May 27th 2016-Mastectomy Matters

27/05/16- Bathroom: In the beginning I’d been understandably concerned about how my body would look after my single mastectomy: Worried about what would be left behind when they’d finished with me.

I’d tried to prepare myself psychologically for what was coming; pulling up images on the internet, watching videos on YouTube of women who bravely and generously shared with the world their redefined bodies and finally, via access to my hospital’s photographic archive, I was able to study the actual mastectomy records of the surgeons that would work on me.

I’d imagined in those raw, early days that I could cope with this radical change if I was left with one of the smooth flat surfaces I’d viewed.

I’d imagined in those raw, early days that I would adjust to this radical change if I was left with something neat and clean, androgynous-like, on the left half of my torso.

But as is the unpredictable nature of life, the fantasies I’d indulged in about the contours of my new shape turned out to be exactly that…fantasy.

After the knives and the lasers and the scalpels of the surgery, came the healing fluids, nature’s own tool of reparation, my damaged body’s way of mitigating the trauma. The serous fluids came, attending the distressed area of my chest en masse. Washing in like waves in a deserted coastal cove, bathing the emptiness, soothing and calming and relentless.

The fluids came and kept coming, filling the non space where my breast once sat.

The fluids came and kept coming even though there was no gap, no space left to fill and my skin swelled in accommodation.

My skin swelled and swelled as if a new breast was growing but of course there was no new breast just the rallying of the pacifying healing fluids.

Eventually my body did what was required of it, eventually my body did what it was designed to do and reabsorbed the majority of the fluid without the need for mechanical drainage. But as the serous sea subsided I was left not flat. I was left not clean and neat like my fantasy of half woman, half androgynous beauty. I was left with a semi rounded, slightly crumpled, neither here nor there, not quite, non-boob.

And before having any time to really dwell upon my disappointment, I was ‘all aboard’ the rollerchemo-coaster ride, clambering back down again eighteen weeks later, sick and disorientated and focused only on feeling well again.

So here you find me, seven and a half months on from my amputation and I’m aware that I haven’t really reflected on how I’m feeling about the reality of my bumpy fallout. Of course I have seen it and of course I can feel it, feel the internal pull of the subcutaneous scarring and traumatised muscle and damaged nerve endings…but I haven’t considered how I actually feel about it…

And as my treatment shifted its systemic focus from the whole body back to the point of origin so now do I…and through the routines and rituals of the radiation damage limitation protocols I’ve been practicing these past three weeks, my attention is drawn several times a day to the site of my demolition.

So yes, here you find me, seven and a half months on, sinking down into a bubbleless bath for a short tepid soak. A rare treat, even without all the ‘froth and nonsense’ during these skin parching days of radiotherapy.

And as I submerge my body deeper beneath the water my lone nipple bobs back up breaking the surface. This tip, this summit of my healthy breast, a psychological iceberg that might tear a hole in my emotional hull, sinking me, at any time.

I breathe deeply.

In these few quiet contemplative moments, faced as I am now with the potential for further damage to the remains of my sick breast, I feel a sudden pang and as my heart lurches it occurs to me that I feel a strong sense of protection for my ugly non-boob.

Somewhere along the way it would appear that I have in fact, begun to accept my non-boob.

Somewhere along the way it would appear that I have in fact begun to appreciate its unique proportions, its distinctive distortions, the softness of its exotic contours under my fingers and I can tell you right now that I’m not just a little anxious about the thought of how it might be further disrupted and disturbed, damaged by the continuous deep fry that I am subjecting it to presently.

And I’m not sure if it’s the fear of more change that is making me want to cling on to the form that I now hold, here under the palm of my hand or the fear of further loss that instigates this new appreciation of my body shape…

Whatever it is though, I realise suddenly and quite unexpectedly that I love my body in all of its non conforming detail.

I realise suddenly and quite surprisingly that I love my chest, the hills and the valleys.

I realise suddenly and quite overwhelmingly that I love the gift of life, even if only temporary, that this distorted breast has given me back. The potential second chance afforded me, through the brutality of its treatment.

My body is amazing.

My body is incredible.

My body is beautiful.


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