A Thank You Letter to My Badass Breast Cancer Plastic Surgeon

Dear Dr. C,

Late last night while I was trying to sleep, an entire 13-page letter to you swirled around in my head. Feeling almost commanded, I got up and wrote it all down.

I was too tired to write 13 pages  —  don’t worry , I condensed it into three max. Some of it is more for me than you and probably belongs in my personal journal (if I could find it) or blog (if I knew how to make one).

I was lying there wondering how often you receive thank you notes or even hear the words “thank you.” I imagine you reap plenty of personal satisfaction in seeing your work in its final stages, knowing you did a great job in all the aesthetic aspects  —  symmetry, contour, projection, etc.

Perhaps you see plenty of gratitude in the eyes of your patients when they see you have recreated what cancer had destroyed. And then I imagine before you can bask for too long in that “I’m-a-fucking-artist-bad-ass-plastic surgeon” another poor fellow falls through your door needing a new jaw bone or scalp. Or a woman with too much flesh complains, “I be smelling like cheese up in the church.” (That is funny, and I would have laughed my ass off had I been the nurse in the room.)

Now where was my point in all this? Cheese distracts me. Oh yes, gratitude.

Well, I should start (you thought I had started, but I was rambling) by saying at first I contemplated the very notion of reconstruction. Mostly I didn’t like the fact it was expected of me to choose it, given my age I suppose, and just because females are supposed to have breasts. Also, in the wake of a cancer diagnosis one feels a marked loss of control over almost everything. The reconstruction was one part over which I felt I could exercise some power.

I remember Googling images of women after mastectomies and coming across the most beautiful picture. It was a young Asian woman on the beach with her little daughters. All three of them wore only bikini bottoms and the woman’s chest was devoid of breasts. Instead of nipples there were two faint, perfectly horizontal scars.

She also wore the most amazing smile — a smile that said “I am beautiful without breasts.” And the smile matched the ones on faces of her children who played happily beside her in the sand.

That picture made me feel almost brave enough to opt out of reconstruction. But fear and expectations propelled me from an idyllic breastless snapshot on the beach to your exam room.

I remember emailing you after my first visit and thanking you for not being a snotty, condescending doctor. Yes, thanks again for that. Then I sent you silly pictures of my friend and me with implants on our heads in the exam room. (I’m weird, sorry!)

But those laughs were put on hold. The post-mastectomy months were dark. I did not feel well physically or emotionally. During that time there were other important decisions to make  —  chemo and Tamoxifen. Both were recommended; I chose neither.

The removal of my breasts would have to be enough. My oncologist was disappointed but supportive. You can’t possibly know how I agonized over these decisions, but I do know they were the right ones for me.

Was reconstruction the right one for me as well? Were your surgical skills magical enough to make two more surgeries, two more recoveries, more pain pills, more sleepless nights in the recliner, missing my 40th birthday celebration at the beach last weekend, and losing my apartment worth it?

The answer is a resounding yes.

To fill out a T-shirt, a bathing suit, a pretty bra.

To wash my body in the shower every day and wrap a towel around myself afterward and have breasts hold it up instead of having to wrap the towel around my waist as a man would do.

To look down at my chest in a tank top and see a little cleavage.

To sit in a room full of people and not be jealous of the women because they have breasts.

To have my 8-year-old snuggle beside me on the couch and lay her head on my rounded chest.

To still feel attractive to men.

To have the satisfaction you put back what cancer tried to steal.

You did a great job. Thank you.

I can put the rest back together now.


Kristie Hevener Cross

This post was originally published on Medium.

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