive in every situation, “Look on the bright side, cup half full, every cloud..” bla, bla, bla, but finding the positives in being told that your breasts are killing you, was a bit of a stretch even for me. The tumour in my right breast was quite large and aggressive so the chemo I was to have for the next six months was to be equally aggressive. I was given neo-adjuvant treatment, this means having the chemo first in order to reduce the size of the tumour, which in turn will hopefully mean less invasive surgery.
Six months of chemo gave me plenty of time to think about my breasts, how I felt about them, what they meant to me and of equal importance, what they meant to my husband. Note that I now referred to them as breasts, I no longer had a friendly, intimate relationship with them where I would fondly refer to them as Dorothy and Delores as I had affectionately christened them, they were now just a body part, an enemy hell-bent on my destruction and from day one I decided I wanted rid of them.
Though I was fully aware that at best I would need a lumpectomy and at worst a mastectomy, I also knew that the only option I would be happy with was a bi-lateral mastectomy. I did not want to wake up every morning worriedly examining the evil mounds, waiting for the dreaded day that another lump had formed. Not that a mastectomy can stop the return of cancer, nor can it take away the demons that haunt your mind but for me, it would reduce the risk of recurrence and dampen the mental stress.
So, this was to be my ‘every cloud’ moment, a mastectomy would reduce my cancer risk and the re-construction would mean a decent pair of perky boobs belying my age. The only concern I had about this decision was that when I asked for the removal of my un-affected breast, it would be denied on the grounds of no medical need. On the day of my consultation, I went through a whole argument with them in my head, preparing myself to demand, beg and plead for them to agree to my request. My husband, who was in full agreement with me, had been briefed to argue my case. Sitting across the desk from the kind faced professor, he said he was pleased to tell me that the tumour had shrunk considerably and that he would be performing a breast saving lumpectomy. Gripping the edge of my chair, I took a deep breath and spilled out my preference for a bi-lateral mastectomy. Holding his gaze, I waited for rejection but my argument was as deflated as my breasts, he nodded kindly and said, “If that’s what will make you happy, then that is what you will have.”
I was so relieved and the only down side was that, due to the length of time I would be under anaesthetic and the fact that my body had already gone through a gruelling chemotherapy regime, they refused to do them both at the same time or to do an immediate reconstruction. I was disappointed but this turned out to be best thing they could have said.
In August 2009, without one tear shed, one drop of regret or fear, I said goodbye to my right breast and so began a rather awkward relationship with my left one. I didn’t have much to say, think or feel about it, it was just there. I don’t know if it missed its mate, ‘formerly known as Dolores’, I certainly didn’t so why should the mound, formerly known as Dorothy, care.
I had to wear prosthesis to even up my chest and I was always a little conscious that somebody would notice the difference and wonder what the hell was going on under my jumper, especially when the fake one managed to work its way up or down. You know how it is when the wire in your bra works its way through the material and escapes up and out of the top of your blouse, well imagine what it’s like when your fake boob makes a bid for freedom!
When January 2010 came around for my second mastectomy and I could finally say, “Ta Ta Titty, I had no regrets, no fears, no doubts.
After my first operation, I had looked down the front of my gown expecting to see large swathes of mummy like bandaging. Instead, I was quite disgruntled to see nothing more than what could only be described as a large sticking plaster! I had gone through such extensive surgery I needed dramatic bandaging to show to my friends, I needed visible evidence of my bravery, after all, the bald head just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
So, when I looked inside my gown the second time around, I knew that again there would be nothing more than a sticking plaster to show for my extreme surgery. This time would be different though, this time there would be no lonely breast, this time there would be my disfigured, ugly, unfeminine chest. With great despondency and trepidation, I took a daring peek inside my ever so flattering hospital gown. Staring down I was momentarily stupefied by what I saw and I was wholly un-prepared for how I felt!
My completely flat chest bore no resemblance to the gruesome freak I had expected to see and I felt no sense of loss or hatred towards my body. I can honestly say that I was thrilled by what I saw and unexpected though it was, I loved the way I felt! At first, I thought it must be the anaesthetic giving me a medicated high but from that day to this, my feelings have not changed. I am happy with my athletic/boyish shape, I love not having the weight or the pain that can come with your boobs and I really, really love the feeling of unrestricted freedom that it gives me, so much so I could get quite evangelical about it. I don’t expect anybody to understand how I feel, as I know for sure I would not have believed it before I had experienced it. Moreover, I am so relieved that I did not get the immediate re-construction I had so desperately wanted.
If I could change history and not have breast cancer and still have my boobs, be they embarrassingly perky or dismally deflated, I would choose to have them because having them would mean not having had cancer but life without breasts isn’t all that bad and it may not be a silver lining but it’s definitely better than the alternative. And now, while there will be many things in life that I am not happy with and would like to change, I will always have a little inner me, tapping on the back of my mind and shouting “Be careful what you wish for.”