Two years of soul searching, deep, personal work. I am healing. My body is changed. I have experienced a calyx of emotion, intellect and bodily presence.
Everything feels different.
Two years ago today, I had bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction due to breast cancer. I am now a flat chested woman. For the first half of my life I had breasts, now I do not. These last two years have been a lesson in bodily acceptance, body love and appreciation. It has been an interesting journey.
When I made the decision to have bilateral mastectomy, I asked myself what I thought needed to occur in order to feel confident, strong and secure in my decision to be a flat chested woman, who does not see herself wearing prosthesis. The answer, exercise. Really, the week I was diagnosed, one of the first things I said to my breast surgeon was, ‘I guess I need to start exercising’. She laughed at me and replied, ‘You get diagnosed with breast cancer and the first thing you think about is exercise?’ Yes. Exactly. There are few things we actually have control of in our lives and physical activity, the ability to use the body we are given, is one of them. For the able bodied, that is.
I have begun exercising consistently. For the first time in my life, I am aware of my body as a physical presence, not just a carrier of the brain, but a functioning participant in the process of living. Body. Mind. BodyMind (I made this up, it sounds appropriate). I have been stretching, working with kettlebells, experimenting with Jungle Gym. 45 minutes, 3 times a week. Easy. I am working with Marianne Kane, whom I adore. Marianne designs my workout programs and I purchase corrective skype sessions, so that I can be assured that I am using good form.
Then, I walk. I am eating more salad, cooking more vegetables (we are members of a CSA) and I am experimenting with new and exciting recipes. I like to a try one new recipe a week which makes food exciting again. I have gained some weight, some muscle and some fat. I am alright with this. This seems like a good weight. I feel healthy. I am eating good food, learning what amount of activity feels right, and embracing a balanced approach to encouraging my body and mind to be as healthy as possible.
Being breastless and not wearing prosthesis, bucks the norms and societal expectation of even the breast cancer survivor. Most women who choose mastectomy without reconstruction wear prosthesis. This helps clothing fit better and alleviates the appearance of physical difference. I choose not to engage in presenting an appearance that is not true to my being, my self, the shape of my physical body. I cannot honestly say that this choice has been easy, there are moments when the difference in my physical appearance has catapulted me into a roller coaster of emotion that felt overwhelming and dysfunctional. That roller coaster contains fear of judgement, fear that my gender presentation will be mistaken to negative consequence, fear of being different.
On the flip side of this, opting out of reconstruction has made me appreciate that I am strong, mentally strong, it takes courage and strength to be different, to walk the streets as a flat chested woman. I know many women are small breasted. I know I present a female, feminine picture, and that my body, perhaps, appears slightly different than my small breasted sisters. But going from a 34DD size bra to no bra at all is, on a personal level, life changing. And it isn’t like there are many role models of well known women who have chosen not to reconstruct their bodies after cancer treatments. I mean heck, I used BreastCancer.org as my go to informational site while in active treatment and they are just now updating their content related to opting out of reconstruction after breast cancer treatment, and do you want to know why? Because -I- asked why this choice is not being acknowledged on their site.
Two years ago today, I had bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction.
Cancer treatment showed me the resiliency of the human body, it has shown me that my body leans toward health and healing. Cancer has made me embark on a journey of fitness that serves to strengthen both my mind and my physical being. Cancer has helped me to accept that this is my body, my self, my one chance at living as fully as humanly possible. And most especially, that the only standards that I need to live up to are my own.
I embrace my strong, independent spirit. I love this body, scarred, flat and stronger than it has ever been before. I celebrate my beauty. I am thankful to my body and glad to be connecting my bodily experience to my intellect.
This is a journey of a lifetime.