The Long, Long Search

Turns out, choosing a bilateral mastectomy was far from the only choice I’d have to make along cancer’s journey.  I was forced to think about many things never given any consideration before, and not just big decisions, such as mastectomy versus lumpectomy and treatment choices, but small, inconsequential things you’d never think would give one pause.  But, that’s cancer for you.  It changes everything that was once commonplace, routine, so very much taken for granted.  I found myself surprised at what became an issue, such as, What to do with my pre-mastectomy bras?  Keep or trash?  Would they ever fit again?  Would I want to wear bras that came before?  Here again, was something I hadn’t considered, but eventually breast cancer brought to my attention.

It didn’t take long to realize, the old bras no longer served their purpose. Size and shape were significantly changed.  New ones were called for.

Earlier in life, before BC, bra shopping wasn’t terrible.  As a matter of fact, depending on the situation, I liked it.  It was fun to shop around, try on different styles, some I’d never consider purchasing, some I might…hello pushup.  It’s easy when you know your size, but after implant surgery I had no idea what size I was.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I’m 510cc’s, but what is that going to buy me in Victoria’s Secret?

I wish now I could remember the last time I wore a bra before the mastectomy.  I should have savored the moment more.  I didn’t realize then how long it would be before I’d comfortably wear one again, if ever.  I never wore a bra while I had expanders.  Why would anyone?  What’s the point?  They’re hard as rocks and certainly not bouncing around, so I was basically starting from scratch with my new implants.  I needed to know my size, but how would I learn that?  Try a sample in every size from B through D?  Tried it.  Nothing fit right.  I never thought bra shopping would be such a pain in the ass.

My fear was the bra fitter.  Am I alone in thinking a bra fitting is awkward under the best of circumstances with the best body?  I wasn’t ready for that.  I was determined to do this on my own without asking for help.  Help came with a whole slew of questions I didn’t want to answer.

I entered stores with the best intentions, every time, but I began to see this as another cancer challenge.  One daring me to dress these boobs I never asked for, as if it were yesterday.  It didn’t need to be fancy. It just needed to fit, like the old days, but the bras never did and I’d leave empty handed, bra less.

This went on for months.  Every now and then, I’d try again.  I thought I nailed it when I headed for the large department stores at the mall, where lingerie lives in some corner no sales person dares to tread, but still, bra after bra rejected.  Whatever I was looking for, I wasn’t finding it here.  I’d leave again, defeated, sad.

Maybe, I wasn’t as strong as I liked to believe.  The thing is, it was hard to face the mirror.  This wasn’t like seeing the scars in my own bathroom mirror.  I can accept them there, but in a store trying to do something I did hundreds of times pre-mastectomy, I wanted to achieve the same results, but clearly, that wasn’t happening.  It would never happen.  These new breasts, though nice, were different.  It wasn’t possible to see a former vision of myself, no matter how hard I wanted to, or how many bras I tried on — She’s gone.

When I finally couldn’t stand camisoles a moment longer, I drove 45 minutes to Nordstroms, where I’d heard they specialize in such things — Us, nutty mastectomy patients, with the hope they’d understand and help me without it being too uncomfortable, and it was okay.  Except for the stripping part.  I tried to weasel out of that even then.

Me:  “I’ll just keep this tank on.”

Specially trained bra fitter:  “Honey, it’s nothing I haven’t seen.”

So, I stripped, scars, implants, no nipples and all, for yet one more stranger in the long line of unexpected, unwanted, public disrobing that is cancer, but I left happy.  It fit.  It was nice and even though it didn’t remind me of days gone by, it looked pretty good.  My search, at least until I need a second bra, is over.

A Question of Nipples

“When do you want to do nipples?”
The words hang in the air of my plastic surgeon’s office.  Echoing endlessly in my ears because no matter how much I think about it, no matter how ready I claim to be about this portion of reconstruction, nothing prepares me for hearing those words in an actual sentence.  A question spoken so casually, as if I was asked what I wanted for lunch… It’s not that simple. The question comes at me as if I had an answer.  That’s the weird part.  How could any person possibly have an answer to that question? You don’t just get used to the idea of new nipples.  
I had to get used to the idea of a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction.  When all my options were weighed, it actually wasn’t that difficult, but nipple reconstruction?  I’m shaking my head even now in disbelief, although, disbelief doesn’t truly describe what I feel.  I believe it.  I know it’s coming, yet I find it impossible to wrap my brain around it. Young girls don’t grow up dreaming of new nipples one day.  I doubt that’s something anyone does.
***Brothers and/or father may want to stop reading here.

Nipple.  It’s a silly word, isn’t it?  It’s not a word that commands a lot of respect.  I keep picturing a big cartoon baby bottle with a huge rubber nipple stretched over the top.  That’s how I see it now, but if I try hard enough, I can remember how mine used to look before cancer took them away.  They were nice.  One of the few body parts I actually liked.  A good shade of pink, not too large, not too small.  Just right.  But, they’re gone and I’d rather not think too much about what I’ve lost.  I’m supposed to look forward and think about what I’m gaining.  After all, I keep hearing how nipple reconstruction is the icing on the cake.  How the hard part is over, the final step has arrived.  I’m about to be “done.”

Well, that’s what I hear, but here’s what I know.  I’m not comfortable with the whole scenario.  I don’t like the process, being awake while my surgeon cuts and manipulates skin to create nipples where before there were none. Not to mention the grape-like size I’d have to endure while healing and waiting for the inevitable shrinkage.  I also, don’t believe the end result looks that great.  Perhaps somewhere, in some far off distant imaginary world, there’s a resemblance to a woman’s nipples, but not by much.
I’m wavering though because ultimately, breasts should have nipples, right? I have to decide.  I can’t remain in this boob limbo forever, where implants are done, but finishing touches are left off…can I?  If I’m uncomfortable with the idea, why get nipples?  Do I move forward or stand still?

Not surprisingly, neither option is a clear winner.  It’s not that I don’t want to be finished with this mess.  I do.  It’s hard to look in the mirror and see all the scarring and if nipple reconstruction with the eventual areola tattooing can make it look a bit better, then I want it, but despite having silicone implants, aka “fake boobs” and accepting them, the nipple thing, seems more fake…faker.  A plastic cherry topping a wedding cake.

I think the real question here is not whether I should do the nipples, but why I can’t accept what I have, if I feel this way?  Why the need to reach some man-made stop sign?  So, I can use it as a springboard to the rest of my life?  “Nips and tats done, must be ready to move on.”  I should be able to do that regardless.  Apparently, I still have some thinking to do.

Any thoughts on this from those that have done it… or not?