I don’t agree that every woman needs to reconstruct, but I had chosen to do it and held at least low expectations of success given all my previous complications. Wasn’t I due a break? I had immediate tissue expanders placed at the time of mastectomies and did a relatively slow expansion program, taking several weeks in between moderate fluid fills. And yet it didn’t matter in the end…radiation had it’s way.
And so…after several expansions, in early 2018, the pectoralis muscle,under which my tissue expander lived, began to tear off the chest wall from all the cell death caused by radiation. And because of the inevitable contraction of tissues after all that damage. Eventually, my plastic surgeon and I gave in and removed the left tissue expander, which caused a significant cosmetic deformity. It also cost a huge psychological toll. I was embarrassed to be seen naked…hell, I didn’t like to look at me, why would anyone else? And yet, I felt whole at times. At times, I felt my non-existent nipple itch and would have to look down to remind myself it wasn’t there…I was reminded of the amputees I operated on and their phantom limbs…was there such a thing as phantom nipple?!? I started taking Neurontin, a medication to alleviate nerve pain and symptoms, but the only thing that seemed to help was actually looking at the cave which was my left chest.
I began to doubt my decisions in my care…I had so many complications, why risk more for a set of tits? At least those were the words I heard when my husband’s lips moved, even if he didn’t say them out loud. He wanted me to survive he said…he didn’t care he said, but still I doubted. He was always a breast man, and I wanted him to still want me in all my pain and suffering. I wanted to feel whole in his eyes, even though I wan’t whole in my head. Not by a long shot. I was lost and in pieces. A shadow of a surgeon only seen at the peak of the sun’s rays because the rest of the time I was cowering inside. And there it was in his eyes…I was everything I feared…less than I had been…dying inside, despite the treatments.
And what was a breast anyway? Plenty of the women I had met did not reconstruct. They seemed happier and stronger than me in every way. And still I yearned for completion. Maybe it would salvage a strained marriage? Maybe my daughter would no longer innocently laugh at my ravaged chest. And maybe, I would feel like I wasn’t missing so much in the long run? I didn’t know for sure; however, I wanted to be rid of the daily reminder of loss and vulnerability that my concavity represented in the mirror every day.