By Judith Rasband
How incredibly ironic. Stacked neatly on my desk are research articles and reports recently received in preparation to write a series of articles on breast cancer and its impact on body image, self image, self esteem and self-presentation after a mastectomy.
Now, just days later and still remembering a hazy fog that seemed to surround me in my hospital recovery room, I have joined the more than ten percent of women who will get breast cancer—that sisterhood of women who lose their breasts to save their lives.
I discovered the lump in my breast quite by accident. Oh, I had occasionally, even regularly, examined my breasts as women are so continually directed to do. The family doctor had also checked me during my annual check-up. I have never, however, had a mammogram.
I knew a woman should have a mammogram after age 40. I intended to go for one. Someday. But I put it off. Too busy. In the back of my mind I’m sure I thought, “Not me. Never Me. It won’t happen to me.” I didn’t know a mammogram might reveal a lump as much as two years before it can be felt.
As I rolled over in bed that Saturday night, my wrist lightly brushed against my breast. I knew immediately, at least I thought I knew, that the lump I felt was not normal. This lump was larger and harder than usual. It was well defined and moveable. I didn’t sleep well that night. My mind raced through one awful scenario after another. The “awfulizing” had begun.
Monday morning I scheduled an appointment with my family doctor. He gave me a general checkup and concluded by saying, “I think you should see a surgeon.” He scheduled an appointment for later that afternoon.
The surgeon wasted no time but inserted a needle in the lump to determine if it was simply a cyst filled with fluid that he could draw out. It wasn’t. The lump was solid. “I think you should have the lump removed so we can determine exactly what it is,” was his advice.
The day was set, with a grace period that allowed me time to adjust. I thought I was prepared to hear the words. I wasn’t.
“Malignant.” The word sliced through me like a knife and wounded me to the very core. “Cancer.” “Radical.” “Radiation.” So many ugly words. Words that demanded decisions. My surgeon didn’t pressure me into accepting his advice, but invited me to meet with a radiation specialist and to get a second opinion.
Days later, after my decision and additional surgery, the word “wounded” correctly describes exactly how I feel. The ever-present tingling sensation in the area of the wound is a constant reminder that the loss of a breast is a small price to pay to stay alive.
It reminds me of a box stored on the shelf in my work room. The box contains a prosthesis previously used for demonstration purposes in my lecture-discussions on the subject of self-presentation following a mastectomy. I bought the best money could buy. I wanted those women to know what is available to help them look as lovely as before. But I never dreamed I might wear it myself.
How incredibly ironic. The articles I write, on how to feel and look terrific after a mastectomy, will now be written from a first person point of view.