I am now living without breasts, ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus, and a cervix. Yet I am 100 percent a woman.
“Good enough” is a unique definition for every person. My breast cancer friends and I have chosen different procedures for our individual temperaments and how we want to show up in the world.
Some of us are OK with silicone. Others are fine with asymmetry or a flat silhouette. Others prefer to have tissue from their body surgically added to their chests. And some sit perfectly well with their recalled implants because their mindset allows them to stay calm and justify the statistical odds.
My “good enough” ran a twisted journey and ended in a 360-degree turn right at my beginning. It took me 4 years and 3 months to return home.
That’s over 35,000 hours living inside a body that never felt like mine. I can’t remember what it’s like to be so carefree and certain of my body’s aging trajectory.
After cancer, there were times when I stared at my nakedness in the mirror, mystified. Who is this? I thought.
Other times, there were tears. And yet when my eighth surgery was completed, I glanced into that mirror and gave a victory cry for the thing I swore I would never do.
Surgery one was my port installation. My port was my frenemy — it made me feel sick every time I felt its hard knot underneath my clavicle, yet I was grateful to have it. “Portis” made my infusions a breeze.
Surgery two was a violation. The tumor board saw a questionable mass on my right ovary, so I was sent to a gynecologist who inserted nearly her entire fist into me. She didn’t feel a soft, smooth water balloon, so everything needed to be removed.
“My ovaries?!” I choked. They were my Tree of Life, the glands that made me a woman. Yet 2 days later, I was slanted upside-down, and my ovaries and fallopian tubes were shoved into my uterus, and everything was delivered through my vagina. My cervix was destroyed in the process, too. Thankfully, the mass was benign. I began chemotherapy a week later.
It took me 4 years and 3 months to return home. That’s over 35,000 hours living inside a body that never felt like mine.
Surgery three was my bilateral mastectomy. A lot has been said about bilateral mastectomies, but perhaps not this: Insurance dictates whether someone receives a post-op 3-day pain pump. Nurses told me that there’s a visual difference between people who recover with or without this device.
One of my friends didn’t receive one. For 3 days straight, she felt like her chest was on fire, and she writhed in her bed and cried numerous times. But I woke up from my surgery relaxed. Not “vacation in Hawaii” relaxed, but “good enough” relaxed. All due to a little lidocaine that is pumped into the chest wall.
Surgery four was my exchange from expanders to teardrop silicone implants. My husband and I thought my implants would feel soft — not quite like breast tissue, but adequate.
But they felt like rocks underneath my chest muscle. And the nubby texture pinched. And my chest wall felt constricted, like I was wearing a sports bra day and night. I thought I needed to give it some time.
Surgery five was to help give me that needed transition time. I required a revision to my right sunken breast. The implants had also pushed my upper body fat into my armpits, so my plastic surgeon removed some fat from that area and grafted it onto my sunken breast.
It was a win-win until … surgery six.
My right implant had dislodged itself from my chest pocket. I had to shrug the teardrop shape back into place. Sometimes it would hit a nerve that traveled up to my jawline. I had also discovered a hernia above my belly button caused by the laparoscopic surgery from my hysterectomy/oophorectomy.
And worse for my mental health, my implants had been recalled. At my plastic surgeon’s office, I mentioned that I might go flat. “Wait!” she said and held up her hand. “We still have options.” I made the choice to try an option: A round, low-profile silicone set.
We can and do heal. Peace can be found with “good enough.”
Surgery seven was when I went flat. The round silicone implants didn’t fit my barrel ribcage and narrow sloped shoulders. They were always in the way.
Then one morning, I woke up and one side felt tender. I sat upright and a sudden rush of fluid filled that side of my chest cavity with an audible suction. I scheduled my surgery soon after, but my plastic surgeon attempted to contour my chest without my permission, and I was left with skin bags. She was crestfallen by the outcome and said she would help me with anything I needed. Through tears, I requested a list of plastic surgeons who knew how to perform a flat closure.
It took more than I imagined to achieve surgery eight. One of the surgeons on my list berated me. He said I was too judgemental and confused — women did not like to lose their breasts.
But I found a surgeon who performed work on trans and nonbinary people, and his first words to me were, “It sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot of biases.” My shoulders dropped and silent tears began to fall. And after my procedure was done, my husband watched me unwrap the bandage from around my chest, and we both smiled.
My first plastic surgeon is not a bad person. She is smart and compassionate and performs beautiful reconstruction. It is also clear that she holds the patriarchal belief that women cannot feel complete without breasts.
My hope is that her experimentation on my body will serve a purpose, and she will study flat closures in the future. After all, cancer strips away so much.
I am now living without breasts, ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus, and a cervix. Yet I am 100 percent a woman and feel the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my body. We can and do heal. Peace can be found with “good enough.”
Fact checked on April 28, 2022
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