Body, Journalling, Medical Humanities, News, Self-portrait without Breasts

Questions, questions, questions

There were so many questions to ask about my situation, and so many answers that could not be given. Living with the questions was the only way through.

26 July 2006

This journal is becoming vital. I can sit and weep, I can regret the bloody genes, I can say that every bad joke and every good joke and every story I hear at the moment is about breasts. I can say that I keep wishing I hadn’t mentioned the possibility of the op to various friends. I appreciate their concern so much, but living with their unease is painful. In the end, I am on my own with this strange dilemma.

Since the appointment with the surgeon yesterday, I’m closer to the logical and intellectual decision, but I think I’m moving farther and farther away from the emotional one. Met P at London Bridge. The appointment with the surgeon was at 7pm. We sat one side of his table, the surgeon the other, discussing breasts and risks, and cancer, and reconstruction or not, and all the other questions and queries, for an hour. It was odd being in a room with two men discussing my breasts.

About other preventative measures: the ductal microcamera is not yet advanced enough to be a help in cases like mine, the genetic picture is still foggy, Tamoxifen only reduces the risk of breast cancer by 40% and can have unpleasant side effects. The surgeon thinks it is best for me to talk to the breast care nurse about prostheses, to look at his ‘photo album’ for surgery and reconstruction options, and then to carry on with my decision-making processes on my own. Well, I prefer honesty.

Throughout the consultation I was aware of the surgeon’s greater focus on reconstruction than he had demonstrated with me in my previous appointment. In fact he didn’t outline many of the downsides of recon to P. Maybe he thought I’d be won round by two men feeling positive about the more ‘acceptable’ surgery! It seems men really can’t easily cope with thoughts of a woman not wanting reconstruction or false breasts. I said to P, ‘Why would I want false ones with all the inherent problems? I wouldn’t be able to feel anything in them anyway! Better to have an honest flat chest.’

We travelled on a very hot train from London Bridge to Croydon, then a cooler one all the way from Croydon to home, through thunder and lightning – an electrical storm in the half dark. I have never been so glad of a cold shower.

This question is all mine: if I go ahead with surgery, shall I have myself photographed before the surgery? As a way of remembering, as a gift to myself and to my family – me ‘before’, physically whole? Or does that somehow underline the supposed imperfection of the me ‘afterwards’?

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