SHARE volunteer Megan Rutherford describes her decision not to have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy.
I was lucky. Because I had my bilateral mastectomy after chemotherapy, I had ample time to consider my options, a luxury many breast cancer patients don't have. My breast surgeon encouraged me to consult a plastic surgeon about reconstruction. I was given a good deal of useful information: brochures, photographs, a lecture and slide show. But I also wanted to know about the alternative—no reconstruction. I wanted to know what it looked like, how it felt, what it was like to wear breast forms, whether it was conspicuous to go without them, what clothing options were available—everything!
So I called Share, and a "peer match" was made for me with a woman who had had a unilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. She told me she had become completely accustomed to having one breast. She wore a breast form to work and went without it at home. Although she couldn't tell me what it would be like to have both breasts removed, as I planned to do, she said she felt comfortable running errands without her form. She wore a button-down shirt with a well-placed pocket or threw on a jacket or a scarf, and no one noticed the imbalance.
After speaking with her, I, too, chose to forgo reconstruction. I'm physically active, with a yoga practice that's important to me, so avoiding extra surgery and getting back on the mat fast was a big factor in my decision. (In fact, six months later, I took a month off of work and completed a yoga teacher-training course.)
For me it was the right decision. I was in the hospital for about 24 hours. I never took the prescription pain killers I was sent home with. The two drains were a nuisance, but they were removed a week later. I had a little fluid accumulation and an itchy rash, which worried me at the time, but both resolved on their own.
I'm very emotional, so I was surprised by how little distress I felt about losing my breasts. They had been small to begin with, and the difference between an A cup and a flat chest is not that great. I had told my surgeon I wanted a "10-year-old boy look." And that's what I got. I had worried that having no nipples would make me look like an alien. It doesn't. And my scars have faded to scratch marks.
As for my partner, he was relieved that I chose the least-complicated option. I had been concerned about my teenage daughter's reaction, but my lack of breasts didn't faze her. In fact, a year after the surgery, she stumbled on some before-and-after snapshots I had taken. After examining them closely, she said, "Mom, you looked really weird with boobs!"
My surgeon gives me yearly prescriptions for silicon breast forms and mastectomy bras, but I didn't wear a bra before my mastectomy and rarely wear one now. It's not just about comfort. It's about my sense of self: What you see is what you get. That said, I do make an effort to deflect attention from my flatness. I wear busy patterns; layers; loose tops; scarves; and dark colors, which obscure the absence of shadow below my nonexistent bosom.
I know that for many women, resuming their former silhouette helps them regain a sense of normalcy. But for me, the sight of my unreconstructed chest in the mirror is somehow reassuring. Sure, my breasts are gone, but they were—literally and figuratively—superficial. My body works perfectly well without them. And when you're 60, looking like a 10-year-old ain't bad.