Seven years ago, I had a hysterectomy. Two and a half years ago, I got diagnosed with breast cancer and had a bilateral mastectomy. Two of my female parts gone. And at 54…those ovaries are shrinking to almost nothing. The parts that make me female are becoming fewer by the minute.
When I saw myself for the first time in the hospital bathroom with tubes and bulbs dangling from my chest, I began to cry. Mind you, I don’t cry very easily. But this hit me fast and hard. My mind reminded me that I had no uterus. And no I have no breast. Am I still a woman? What am I?
These are the thoughts of a woman in shock over a physical loss. I mean I just had my boobs amputated. And if you want honesty, it is still difficult for me to bring up, because that means admitting that I have moments of weakness. A moment that lasted for approximately four months.
This blog is about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly as it relates to my breast cancer journey. This would be part of the ugly, because I had lost my reasoning and faith in my husband’s love and how he visualized me. And I know there are a lot of you that need to read this to know that you are not alone.
I had my mastectomy in May 2016. And I can now admit, that I miss my breast. And it is ok!
According to a lot of people, I am not suppose to admit this out loud. They were a part of my body since I was formed. The size was different, but they were there. They fed my babies. And now they are gone. Never did I ever think I would lose them to amputation because of breast cancer…but I did.
When I was preparing for my mastectomy, I wasn’t even thinking of how I would feel after losing my breast. My concern was focused on removing that ugly cancer from my body before it could spread and kill me. No one ever told me that I would grieve the loss of my breast. Or prepare for my questioning myself about my sexuality.
Standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom of my hospital room, surgical drains and bulbs dangling from my chest, I just stared at the bandages that covered my flat chest. I couldn’t see the handy work of the surgeon and plastic surgeon. In fact, I was too scared to remove the gauze and look.
I cracked the bathroom door, my husband was asleep in the chair beside my hospital bed. I needed his help, but I didn’t want him to see the sadness in my eyes. So, I closed the door and continued to try and clean the drains and bulbs by myself. I had to call the nurse. The right bulb and tube were clotted and I couldn’t clean it myself.
Because of the clotting, the nurse had to call the doctor. When he arrived, he removed the gauze and checked everything out. He worked on the tube, and massaged (milked as he called it) the clot out of the pocket, down the tube and into the bulb. He replaced the old bulb with a new one and continued to work it until he was satisfied that he had the majority of it removed.
He then went to check on the availability of an Operating Room, because there was a bleeder in there that needed to be cauterized.
While he was gone, I went back into the bathroom. I kept my eyes focused on the sink while I unbuttoned my pajama shirt. It took all I had to look up at my reflection in the mirror. And when I did, it hit me like a Mack truck. I was completely devastated. I did not in any way, shape or form feel like a woman. I didn’t know what I was? Heck, even Frankenstein’s bride had boobs.
I grieved in silence for weeks. I didn’t want anyone to know how I really felt. No matter what I read, I still felt like I wasn’t a woman or feminine any more. I had no friends who had been through this before, so I had no one to talk to. And I may have belonged to a couple of online breast cancer groups, but I was afraid to ask. So, I had to wing it, alone. Boy, was that a mistake.
At first it was crippling! But as time went by and the fills began to give me a resemblance of boobs, the grief became less and less. Finally, after about 7 weeks, I started to come to terms with the fact that my boobs were gone and that they would never be back. Instead of focusing on my loss of body parts, I was writing a breast cancer page and focusing on my recovery.
Plus Tamoxifen was kicking my ass! Literally, I was spewing from both ends, had sores in my sinuses and the inside of my mouth was peeling. And during that time of illness, I gained 30 pounds in the first 30 days of taking it. Being flat and fat…what every woman looks forward too!
Let’s back up a minute. Back before I came to terms with my new physical self. Say about 4 weeks post mastectomy. That was when my husband saw the foobies for the first time.
Being paranoid of what people will think, or more like, what my husband will think when he sees my chest for the first time, I tried to dress in the bathroom or in our room, when I knew he wouldn’t be heading that way. Well, me being stupid and emotional, I saw something different in his eyes than the words coming out of his mouth said. Up to this point, he hadn’t mentioned the loss of my breast. He had been silent when when I was given my diagnosis and I quickly replied I wanted them both removed. When I had the surgery, he didn’t say a word. I thought he just accepted the bilateral mastectomy as a necessary choice for my life, but the way he said what he did, made me think I was wrong.
“Oh, it looks Ok”
Not, “They look great!” Just “ok”.
A little more background here…probably, to much information.
Before surgery, we had a healthy sex life. And I knew he loved me, but after surgery things changed…drastically changed.
8 week post mastectomy, he still hasn’t even tried to hug me. At first I thought he was just giving me space because of my limitations. And the fact that he knew I was in a lot of pain from the surgery and tissue expander fills.
Insomnia (lack of sleep), caused by the Tamoxifen, caused me to be paranoid. I believed he didn’t see me as feminine since the mastectomy.
Finally, at around 10 weeks post surgery, he hugs me. “Oh, that felt weird. It was like having rocks pressed against me.” Wrong thing to say men! Being the emotional woman, who had her boobs amputated 2 1/2 month prior, I was horrified. As a man, he was just stating the obvious, no ill intended. They did feel like rocks.
Well, deeper I go into the abyss of no longer feeling like I am a woman in his eyes. I mean really. I have no uterus. I have no boobs. And Tamoxifen is blocking my hormones and hair is starting to grow on my chin. Who would think I was still a woman?
I walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower so that no one would hear me cry.
Skip to about week sixteen, two days before the tissue expanders were removed, and replaced with silicone implants. These words come from his mouth, “How long after this surgery will I be able to hold my beautiful wife while I go to sleep?”
He still saw me as beautiful!
Moral to this story…Women with breast cancer have to realize that if you are married, you are not going through this alone. You need to talk to your husband. If you don’t, your assumptions will or could possibly be wrong.
It is my hope, that by reading my blog I can help show you how to not make the same mistakes I did.
And remember, no topic is taboo between a husband and wife. Keep communications open. Breast Cancer presents many challenges on it’s own. Don’t be one of them.
I am confident that by understanding all aspects – emotional, physical and spiritual, we can find ways to equip newly diagnosed women with the tools to travel this journey easier than I did.