Wednesday, March 26, 2014
A boob in my pocket
Wow—time sure flies when you’re... um... recovering from surgery. I can’t say that’s been much fun, but it’s nice to have it behind me. Note: Some of this post includes me talking about my breasts, so if that’s TMI or makes some of you uncomfortable, you don’t have to read any further.
A few weeks ago I posted a link to an NPR story about a book that NPR reporter Madhulika Sikka wrote about her experiences with breast cancer: A Breast Cancer Alphabet. It is a wonderful book, which I highly recommend if you’d like some insights into someone else’s experiences with this disease and its treatments. Reading her book made me gasp and cry with connection and understanding—so many of her experiences mirror my own, from the confusion and craziness of diagnosis, to her desire (and my own) to dismantle dominant assumptions of how people might deal with it all. The one place that I find my experience to be quite different from hers is the emotional impact of mastectomy. Don’t get me wrong—this has been an emotional roller coaster. However, the source of my difficulties dealing with the surgery are, I think, different from hers. She discusses the emotional toll of losing a part of her anatomy that is emblematic of womanhood. I get that, particularly for women who, unlike myself, are well-endowed in the chest region.
But for me, the difficulties have stemmed more from the physical imposition of the surgery—having lymph drain bags hanging from my side for 10 days; the limited range of motion in my right arm; having a compression wrap around my arm to prevent lymphedema; and of course, the pain. It just plain hurts, whether it’s arm pain, soreness at the incision site, or even phantom boob pain—a pain that feels as if it’s in a part of my body that is no longer there. This has been emotionally difficult, but less due to the change in my figure (which is not that significant given that I’ve always been fairly flat chested), but more to the limitations in my movement, particularly my ability to exercise. I figure it can only get better from here, though, which brings me to prosthetics!
In another month or so I will get measured and fitted for a new boob—a silicone prosthetic to match my left side. You’d be amazed at how many choices there are in terms of material, shape, size, drape, color, etc. It makes buying a drink at Starbucks seem simple. For the time being, however, I am using a basic generic breast form; a starter boob, really. It's a relatively inexpensive mail order thing made with micro-beads inside a nude-colored triangular piece of fabric. It is very lightweight and similar in size to my left breast, but I must say that it aches having it on my chest, as I am not yet fully recovered from surgery. This is not a problem much of the time—I just go about my day not wearing it, but when I go out I do tend to wear it. On occasion I’ve found myself discretely trying to rearrange things, and even removing it all together. Sometimes this is easy. Last weekend we went to see the film Divergent, and in the dark theater it was no trouble to just reach in, yank it out, and stuff it in my pocket. But while I’m not a shy person, I stopped short of doing that in the middle of a College committee meeting at work today. Instead, I just dealt with the dull ache. I’m assuming that as time passes it will improve, but in the meantime, if you see me at work or walking down the street with a boob in my pocket, you’ll now know why.