Bilateral Mastectomy Surgery, Seven Years Later: Nancy Stordahl Reflects
10 Jun 2017
Today we welcome blogger Nancy Stordahl, author of Getting Past the Fear: A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy, Cancer Was Not a Gift: A Memoir About Cancer as I Know It and Facing Your Mastectomy & Making Reconstruction Decisions. Nancy shares about her experience with bilateral mastectomy surgery.
A Quiet Remembrance
It’s been seven years since my bilateral mastectomy. Seven years! As the date (June 2nd) approached, no one other than me remembered, as far as I could tell anyway. Actually, dear hubby probably remembered, too, though perhaps for different reasons. We only discussed it after I brought it up. We both remember more quietly these days. And this is perhaps as it should be. Of course, I blogged about it. You can read my post titled, Facing My Bilateral Mastectomy & I Am Afraid.
And when I was facing my bilateral, I was darn scared. Who wouldn’t be, right?
I shared about my fear because so often patients, especially breast cancer patients, get screwed up messaging suggesting if you just remain positive, display a brave persona and keep on smiling, all will be fine.
It’s not quite that simple, is it?
Fear is normal when you’re facing scary things like cancer, surgeries or whatever it might be. To face your fears, first you have to admit you’re afraid. So, don’t be afraid to do that. Be real. Be you. It’s enough.
I Miss My Breasts
The day of my bilateral is seared into my memory forever. I will never forget. I can’t forget. I can’t forget because the mirror doesn’t allow for that. Sometimes the person looking back still startles me. My mind doesn’t allow me to forget either.
Another thing many of us who’ve had mastectomies, and likely some who’ve had disfiguring lumpectomies as well, hesitate to admit is that we miss our “old” breasts. It can be a difficult thing to say out loud. But I do miss mine.
I miss my breasts.
Sometimes it seems I’m not supposed to say this. I’m not even supposed to think it. I am supposed to have put all that behind me. I am supposed to be grateful and for the most part, I have and I am. There is even a certain amount of guilt involved in saying or thinking such a thing. After all, I’m alive. Shouldn’t this be enough? Well, yes, but…
I miss my breasts.
There is a lot of talk these days about mastectomies, prophylactic and otherwise. Some even say there are too many being done. In a way, having a mastectomy of any sort has almost become some weird kind of normal.
Along with all the discussion about mastectomies, there is lot of reconstruction talk as well. Sometimes this process is made to sound too easy and almost normal-like as well.
Again, it’s not.
Reconstructed breasts may or may not turn out “lovely”, but regardless of the outcome, they are still exactly that—reconstructed. They will always be stand-ins for the real deal. And if a woman chooses not to do reconstruction for whatever reason, she might be looked upon with skepticism by some and perhaps even made to feel she must explain her reasons for making the “radical” choice she made. Again, there’s guilt inserted into this picture.
Why is this?
Two things struck me as I was thinking about this post:
- First of all, after a breast cancer diagnosis things often get rolling really fast and there isn’t time allowed or time taken to grieve for sacrificed body parts. We need and deserve time to grieve for things we lose to illness—things like hair, breasts, ovaries or whatever it might be. It’s important to acknowledge the losses and be allowed to grieve. A partner might need to grieve as well.
- Second, even though I blog about breast cancer and loss and have undoubtedly used the word “breasts” a gazillion times, it took me nearly three years to come out and say on the blog, I miss my breasts.
This is a strange absurdity for a breast cancer and loss blog, don’t you agree?
For some reason, there seems to be a certain amount of judgment involved when a breast cancer patient, says she misses her breasts. (And think for a minute how our partners might perhaps be unfairly criticized if they were to openly admit they missed their loved one’s breasts).
I miss my breasts.
They were nothing special as breasts go, but they were mine. I don’t think of my reconstructed ones as mine. Even seven years later, my implants still feel quite foreign. This is not necessarily how other women feel about their reconstructed breasts. It’s how I feel about mine.
So yes, I miss the breasts I gave up to this disease; I always will. I should not have to feel guilty for saying such a thing.
Neither should you.
Because some things need to be said.
Nancy Stordahl blogs at Nancy’s Point where she shares candidly about all aspects of her cancer experience. To learn more, you’re invited to visit her blog.