Show and Smile: Breast Reconstruction

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • I was visiting with a casual friend recently, and at one point in our catch-up conversation I could see her start to become uncomfortable. Was it something I’d said? Did she have bad news? She lowered her eyes, leaned close, and whispered to me, “Did you ever feel like showing off your reconstructed breast?”

    She looked at me quizzically as I laughed. “Of course,” I assured her. “In fact, I do it all the time.” Her eyes widened. “You DO? How? Where?” And then I told her.

    I’ve had a mastectomy and tram-flap reconstruction, and I have no problem lifting my shirt to a perfect stranger and showing her the result. OK, before you envision me out on

    Main Street
    with my bionic breast flapping in the wind, hold on: it’s not like that. When the time is right, in a private setting, I pull up my shirt and bra, and we play show and tell. The viewer is always a woman who’s had, is about to have, or is considering a mastectomy and reconstruction. And there’s nothing like seeing a truly great breast reconstruction to allay your fears about the whole deal.

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    Now, granted, mine came out REALLY well. I had a couple of brilliant surgeons, and everything went just right. The two sides match, and aside from a somewhat funky nipple–-apparently, even the best surgeon/tattoo artist around can’t build a perfect nipple from scratch-–I have no problem wearing a tight-fitting leotard top, or even peeling off my sweaty T-shirt in a locker room full of fellow exercise buffs. Yeah, it looks that good. And I’m so grateful for my luck, so thankful to my surgeons, that I take very opportunity to show off their good work.

    Modesty? Not anymore. Once you’ve been through breast surgery, and had two surgeons, three doctors, six interns, a dozen medical students from the local university, and any number of nurses look at your bare breasts, modesty is LONG gone.

    As a member of my local cancer center’s volunteer program, I visit women in the hospital, just after their reconstruction. As anyone who’s had this operation knows, it’s basically a bloody mess for awhile. Here are these women, still reeling from their cancer diagnosis, in the throes of treatment, looking at a long recovery road, and staring down at the battleground that used to be their breast. When I tell a woman I had the same operation 5 years ago, her eyes light up; she can see how healthy I look, how natural. I’ll sit beside her, lean close, and ask if she’d like to see my new breast. We look at each other and, like soldiers who’ve been through combat, we connect.

    She’ll shoo any lurking family members into the hall, and we’ll show each other our breasts: my fine new one, her slashed, stitched, swollen interim breast, one that will–hopefully, in time–settle in and become part of her body’s landscape. It’s an empowering experience for both of us. She, because she sees a return to normalcy–which is, in the end, all that us cancer women really want. And me, because I know I’m helping a sister as she travels down the road.

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    So the answer is yeah, I do feel like showing off my reconstructed breast. I’ve been through cancer, and my beautiful new breast feels like a symbol of survival. It’s like  wearing a military combat medal, but better; I don’t have to take it off at night.

Published On: April 04, 2007