Before my surgery, I spoke openly about my decision to undergo a prophylactic bi-lateral mastectomy in the wake of a BRCA-1 diagnosis. I'm now about six weeks post-surgery, the (proud?) owner of two brand spanking new "foobs" (fake boobs), and I've had some time to process the new additions.
First, I believe there's a huge misconception among the general populous about what it means to have one's breasts removed and replaced with artificial ones (if they are replaced at all). When speaking about my upcoming surgery, I had many well-meaning people say things like, "Well at least you get new boobs!" and, "Your husband must be so excited... has he picked 'em out yet?"
Yeah, well, it's not quite like that. Not at all, in fact.
It seems that those not in the know tend to equate post-mastectomy reconstructed breasts with augmented breasts or "boob jobs." Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, augmented breasts are actually real live breasts with nipples and healthy breast tissue behind which silicone or saline implants have been placed, either under or above the muscle, thereby pushing them up and out. We all know what augmented breasts look like; some of them look very real, and many of them look stunningly beautiful. If augmented breasts didn't look damn good, breast augmentation surgeries would not be so, ahem, popular.
So even though augmented boobs are often called "fake boobs," they're really not. I, on the other hand, do have fake boobs (or "foobs," as I have become prone to calling them).
What is attached to my chest right now are a pair of silicone implants with no breast tissue in front of them. I am essentially sporting implants covered with skin. There are no real breasts there to hide the fact that my "breasts" are just implants -- man-made, silicone-filled implants which feel like gel-filled bags and ripple when I move certain ways.
And right now, I have no nipples either. Because leaving enough breast tissue behind the nipple to spare it can create more risk, in that cancer can still occur in the tissue left behind. Also, if the surgeon failed to leave enough tissue attached to the nipple, the nipple could become necrotic and die. As in, turn black and fall off.
No thank you. I wasn't that attached to my nipples.
So I opted against nipple-sparing surgery, and currently have long incisions where my nipples used to be. To put it graphically -- but not so graphically that it would require a "warning" tag when published -- I went from looking like this:
To looking like this:
(Hopefully you get the idea, despite my crude pencil sketches.)
And the view from above right now is even weirder for me. I went from seeing this:
Now, don't get me wrong. I have no regrets about my decision to have preventative surgery. None, whatsoever. I sleep better knowing that I just shaved about 77 percent off of my 87 percent risk of contracting breast cancer in my lifetime. Nor am I unhappy with my results. I had excellent surgeons and my reconstructed breasts look just like they're supposed to look at this stage. I will have skin-grafted, man-made nipples attached in the next few months, and later have color tattooed on them for good measure. The new nipples ("fips") will hide some of the existing scars, and hopefully will be nice and round and perky. But they'll have no feeling. They'll just be there as accessories. Like earrings.
And while I still look cute in a sexy bra, I no longer walk around topless, and now tend to sleep in camisoles rather than in the buff. I'm also somewhat shy around my husband, and am still shocked at times when I look in the mirror. It's an adjustment, for all of us, even my toddler who gently pats the boo-boos she now sees on my chest.
For me, the psychological impact of losing my breasts was much greater than the physical impact. I am healing rapidly and know that the physical scars will fade. I also know that I made the right decision for me and my family. But those of us who either opted to have mastectomies as a preventative measure, or had mastectomies as a life-saving measure, aren't excited about our "new boobs." In truth, we'll never be the same. We see ourselves differently now when we look in the mirror, because we are different, inside as well as outside.
But at least we're here, stronger and wiser for the experience.
Image via Mark Montgomery; sketches via the author.
This story appears in Issue 69 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Oct. 4 in the iTunes App store.