My Foobs, My Scars and My Bra Ambivalence

My new foobs are feeling better and better you guys. The soreness is still there on the left side whenever I do something with my left arm and there’s still lots of numbness but they are really softening like real boobs. And the last vestiges of my stitches have finally dissolved. I think D cups were wishful thinking though. The Boob Whisperer thought I could have them but with the maximum volume silicone implant sold in the U.S., (800cc) I’m about a full C. A very perky C. I was reading some comments in a private breast cancer Facebook group and there were women taller and heavier than I am saying with 800 cc they barely fit in a B cup so it’s really about your height, frame and body type. I am 5’6, have broad shoulders, am medium to large boned and moderately plus-sized. 800 cc will look different depending on your body type. This makes sense because I’ve seen plastic surgery stories on RealSelf and women were always asking “how many cc to get to (whatever bra cup size)?” The doctors would always reply that it varies from person to person and this is true with augmentation and reconstruction.

Now because of the little bit of extra skin on my right side, which he already trimmed during my exchange surgery, it doesn’t look perfect but he wants to watch it for another few months. If it doesn’t resolve on it’s own he will make an adjustment, which I knew might be a possibility. In clothes they really look great and with a bra they look magnificent. BUT! I don’t think I can ever wear a bra again. I put one on for the first time the other day and it was comfortable as far as bras go and I’d been professionally fitted with it, but I couldn’t stand it. I can’t explain it but I felt like “Gah!  There’s something suffocating me, GETITOFF!” Like when you accidentally go to bed with your clothes on after a night of partying and wake up feeling like you’re in a straight jacket. I took it off after like three hours although I reverently hung it up in the closet rather than smash it into a drawer. This was the first time I’d worn a bra since my mastectomy last May so maybe I will get used to it again eventually. I tried a sports bra and that was actually worse and looked awful. Or I could just skip it, which The Boob Whisperer prefers anyway, at least for now.

I’ve done some research about this bra business and as far as I can tell, the boob-stifling has been going on for centuries. But about a hundred years ago, Mary Phelps Jacob designed what would become the modern bra. It was mostly just just like two handkerchiefs sewn together and fit like a loose halter top. She created it as an alternative to the whalebone or metal corsets women were stuffing themselves into at the time. Apparently there was a French study done a few years ago-of course it’s the French-wherein the benefit of wearing a bra was called into question and ultimately debunked. Of course there were plenty of criticisms of the study and it further stated if you’ve worn a bra for years there’s no benefit in suddenly ditching it now.

One thing this bra situation has made me do is examine my scars and really take them all in. Sure I’ve seen them on a daily basis but I don’t think I fully absorbed the magnitude of them. There is about a two and a half inch scar from my chemotherapy port below my right collar bone. There are six inch mastectomy scars below each foob and two inch scars near my underarms where the lymph nodes were removed. There is an eight inch scar on my back from the flap surgery and an oval scar on my left foob where that tissue and muscle from my back was transferred. Also, my entire left chest (minus the white-skinned flap) is a darker color from radiation a year ago. The scars are ugly for sure but they are also a beautiful reminder of my strength.

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You Might Think You Know, But You Don’t

I participate in a couple of social media breast cancer groups, and one thing I’ve been seeing over and over are stories of women whose co-workers, family and/or friends say things like “oh I know so and so went through this and she didn’t miss any work” or “so and so was back to normal after (fill in the blank).” I’ve read so many stories about women being bullied and made to feel weak.  Just reading all of these makes the steam bubble up and spew out of my head.  I’m sure there are people who when they have an illness might milk the sympathy card but this is not what I am talking about.  My own coworkers have been lovely, supportive and kind so I’m lucky, at least nothing untoward was ever said to my face and if it was, I would probably do bodily violence.

The trauma caused to your body by a mastectomy is unimaginable and horrific and you cannot even fathom it unless you’ve gone through it. There are all kinds of tissue, muscle and nerve problems because they’ve been sliced through.  This pain and discomfort hangs around for months and years.  And if you’ve had reconstruction too you can just compound that pain.  In my case, I went into chemotherapy four weeks later.  My breast cancer compatriot at work who was going through chemo at the same time, had to have six rounds, while I had four.  Her chemo cocktail was also slightly different from mine.  There are many different types of breast cancer and they all come with varying treatments, including different types of chemo.  A third woman at work who’d undergone chemo ahead of us didn’t miss any work at all, not a single day.  I am going to say right here and now, that is NOT the norm.  It’s great that she was able to do that and I would say she is a strong woman, but that does not mean that my compatriot and I were not as strong, by any stretch of the imagination.  It doesn’t mean we weren’t able to just suck it up.  Number one, not all chemotherapies are alike.  Number two, not all human bodies react the same way to chemotherapy. There are so many contributing factors you can’t quantify. This leads me to number three which is do not ever tell someone going through chemo that “my friend so and so said it was a breeze.”  Or that “my friend so and so was curled in the fetal position vomiting for three months.”  I would say that I personally did better than some, and worse than others.  I think my slow recovery had a lot to do with undergoing chemo, coming off the heels of a bilateral mastectomy.  Radiation also causes fatigue, and in some people it’s extreme.  Some people burn badly like I did.  Others may get a mild sunburn.  My hormone blocking pills cause me some substantial fatigue and joint stiffness.  For other women, it can be severe.  Women whose cancer was estrogen positive, which mine was, need to block the estrogen because it feeds the cancer.  There is no standard answer for how much time you need to heal or to recover from cancer treatment.

I can only speak from my own experience but I worked as hard and as long as my body would allow and I am still not where I was before all this started. Please don’t judge any of my pink sisters (including me) based on our ability to bounce back from breast cancer treatment, because unless and until you’ve been there you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

A Breast Cancer Poem, or Maybe Limerick.

I didn’t really have any strong inspiration about what to write about this week so instead I did something a little different.  I wrote a poem-limerick thing.

One day I found out that my breasts, were going to be chopped off my chest. It was cancer you see, that invaded me, so I knew that the chopping was for the best.

Chemo was hard, and my chest it was scarred, then radiation really made me feel burned. But it was frying the cancer cells deep inside and I was convinced that the tide would soon turn.

My head had no hair and I honestly didn’t care because there were many worse things than hair loss.  I covered my head with hats that were cute because itchy wigs and slippery scarves I did toss.

I found I can be funny, brave and strong. How had I not known this all along? God has been with me, so have my family and friends and so many amazing pink sisters, on whom I can depend.

One lesson I’ve learned is that life is not fair, but there is so much beauty and love and humor, that I can appreciate now and it’s because of that tumor.