I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my mastectomy. It’s been fourteen years since the surgery and I’m comfortable with myself, in fact it’s really fun to be me; always has been. It occurs to me, however, that there are plenty of women new to the cancer dance who might feel trepidatious about the prospect of being asymmetrical and consider instead reconstruction despite the possible problems later (harder to diagnose a breast cancer reoccurrance, evidence of other cancer linked to implants,1 and the fact that it is another surgery.) With that in mind I thought I’d lay out the pros and cons of living with a mastectomized body from my peculiar point of view.
So, pros first or cons? I’m always one to save the best for last although as I get older I wonder if that is the best scenario. My aunt Lucy’s never-never drawer comes to mind. All the best quality things she ever received went straight to the never-never drawer, never to be seen again. That’s not really my style. I wear fine wool and silk whilst chopping firewood and tea really tastes best in bone china. Still, getting the bad news out of the way first is always good, so, on to the cons.
The biggest drawback for me is that with only one breast there are some styles of clothing that just don’t work anymore. In the beginning I tried to take one triangle off my string bikini top but the horizontal tie really needs two boobs to keep it in place. And I tried cutting out one side of a bra but that wasn’t happening either. I was never offered a prosthetic breast so I don’t know how that works. Maybe the weight keeps everything in place but it still seems that things might go awry and off kilter to me. Meanwhile, I could use the support on the other side, so I resort to very tight tank tops and camisoles. Also, V-neck tops really don’t work. The one breast draws the V off centre, alas. Same with T-shirts with a picture or message; they become lopsided in a not good way. I still wear my University of Gallifrey, Fighting Time Lords one though, remembering to tug to the right once in a while.
As a result, I favour tankini swim suits but finding ones without built in bras is not easy. One really does not want to look filled out and supported on one side with a collapsed souffle on the other. Not a good look. Also, not a BIG deal, but I was close to actually having cleavage before my mastectomy but now there will never be cleave to my ‘vage. Sigh.
Another possible con is that many men have a predilection for breasts, having a propensity for visual stimulation, and so are likely put off by the Amazon-warrior shape of the single breasted woman. This I’m sure leads to many women feeling less than attractive at a time when they feel like their bodies are harbouring the enemy. There’s not much I can say to that scenario. Our society is overly concerned with ideals of physical beauty that few can live up to anyway. I would not want to involve myself with someone so shallow as to not see the me, intrinsic, as opposed to the me, blatant. Self-esteem is a problem for everyone to wrestle with. We don’t have any control over how we are perceived, only how we react to the world and how we feel about ourselves. I think the best thing is to find creative outlets and passions that fuel your spirit; you’ll feel good about yourself and fabulous people will be attracted to you no matter your outer shell.
That’s it for the cons; now for the good news: benefits abound for the one-breasted woman. First, I’m all set for a striking Victor/Victoria Halloween costume. If I really wanted to I could make one side a sleek and styling tuxedo and the other a sexy ball gown ala Julie Andrews.
With my penchant for garments of all kinds, costumes, really, I find that my clothes hang nicely on the flat side and I can add interesting detail to balance out the prominent other side. Big cargo pockets, embroidered details and other things. I do wear a lot of vests (waistcoats, as it were) and layers can obscure from the casual observer. I’ve found that most people don’t notice my asymmetrical figure. I am still working on blouse designs that accommodate both sides, flat on one and darted to hang properly on the other. I performed a mastectomy on a fiberglass mannequin so now I can drape on something other than myself, so that’s cool. (I’m certainly glad my surgeon,”The Highlander” didn’t use a jig saw.)
My surgical scar is on the right so that when I drive my seatbelt lies across the flat part and does not cut into me at all. I guess if you were the opposite it would be great to be a passenger. Also, when I wear a shoulder bag I cross it from my left shoulder and it too lies nicely across. It’s easier to see what’s inside without a breast in the way.
On the positive side of close encounters of the intimate kind, one breast is really better than two, I think. There’s always the problem of one getting more attention than the other. I don’t know about other women but I always had one more erogenous breast than the other and lucky for me that’s the one I still have. With one only there’ll never be that idea of, well, get on to other body parts, like, right now! And there is no confusion as I imagine there is where reconstruction was the option and one of the objects experiences no sensation.
Mammograms are half as bad. That squeeze is excruciating, but even worse when, after one, you know the other side will be tortured as well. For me, no second side torture. Bonus!
If you find yourself with both hands occupied and someone asks for directions you can indicate direction without dropping anything. Almost like having a third hand. Well, maybe not.
Plainly, there are more advantages than drawbacks. The biggest is, I’m still alive and well and my brush with mortality has only increased my appreciation of all that is good and fun in the world. Many years ago I was asked at a party, What do you do? To which I replied, Everything I like, as much as I can. My mastectomy is a reminder that enjoying now, is most important because there is no knowing how many more nows any of us have. Attitude, Baby! Feeling good feels good and my mastectomy does not affect that in any negative way.
1 Breast Implants and Cancer Revisited: Plastic Surgeons Cover Up New Evidence of Human cancer From Implants, Public Citizen Health Letter, February 2011- Vol. 27. No. 2