I am in a strange room, all around are strange women. I say strange, I really mean unknown to me. I suspect for the most part they are all perfectly normal. Some are young, others are old. Some are fat, others are thin. They are all naked from the waist up. This is not some steroid fuelled dream, a pre-surgery erotic fantasy. This is a show and tell social evening in an Essex hospital. This experience is the brainchild of my Breast Care Nurse who, sympathetic to the terror I feel over my impending mastectomy, has suggested I see some reconstructed tits in the flesh. Her aim is to reassure me.
I think I have mentioned before that I once had a tendency to flash my tits in public. This was an act of exhibitionism born out of the late blooming of my breasts. But I have never worked in the changing rooms of a spa bath or retail outlet so the finding of myself in the company of eight or so strangers with their tits exposed is something new and novel. Each of these women has had a reconstruction. Some immediate, some delayed. Some from what is termed skin sparing surgery, others from what I will have, non-skin sparing surgery.
Now, before getting breast cancer I had very little interest in boob jobs. Examples of breast augmentation surgery surrounds us. There seems to be a proliferation of oddly ill-proportioned women sporting massive boobs above wasp like waists and teenage slim hips. In the real world large breasts are usually accompanied by larger sized bodies. Small breasts are generally proportioned to adorn slimmer women. In my opinion these natural breast characteristics are as they should be. In my humble opinion only in those instances where the proportions have gone naturally awry, maybe as a result of rapid weightloss, or where one’s generous boobies cause back ache and depression might I imagine putting ones tits under the surgeon’s knife. However my views are not shared by all. Such popular and widespread enthusiasm for breast surgery appears to have bred an under estimation of the impact of requiring surgery after a mastectomy.
I have been surprised by the number of women who have considered it appropriate, on hearing of my breast cancer, to reassure me that I will probably end up with better looking boobs. “Look at Angelina Jolie”, they often say. “She looks great and is married to Brad Pitt.” Say no more let the slicing of breasts begin. But wait. First, Ms Jolie’s decision to have prophylactic surgery means that while she may fear cancer she hasn’t had it. Second, her choice to have this type of surgery I guess has meant she was able to have an immediate reconstruction. She looks brilliant and her decision is brave. But she hasn’t had cancer. Her fear of getting the disease is enough to prompt her – a beautiful woman – to have her tits chopped off. That’s a radical decision. Cancer is scary. And the thing at the forefront of most women’s minds when “battling” this disease is not an excitement about buying a new more pert set of boobs it’s a desire not to die. Next, let me put the record straight here. Well at least from my own experience. I will not be offered an immediate reconstruction. Inflammatory Breast Cancer is highly aggressive and advice is that one should wait at least 18 months before considering reconstruction and even then it is not necessarily an easy or straight forward option.
Let’s get back in the room with the strange women baring their breasts. They encourage questions and even allow us to gently fondle their new breasts. Almost without exception this group of women have no hesitation in saying this has been a good decision for them and most are pleased with the results. But, and this is a big but. It seems that a reconstruction from a non-skin sparing mastectomy is a major operation. This is no straight forward plastic surgery. In order to reconstruct my boob I can expect to endure at least three more surgeries. It is likely that my boob will be created from my own belly. This is a disappointment as I know I have at least five family members willing to donate their spare belly fat, not to mention my friends and neighbours who are keen for a tummy tuck in the name of preserving my femininity. In spite of sporting a rather generous spare tyre it seems that I will still need some silicon shoved inside me and even that is unlikely to bring me a close match to my “healthy” boob. Healthy boob (as I am in the habit of naming my body parts and prosthesis let’s call her Heather) will therefore have to be reduced in size at a second surgery date. As for my nipples well, there’s another couple of ops to consider. I’m 53 now, add to that the time on the NHS waiting list it is likely that if I survive I may not have my fabulous new pert breasts until I am in sheltered housing and shuffling around on a zimmer frame. Do I really want to have the best breasts in the care home? It is one thing to expose my knockers at a TisWas roadshow, it is another to frighten the organist on a care home visit. I need to think carefully about this.