I certainly don’t remember being conventional, even when I was. I know being involved with breast cancer charities for the past 20 odd years, and even through my mom’s experience of it, that I would be unconventional in how I travelled through my own experience.
I have a sense of humour and perspective on life that I would like to think is unique. So on discovering I had tumours, three in my right breast, and after an agonising three days waiting to hear if they had spread to my lymph glands (they hadn’t), this is how I decided to announce my breast cancer …
This is my most potent Breast Cancer update ever. I have Breast Cancer and these have to go.
My mother did not announce hers, in fact other than my father and me, no one was to learn of her disease until her death a year ago, with it, but not from it.
At first, I had been cleared with a mammogram and an ultrasound. But inside me I knew it wasn’t the right diagnosis. What I want you to know is yourself. Know yourself so well that when a doctor tells you something you don’t believe, speak to another, know that the instinct inside you is right, and trust it. I cannot say it enough: early detection of breast cancer saves lives. Thankfully, my mom’s breast surgeon believed me and we got a second opinion.
I had a simultaneous double mastectomy and reconstruction. Thank goodness they removed only my breasts: sense of humour and brain, largely, remain intact. I felt a pain unlike any other where pain killers couldn’t help. Now my toes curl each time a woman tells me how she understands the pain I had because when they had their boob job ‘It was sore!’ It is simple: an augmentation is not an amputation. Ever. The aesthetic they sought does not compare with hollowing out the flesh between my left and right sides of the front of my body. It has taken me six months to realise that. No wonder my body is in post-traumatic shock. Standing and sitting for long periods of time is getting better.
I remember telling a friend about my relationship with the many versions of my breasts over my lifetime: new, small, sensitive, sexy, big, saggy, lumpy, how their shape changed feeding my beautiful children. There have been so many variations of my breasts that this was just to be another.
I am thankful to the team who conducted the surgery and the after pic below (scroll down) is of the 2.0s as I affectionately call them. They’re impressive. Bigger and higher than the first ones with minimal scarring and though I would rather have the originals (they felt so much better), I know they would have killed me. Hell no! Besides, the 2.0s have more fun! They dress sexier and more playfully. They do get more uncomfortable and need decent bras most of the time. They do get tired and need rest. They’re like those Japanese Kintsugi bowls: scarred, beautiful, useful, and above all else, mine.
I am grateful. For it all. Know that early detection will save your life. I always knew that while some breast cancers are hereditary, mine wasn’t. Most don’t discriminate; every woman is a potential breast cancer survivor.
I am on tamoxifen now; a drug designed to stop my body from absorbing oestrogen. Apparently some of the male bodybuilders take it to stop growing breasts as a side effect of steroids! Go figure! It has some interesting side effects. I get emotional and I know this when someone tells me a great story and I start tearing up. I get joint pain that makes me wince when I move and the irony is I have to move to help the joints. Running is hard and the before me loved running and was finishing half marathons every other weekend. The after me runs sporadically up to 5km. My first run post breast reconstruction was freaky: imagine running with shorts, with pockets in them, and a coke can in each one.
I openly chart my journey and have adored every comment and supportive gesture of support: eager post-surgery messages, the girlfriend who will buy me a bra next time I visit her town, the male friends who had to be the first to see the 2.0s straight or gay, a husband who walked nearly 20 miles with ‘tatas’ attached, hundreds of flowers, a protective breast cushion sewn by my sister in law, my dad who watched over me the month after surgery. Countless, beautiful expressions of love.
I have learned to be gentle with myself. We moved from Johannesburg, SA to Boston USA recently and I have taken advantage of this tender-paced town I am in to relax. I am rediscovering my core. Pilates, gym, barre classes, massage, and acupuncture are attending to the physical core. Hanging out with my young people also helps as they’re uplifting and lovely. Hugging my children to my breasts still means the same thing: love, comfort, compassion and containment.
I am more resilient than I could have imagined.
Comedian Louis C.K. made a quip about 45 being either half way to a long healthy life or almost done. I know that life is surprisingly shorter than we expect. Unless you’re 104 in which case maybe not. I am humbled by the grace of the women around me. Courage is measured by the diving into the thing you fear even though you fear it. I meet wonder women daily.
We are accustomed, as women, to seeing many before and after photos. These are mine. To be honest I don’t see the difference either!
Whether you’re reading this during Breast Cancer Awareness Month or not, do the regular checks and know your body.