Processing Grief After My Double Mastectomy
Last year I had to get a double mastectomy. For reasons I won’t elaborate on here, I chose to not have any reconstruction following the surgery. I now bare the title of a “Flattie” and have joined the ranks of women that have made the same atypical choice, though our numbers are growing. In sharing my story, I am in no way commenting on the manner in which other women have chosen to express themselves or their bodies following the same operation. I am simply offering what is true for me and believe that all women should be afforded the same.
I recently came across a post that suggested one should, “Write to your Boobs” as a cathartic release post mastectomy. The year 2019 had been fraught with a myriad of health issues following my procedure and I knew I hadn’t had time to properly grieve my losses, and I saw the opportunity in the meme to do just that. I must give the reader some context and say that I have a history of childhood physical and sexual abuse, thus the complicated relationship with my breasts and body as a whole. My hope is that in my sharing and vulnerability, I might encourage another to do the same and perhaps allow someone to feel less alone.
Here is my letter to my now extinct bosom.
We had a long and complicated relationship. Looking back, I would say I felt embarrassed by your presence most of our time together. I disliked the attention you garnered. I felt guilty and ashamed of the ogling and comments you elicited from others — both men and women. Guilt that you perhaps made others feel less than. Guilt that other women’s men became distracted by you while in the presence of their loved ones. Guilt that other women expressed envy of your size and shape. Ashamed as though I, or you, had some control over how you grew and presented to the world.
Honestly, I didn’t understand all the hubbub, you were just hanging sacks of flesh attached to my chest. Someone even named you, “Mona” and “Lisa.” Your nipples were apparently the epitome of perfection — that’s what partners said and even the lactation consultant chimed in with her admiration. I didn’t know or see any of that. You were just boobs to me, not part of my identity or magnificence.
Until you were gone.
I knew from my earliest teenage years that you would become diseased. I felt as though somehow my abusers had poisoned me with their misdeeds and it sat right inside you, manifesting as potential death. I anxiously awaited its arrival and planned years in advance how I might respond. My response was to cut you off. Remove you from my body and expression.
I don’t regret it. Replacing you with implants would have been second rate. I know I wouldn’t have cared for their presentation in the least. And so, you were amputated and never to be seen again, along with all your glory and beauty. It was once you were gone that I could appreciate your splendor.
It was in your absence that I knew you were pretty fine in all ways breasts can aspire to. Your size, shape and nipples were indeed fabulous. I am sorry I didn’t appreciate you when I could have, though in the past few years I did try. I did try and see it as a work in progress, but now that work has been abruptly and violently halted. Our relationship was no longer healthy for either one of us.
You were severed, filleted and torn apart for a barbaric but necessary internal inspection. And then tossed in the trash, burnt like common garbage… I don’t even know for sure what happened to you and I’m sorry. I’m sorry because you deserved better than that, to be abandoned in your final hours.
What I see now without you in my life is that you did allow me to feel whole. You allowed me to feel as though I belonged and was “normal.” You balanced my body — giving more symmetry to my butt and belly. Shirts don’t fit the same without you, designers have kicked us now flat ladies to the curb. It’s hard to feel cute without you dangling from my frame, ironic considering I never felt especially cute because you were there either. But now v-necks hang and droop, like I am a little girl with undeveloped breasts playing dress up. It’s in those moments that I don’t feel like an empowered, grown woman. And I despise it.
I hate that with you, my sense of self was set ablaze as well. It’s confusing and disorienting without your presence. I am sad without you.
But as is true in all loss, I am left to grieve and carry on and adapt and learn anew. Learn who I am without you. Learn my worth without you. Learn my loveliness and lovability without you. Wish me luck. I know you would want me to succeed in all those things.
And thank you. Thank you for all our years spent together. Thank you for feeding my children, solely providing for them the sustenance to grow and thrive. I think your disease was a result of my abusers’ actions and I am sorry you were their victim too. The poison had to go somewhere, and you volunteered to take the hit for me, but not before tending to my precious babes. And thank you for letting me know to look further within you, sending a warning benign lump that would lead to the problematic one. Thanks for having my back.
I love you.
I miss you.
Photo submitted by contributor.