Fifteen years ago I looked in a mirror and for the first time, I saw how my body looked without my right breast.
From the moment I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I was focused on fear rather than appearance— especially since my breasts weren’t my favorite body part to begin with. I liked them, but I didn’t hesitate for an instant to cut one off if it meant saving my life. Not that I had a choice—I had every possible type of cancer spread throughout that breast.
Still, it took weeks after surgery for me to work up the courage to look at the result.
It wasn’t pretty. A scar ran almost 6 inches from my armpit to the center of my chest, leaving me lopsided, with only lumps and bumps and bones and skin.
How much did one C-cup breast weigh? A pound? Two pounds? Funny enough, I tried to calculate this when I stepped on the scale.
The number I saw would have been a dream come true for most of my life.
Growing up with Twiggy as the standard of beauty, plus a father who pressed me to lose weight, I had managed to stay in fighting trim— but figured I wasn’t destined for the boyish body I wanted.
Sometimes you get what you wish for.
Only it wasn’t satisfying; in fact it was the opposite.
Every day I would step on the scale and every day the number would go down.
I weighed less than I had since maybe 5th grade. My clothes hung on me. I would have been a star at Weight Watchers.
Only this was no magic diet; it was chemotherapy. And every day I wondered—-how low would it go? How long could this go on? I managed to choke down a few protein shakes daily; but my body was ravaged; scrawny and pathetic.
Plus I had no hair—and that was the one part of my body I truly loved. Instead of my wavy waist-length hair, I was bald; I looked like a concentration camp inmate. And I don’t say that lightly. That’s what I saw every time I looked at myself.
One day I looked in the mirror and as usual, saw that pathetic body staring back at me with sad eyes. Only this day, I made a promise to myself.
If I survive cancer I will never again complain about a bad hair day or being too fat. I will love my body no matter what it looks like, missing breast and all.
At the time, I had no idea that I would have a second mastectomy—electing to take off the other breast to prevent a recurrence. I had no idea that I would be too thin for the standard surgery taking tummy tissue to make breasts. I had no idea that I would get implants; no idea that my body would reject them. I had no idea that I would end up with no breasts at all.
I had no way of knowing that medication would cause me to gain back all the weight I lost almost overnight. I had no way of knowing that I would gain even more, thanks to age.
I also had no way of knowing that my body would serve me so well—meeting the challenge of cancer and giving me the precious gift of life.
Since that day when I stood in the mirror wondering how low the scale would go…..
- I weigh around 30 pounds more than I did then (I don’t know exactly how much because I never get on it anymore.)
- I’m one of those women who occasionally sees a picture of myself from the early years when I felt fat; and wonder —-what was I thinking?
- My body is a long way from the ideal —too little in the places you want it—and too much in the places you don’t.
But I kept my promise.
Sure, I wish I had breasts — not to mention a waist — but I have never loved my body more than I do today.
And that’s the truth.
This story, also posted on Blogger Body Calendar, explains why I feel so strongly about body image and breast awareness— not only for women with breast cancer but for ALL women. It also helps explain why I created Boobalas—- to inspire attention, awareness and answers. I hope you will check out Boobalas at the top of this website.