The Truth About Losing a Breast

One of the things that writing does for me, that I do for myself by writing, is find meaning in the things I am experiencing, in the feelings I have, in the world around me. I find if I write about things, it helps me gain a deeper understanding of them. In that way, writing is like therapy–it’s a way to process things so that they become clearer, because if they are clearer, they are easier to work with.

I know I’m dealing with something really complex when I can’t find the words to explain it. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I find it really disorienting, and frustrating. And that’s where I’m at since the mastectomy. Losing a breast has impacted me emotionally in a way I don’t have words to describe. It’s not just how it looks, but it is partly how it looks. Because, it looks awful.

And before you pull a John Legend and say “you don’t know you’re beautiful” please just stop. This is not me putting myself down here. MY BREAST IS GONE. Like, seriously, under no circumstances is that a good thing. It’s a shitty thing to lose your breast, an ugly thing. Was it a necessary thing? Absolutely. Would I do it again given the same circumstances? Fo sho. Is it still depressing and awful to look at the physical manifestation of my fight against cancer and what it has cost me? Of course it is.

From now on, when I look at myself in the mirror, I will have to be reminded of The Cancer. Hair grows back, gray in my case, but still there, and easily dyed if I really gave a shit about it. Breasts, on the other hand, do not grow back. Even after reconstruction, they bear a scar, and they have no feeling. The Cancer will always be with me now, even if I am lucky enough to get to a point of having no evidence if disease, which would be a big win for someone who is stage IV. Even if the doctors can’t see cancer anymore, I will always see it.

Before I had the surgery, this was my biggest fear, that I would only see The Cancer when I look at myself in the mirror. And now it has come true. I don’t see myself in the mirror anymore, I only see The Cancer.

When I try to talk to people about what that feels like….I don’t know, the words just aren’t there. I am usually the queen of the analogy, like, I can usually compare what I am feeling to something everyday, so folks can understand it. But I can’t even begin to say what this is like. I’ve never experienced something like this before, so I have nothing to compare it to.

I will say this, I hope this is temporary. A wise friend said to me that when you have a trauma, it takes time to incorporate it into your psyche and while that is happening, it’s hard to live with. And I think that’s probably true, that at some point I will carry cancer without being only cancer, just as the NICU has become part of me without dominating me. But man, it’s hard in the meantime.

9 thoughts on “The Truth About Losing a Breast

  1. I would feel the same way as you do Beth. I think of you so much and I hope in some small way that helps you to know how many of us don’t even know you but feel like we do. We’re all fighting for you and sending love.

    I do like what Katie Williams had to say tho about the battle scar. I feel like you are a strong warrior and you are going to beat this. …. and when you do it can be a proud scar instead of a negative scar.


  2. What I love is that not one comment has been solicitous or patronizing. Not one remark saying how you’ll get over it or to keep your chin up. Have you noticed? Still sending daily prayers.

  3. You are going through some heavy duty shit that I cannot even fathom. Sending truckloads of love.

  4. Hi Beth, you don’t know me, but I’m one of J’s old band friends. Been following your blog through his Facebook posts. I’m not sure if this will help at all, but this post reminded me of something similar with our son, Grayson, who had a cardiac arrest at 1 month. He had CPR for 48 min and subsequently, has a large scar on his chest from the prolonged compressions. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of that horrible night when we thought we were going to lose him. I have trouble trying to ignore it and it makes me sad every time I see it. I want to pretend it’s not there, but I can’t..

    We try to think of it instead as his battle scar.. Proof that modern medicine helped him to survive. Just because his heart stopped beating, we weren’t going to let him go just yet. It sucks that there’s a physical reminder and we can’t just pretend it never happened. It’s now a part of him, and our reminder never to take his part in our life for granted and that we are lucky he is alive..

    His scar is somewhat similar to your mastectomy scar. (Or if you think it’s not the same at all, just tell me to shut up! What do I know?!) It totally sucks that you no longer have your breast, but it unfortunately was a necessary evil. What remains is now your battle scar to show you have the ability to remove the cancer cells by force. You will not go down without a fight.

  5. Beth,

    Your honesty and open way of expressing what you are going through is amazing…

    Thank you for sharing with all of us.

  6. You write from the heart, as well as from your brain. There are no words to express the emotion reading this caused. The words that come to mind are useless cliches. You are in my thoughts, my prayers.

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