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

More goodbyes

Until my risk-reducing surgery in December 2006, I was screened twice a year. That was a lot of mammograms, scans and breast appointments, over the years! When I was finally discharged, six weeks after my operation, it was quite something.

27 January, 2007

The surgeon looked visibly relieved to see me so well and ‘happy’ (his words: ‘You look happy’). He said I’d made all the right decisions… especially on the no-reconstruction front. Amazing turnaround.

About my not wearing prostheses, he even said, ‘Well, you don’t really need them do you? I can see why you might not want them.’ I told him I enjoyed the freedom and the lack of tightness. And anyway most of my recovery problems since surgery had been to do with the ‘steel band’ sensation I had around my chest. He said he should have warned me, it is always tricky when you have double mastectomy, as there is so much scarring, the incisions go right across the chest.

On examination, he was very pleased with the results, for six weeks on he thought I was doing extremely well, and the swelling would come down more and more and feeling should come back slowly in some of the numb areas. The redness of the scars will fade out to white. In time, in time.

He’d like photos now and in a year’s time, when the scars are white/silver.

We talked about tattoos as well. I should wait a year at least. Good. This gives me a chance to plan. He saw a woman once who’d had a rose and thorny stem tattooed across one mastectomy scar, he said it was quite beautiful.

I told him I was very happy with his surgery and how neat it was. He was pleased. ‘Oh, I really hope you are, I took a lot of trouble to make the two sides match!’ This was touching – his concentration on making the missingness symmetrical, it showed that he cared a lot how my body seemed afterwards, not just for me, but for him as a surgeon and a human being. The intention behind his care gave me a boost.

I thanked him for the sensitivity with which he’d handled the whole debate around nipple retention or not. I explained that for me it had been about my identifying most with my nipples – they focused the loss associated with losing breasts. I told him I get phantom nipple sensation, and can tell exactly where my nipples are in space! We discussed what those phantom feelings are, and he said that the CNS gives more phantom sensation after loss if there has been a lot of pain associated with the lost body part. Phantom body parts show us how our own brains make our bodies from projecting ‘constructs’ into space.

When I told him I had gone into the surgery very well prepared, he asked me what I meant. I explained about all our talks, in that room, and talking to geneticists, and the counsellor, and friends, and relatives, and also doing the casting. I told him other patients might like to think about making casts, and how it helps you distance yourself from your own body, make ready for the change. And you have something to keep.

His parting shot was to tell me: ‘You are very brave, you’ve done very well’.

Leaving the room, I was aware of a certain strange sadness alongside the relief of being discharged – not grieving for my breasts, but for this whole episode of immense exploration and growth and for the wonderful contact with great people.

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