Mastectomy: Where's My Boob?

Mastectomy: Where's My Boob
You get so smart with cancer…
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When I was a little girl I remember waiting and dreaming of the day when I could be fitted for my starter bra.  Finally the day came and my mother and I went to a special lingerie shop to be measured by a saleswoman who had a high pitched voice (I thought the entire neighborhood could hear her) as she discussed my size and development.  Finally, what seemed like 2 years later, we left with 2 new white cotton standard starter bras.  The bows in front of the bras weighed more and were bigger than the bra itself, and that day I promised myself in the future I would be purchasing my bras alone.  At different times in my lifetime I have wished my breasts to be smaller, perkier, and higher and finally when larger breasts became popular I was happy to have them on board.  I have purchased bras in lace, cotton, different colors, no under wire, under wire, backless, low front, strapless, all for different occasions and sizes according to my weight and my outfits.

As I got older my boobs got lower and lower and I started wearing my necklines lower and lower and jewelry larger and larger to try to offset the gravity.

Funny how your boobs and your shoes get lower at the same time without even speaking to each other…maybe they speak when we are sleeping.

Now looking back, I know I took my boobs for granted and I shouldn’t have complained about gravity changes, or size, or my first starter bra experience, for one day my right boob would get ill and have to be removed.


The day of my mammogram (I went diligently every year) a friend and I went to a restaurant in Montecito recommended by Oprah on one of her shows.  The ride to the restaurant from Los Angeles was a lovely day filled with perfect weather and good food.  How can one day hold such perfection and on the same day turn upside down…it does and its called life.

In the late afternoon after the outing I went for my mammogram…left boob finished…

O. K…. and I remember thinking one-half down one-half to go…boy, can we make the machine any tighter?…. I’m still able to breathe…o.k. hang on….I’m almost finished until next year…and then the right boob…where is the technician?  Why isn’t she saying O. K. all done and see you next year?  What is that?  What is wrong?  What is that shadow on top of my breast?  Our family does heart disease not cancer…and then she said the doctor would review the mammogram and call me ASAP, but for now just relax as it could be several things...with the exception of drinking or heavy drugs I don’t know anyone that could relax…and then the doctor called...need more tests...don’t panic yet…wow...anyone have a hot fudge sundae?  I need a large one with the works…if fact I need extra, extra fudge and I need it now.


How do you tell your family that you love most in the world not to worry but you have cancer?  Fast. Honestly. This was one of the hardest moments for me.  You have to remember that you would be there for them if they needed you and you have to give them the same chance to be with you. Wasn’t it just months before that I celebrated the birth of my twin grandsons? I wish my news to my son and daughter-in-law was as joyful as the gift they gave me. How can I tell my mother that her daughter has the big C?  When I tell her at the retirement home, she tells me that if I need her she could move in with me and take care of me…always my mother...she couldn’t take care of herself at the time but her first concern was me. A few days ago she was my main concern and now I tell her not to worry and be positive and I pray to God to comfort her as much as possible and feel terrible for bringing this unhappiness to the ones I love. This was one of the largest burdens and I’m sure whatever the illness, one of the hardest part of the journey is telling your family.


I scheduled my mastectomy for 11/30/2004, after my favorite Holiday Thanksgiving…I’m not missing my turkey and stuffing for any boob…also had a wedding of a friend’s daughter scheduled and wanted my last public appearance with 2 boobs to be in a low black dress and be able to dance the night away…. I had so much to do before the surgery…take the dog to the groomer...stock up on water and food…go to a class on what happens after the mastectomy filled with helpful tips…how to clean my drains…don’t vacuum (such a pity), no wire bras for a while…how to sleep. My sister is coming from Chicago to help me after the surgery…one of my favorite people coming to visit for a much different reason that we usually have…NO SHOPPING FOR A WHILE…I was getting my ducks in a row and focused on my new main mission HEALTH.


After the surgery you have drains and are cut under your arm where the lymph nodes have been removed. My sister helped me with the cleaning of the drains and we pretended we were little girls again and this was only a temporary game.  When I watched her change my bandages I watched her face filled with concern and love and I knew I would have to face the mirror soon and make peace with my new body.

My sister and I slept a lot the first few days. Which is harder, being the caretaker or being the one needing the care? BOTH! I am 5 years older than my sister and very bossy and one my drains spilled and then the dog threw up and I was asking her to take care of both problems at the same time. It was my frustration at not being able to handle everything at that time…not having any control….forgive me Beverly…I barked orders and ruined your attempt to keep a stiff upper lip for me while our world was changing…it only hurt us because we love each other.


A month after my mastectomy I went to be fitted for bras and a prosthesis, which distributes the weight of your body to keep your spine straight.  Wasn’t it only yesterday I was fitted for my starter bra and now I was being fitted for my prosthesis?  How time flies when you are having fun.  This was the first time someone other than my doctor, my sister and myself would see my incision and I watched the saleswomen’s face while I undressed.  She simply smiled, measured and made me feel comfortable with my new body.  She had seen it all, and what I had was no more or no less than the other women she measured every day and helped.  She brought in my new prosthesis (and my new partner) which I named Betty. 

Betty felt awkward and when we first met and we didn’t get along, but after a few minutes I knew Betty and I were going to be friends and would be together in our new adventures.  I called the shop over the next few days making sure I was adjusting Betty in the correct position and not putting her upside down and even to this day I feel like a window washer on a high rise building adjusting each side of my bras until I feel Betty is comfortable.  When I returned home from purchasing Betty we looked in the bedroom and decided on sleeping arrangements.  Finally, I put Betty on top of my computer.  She would be well taken care of, live in beautiful bras, travel everywhere with me, share my friends and grandchildren and never have to pay rent and be a single lonely prosthesis again.  I would take care of her and she would take care of me and we accepted ourselves as good friends on an adventure.  Betty knew she was adopted and not my real boob, but we made a pact to love each other and be strong and happy.

When you meet people they do not know what is going on under your clothes but see your heart and soul.  Betty and I wanted everyone to feel comfortable and see us for our strength, pride, love and gratitude and I usually introduced her when it was someone who knew about the mastectomy to break the ice.  She became a source of laughter and smiles when I intro,duced her and made a comfort zone for other people but mostly myself.  How important are family and friends in your recovery?  Everything!  How important am I in this world?  I have always thought of myself as average by all accounts…not tall…not thin…not brilliant…never able to release my hair like in the shampoo commercials with shiny thick hair tumbling down my back and never was a CEO of a large company. This was my measuring stick until the cancer and then my friends and family through love showed me how important I am. I am important and we all are in our worlds. You get so smart with cancer…if we could all stop for just a minute and see what counts and what is important and makes us happy.


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