I understand why women might feel strongly one way or another about breast reconstruction. However, I’ve felt conflicted about whether to proceed with it. My head has told me not to while I’ve had a gut feeling that I should. In this post, I consider why I felt this way and how my perspective has changed.
The conflict of head versus heart
I’ve had a tendency to follow my head rather than heart – logic over feelings – when making decisions. In the past, I haven’t been mindful enough to notice whether I have listened to my heart or gut feeling when making a choice.
I’ve had an unresolved reconstruction debate playing out in my mind. I can list the reasons that seem logical (from my point of view anyway) to make the case against reconstruction (I’ll get on to this shortly). That said, those reasons are not enough to rule it out due to a niggling feeling that I won’t be happy staying as I am. Yet, that isn’t compelling enough to get on the operating table for extensive surgery on the basis that it “feels like something I want”…
So why have I felt conflicted with this decision?
Influence of the social mirror and conventional beauty
I’ve grappled with this decision for over a year now. Having had time to scrutinise my thoughts, I believe my reasons for wanting this are ultimately related to my perceptions of beauty and ‘fitting in’.
Although I was open about having breast cancer, I wore a wig and carefully applied make up because I didn’t want to stand out as a breast cancer patient. I wear the breast prosthesis (the chicken fillet-style bra fillers) to give the illusion of boobies. I have questioned why I do this… I think the answer is that, although I do embrace the ways I’m different, on the whole, I like to fit in and often conform to social “norms”.
No consideration for ‘no reconstruction‘
After my diagnosis, when weighing up all the treatment scenarios, the option of staying ‘flat’ simply didn’t cross my mind. In my previous posts I explained that losing my hair was harder than losing my breasts. But I recognise that I shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting both – it’s not a “would you rather…” game.
I should say that this post is not intended to trivialise the importance of breasts; I understand that for some people it is incredibly important – affecting identity and emotional health. This is about questioning whether reconstruction is necessary for people like me who are on the fence. I felt strongly about my hair as it was a huge part of my identity, as breasts will be to some women.
Logic for no reconstruction
I’m a fairly good candidate for the reconstruction surgeries (being relatively young, a non-smoker and reasonably healthy) but my head has told me not to go ahead:
- No more disruption. My family and I have felt fatigued with the impact of treatment and related decisions. It is beginning to feel like a distance memory so opting for surgery right now would feel like reopening a wound that has almost healed.
- Retain physical strength and good health. I’ve pushed myself to return to a good level of fitness and I don’t want to undo that. Everytime I lift my three year old daughter (and seven year old son!), I remind myself of how precious those cuddles are and how I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was recovering from another surgery.
- Risk of complications. Any surgery has risks – in the short term (during and post-procedure) and long term. There many potential complications of each surgery and a chance I might end up in a worse position, aesthetically and physically.
- Cost versus benefit. I didn’t have much in the boobie department before and I’m petite so would only want a small size result from reconstruction. Given this, it seems like a lot to go through for not “much return”!
- To what end? I don’t miss them, they’ve caused more grief than joy so I question what I am recreating. My husband doesn’t want me to go through more surgery. As I adjust to what I look like now, looking at my chest can be a brutal reminder of what I have been through, but that is unlikely to change with reconstructed breasts.
Here’s why my perspective has changed and continues shifting towards “no reconstruction”.
- Boobs are not ‘my thing’: I was never busty and my boobs did not and will not define me (my hair, on the other hand, is a different matter!). My confidence isn’t about the size or shape of a couple of chest lumps. After treatment, I felt like it was more important to get back to work than get boobs to feel like me again.
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are characterisics that we tend to be drawn to and see as beautiful/unflawed (smooth skin, long legs, womanly curves etc.). Media has a massive role to play in the ‘image of beauty’ too but, thankfully, people are attracted to different people.
- Love is deeper. Even if my husband was a “boob man” (he’s not or he wouldn’t have married me in the first place!) our love and attraction to each other is based on more than physical features. The only people who see what is under my clothes are the people closest to me. They love me for who I am, not what I have on my chest (or don’t have).
- No one cares – noone can tell when I’m fully clothed. And, quite frankly, noone cares! I “go flat” in my exercise gear and no one seems to notice or care, especially if my beautiful children are with me as all eyes are on them!
- Scars tell a story and can be beautiful. In Japanese culture, the art of ‘kintsurgi’ takes something broken and fixes it with gold glue – creating a beautiful, authentic image even more precious than the original. What a lovely concept!
Having choice is a good thing but the plethora of surgical choices made the reconstruction decisions worth putting off during an overwhelming time. Now, I’m so glad I did because I may never want it…