What is a woman? Dictionary definition: an adult female human being.
What defines a woman outside this literal context?
Lipstick? Dresses? Long Hair? Nails? Is it breasts?
I'm sure a few of you are wondering where this is going especially in today's culture.
Are you still a whole woman with only one breast or none?
This was a real fear of mine when I decided to have a single mastectomy with no reconstruction; loss of my womanhood.
Womanhood by dictionary definition: the qualities considered to be natural to or characteristic of a woman. It seems like chopping off a breast is a loss of one of these qualities.
After I made the decision not to have reconstruction I came home that night and cried. I cried over the loss of my breast, the loss of part of womanhood no matter how small they are, the drastic change to my body that was about to occur and the loss of a body part within my marriage.
Yes, it is my body my choice but I have been married for nearly 25 years this affects us both. Would I be embarrassed to be naked in front of my husband? You're not human if you don't have these thoughts. I didn't have an answer at the time. Just sadness.
My mind raced with many things; would I be debilitated from this surgery? You can have lymphedema, nerve pain, cording, chronic pain, phantom pain, limited mobility...the list is endless. I was very diligent to not focus on what I would lose but to celebrate the fact I would be cancer-free when I woke up from surgery.
This photo is 6 days after surgery, still with drains and bandages on. It was hard to imagine my chest without anything yet, simply because it's covered and I can't see the scars.
Yes, I'm exercising in this photo. I was active within two days of surgery with different modalities of walking and lower body exercises along with the recovery arm exercises they recommended under 10 lbs of load.
Exercise helped me feel whole and normal after surgery. I had minimal pain 3/10 and other than being tired I felt great.
At this point, I was focused on recovery, nutrition, sleep and being present in gratitude for each day. I didn't have time to worry about what was underneath the bandages. My healing was going phenomenally well, the health unit nurses couldn't believe how quickly I was healing and the amount of mobility I had in my arm.
Ten days later we removed the drain, which was a few days too early possibly or I was just meant to have a seroma. A seroma is a build-up of fluid in the pocket that is left to heal from a mastectomy. Mine was great it filled up like a fake boob lol! The surgeon did not agree when she saw it but guess what; the scar line looked like a laser had cut it. So perfect no weird puckers or anything.
Twenty days after surgery I had a second drain put in, not recommended just keep the first one in longer! This one I had for a week. As the fluid build-up disappeared, my chest became nearly concave, but it felt so much better. With more bandages, drains and tensors I still couldn't "picture" what my body would look like without a breast.
Finally a month after surgery I got a real look at what was left and it didn't phase me. My focus at the time was doing pull-ups and paddleboarding again it never was about what my body looked like, it was about what it could do.
Do I like looking fit? Of course, but I wouldn't appreciate it nearly as much if I wasn't fit and strong. Just to look a certain way wouldn't be enough gratification. I feel empowered by being capable and athletic.
8 weeks post-op a friend and I did our yearly Halloween photo shoot. I wasn't feeling it when we talked about it but an idea formed in my mind about how cancer is scary shit and Halloween is spooky; they go hand in hand.
I love this picture, I love only having one breast, I love my scar and I feel more self-love than I ever did pre-mastectomy. It is bizarre and not something I could have imagined when I was so scared after making the decision.
When I go out in public I wear a prosthetic for others not myself, often I go without it and don't even notice. I am "lucky" to be a small-chested girl so it's not a drastic change. It is different for everyone, if you are large-breasted anatomically it makes sense to balance the chest cavity out with an implant or grafting to prevent caving in of the ribcage.
Please check out Ellyn Winters her Instagram is @flatplease she has embraced the double mastectomy life completely and advocates tirelessly for early detection via self-referred mammograms or having the screening ages lowered in Canada.
The moral of the story is if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are considering a mastectomy or require one; do not fear.
Make your choices off on what will work best for your body. TRUST YOUR SOUL! My soul said get the cancer out now, do not wait even three more weeks to have surgery with reconstruction. So I listened.
I cannot express the feeling I have when I look at my scar. The empowerment I feel with it and how it is a reminder I am alive! It truly is one of the most shocking outcomes I didn't expect from this journey.
My self-worth is not defined by my breasts, it never has. Having one less doesn't make me any less of a woman.
I'd like to thank so many of you who have reached out in person, on the phone and in messages.
The depth and reach of writing about this openly was simply to help even one person navigate a cancer diagnosis. It has been overwhelming how much impact it has had on people with and without cancer. For that, I am grateful that something which can be so negative is having a positive outcome in other people's lives.
Sending You Love N' SUP,