I have one breast. A single large D-cup breast. This is not something you see every day, if ever.
The other day I noticed a lot of people staring at my chest. At what wasn’t there. I wondered when is it too much? When is staring invasive and rude? Where is the line?
Maybe there is no line. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with staring at something you don’t understand. Maybe that’s how we try to make sense of things we see.
Yes, sometimes I feel self conscious, embarrassed, and exposed. But people shouldn’t have to act as if it’s common and something seen every day, because it’s not. Having only one breast is not normal. There is extreme pressure for women to look a certain way, and when we go against that grain it is glaringly obvious. I made a decision that I’m 100% comfortable with but that doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings about it, too. Big feelings.
I have never seen another woman with one breast, but I know they’re out there. I know I’m not the only one. There is some comfort in knowing that I am not blazing some new path here. I am on a similar path as many, many women before me who don’t hide that they have one breast, even if I have never seen them or met them.
So it’s ok to stare. It’s ok to double take. It’s ok to be confused. It’s ok to wonder why someone has one breast. It’s not rude to stare. Stare if you need to stare, take it in, and learn something from it. Ask questions if you want to. Don’t be ashamed to look. It’s ok.
One Valentine’s Day I framed a quote that Amelia and I love: Maybe everything is already ok. It’s a good one, and true most of the time, but it’s work. It’s not putting your head in the sand or plugging your ears. It’s meeting things head on, acknowledging them, understanding them, and moving on.
Acknowledging the past is an important part of healing from any kind of trauma. I’m not one to put on a happy face on and skip through life with one breast exclaiming, “Everything is great!” No. Now that chemo is behind me I will dig deep into my feelings about losing a body part, an amputation.
When I look back at other traumatizing things that have happened in my life (and there have been a lot – I could write another dozen blogs), I am grateful. I wouldn’t be where I am in this world without these traumas because I chose to grow through them and in spite of them. I will grow through cancer and my mastectomy as well, but not without some work. Not dealing with the emotions of my mastectomy is like emotional suicide. If I ignore it, it doesn’t go away.
All these questions and feelings have started popping up about walking around with one breast: Am I really going to march around in a tank top publicly when it gets warm? What do I wear when I swim? Who the hell cares? How do I support the left one? I need to design my own uni-boob bra! I’d say about 80% of me doesn’t give a hoot about how I look publicly; I’m just glad to be alive. But 20% of me is insecure and full of shame and way too concerned about what others see.
There are options, I’m just not interested in them. Like “foobs,” that is, fake boobs, the inserts you put into your bra. Or reconstruction, which I opted to not do. These are very personal choices and there are no right answers. Dealing with what I now have works best for me, learning to accept my body in its most natural state, even though there is less of it now. Maybe everything is already ok.
I don’t think I know any women who don’t have some sort of body image issue. It’s like riding a bicycle: Once we learn how to feel uncomfortable with our bodies we never forget. That discomfort quietly rides along with us waiting to interrupt otherwise good days. (Body image isn’t just a woman thing by any means. I know plenty of men who struggle as well.)
My mastectomy has literally thrown body image right out the window for me. I have an amazing partner through this whole ordeal. She is naturally inquisitive on a practical, scientific, and factual level. Don’t ever try to argue with a Sauter; they are usually right. Amelia always asks a lot of good hard questions and now is no different. The other day while we were out for a walk, I mentioned I was noticing that my perception of my body image was shifting. She immediately asked how I felt about each of my individual body parts. My responses are a lot different now than they would have been two months ago. Shit just got real.
There’s nothing like losing a body part to neutralize a very skewed view of your own body. Sentences like: I’m fat. I hate my thighs. Ew, look at that, I’m gross. I can’t leave the house looking like this. These sentences sound incredibly trivial and shallow now. I’m missing a body part and I think – I’m fat? No, I don’t think so. Not anymore. I can’t pinpoint where my body image issues came from or how they developed, I just know that now I see myself differently. It may sound bizarre, but the extreme of my mastectomy feels like it has freed me from the ridiculous standards that society holds for women. My body image shaming voice is so far out there I can’t even hear it anymore.
I have the opportunity to re-build my self image about my body. Cancer knocked on the door and I see opportunities behind it. I would have never considered myself an optimist until now.
This is how I feel. Today.
September 18, 2015
I’ve decided to go the no reconstruction route, also known as “going flat.” Before I get into why, let me start with this: it’s really no one’s business. It’s my business, and I’m choosing to share it with you.
People have lots of thoughts about me getting a mastectomy.
“Why don’t you get the other one taken off, too?”
“It’s no big deal, it’s not like it’s a functional body part.”
“What?! Why wouldn’t you get reconstruction?”
“But you won’t be symmetrical.”
“I think it’s kinda cool to have no boobs.”
People have opinions about what I should or should not do with my breast, and that is weird. This is my body part. I have had it all of my life and I like it. This is very personal. Also, this isn’t a goddamn choice. I didn’t choose to get a mastectomy; the doctors cannot save my breast.
So, here we go:
Why don’t you get the other one taken off too? Ok, deep breath here…What the f*ck kind of question is that? I’m two weeks in and that’s what gets asked? There’s nothing wrong with the right one. My one right boob is nicer than most full sets out there. That is a fact.
It’s no big deal, it’s not like it’s a functional body part. -sigh- Yup, it’s easy. A walk in the park. Just losing a body part, that’s all. And try telling that to Amelia. As I said before, I like my boobs.
-awkward silence- Thanks for you support.
What?! Why wouldn’t you get reconstruction? Well, for one I’m a D cup, and D cups can’t get reconstructed. A’s and B’s get reconstructed, so that would mean my right breast would need to get reduced from a D to a B if they were to match. Also, there is no sensation in a reconstructed breast, and my nipple would not be part of my reconstructed breast due to the location of the cancer. It often takes quite a few surgeries to get it right. Many reconstructions are complicated and cut muscle and borrow fat and tissue from other body parts. Recovery is much quicker with no reconstruction. And I’m not interested in a substitute.
But you won’t be symmetrical That’s right, I won’t. So what.
I think it’s kinda cool to have no boobs. Nothing says cool like cancer.