During my breast reconstruction, the esthetician took fat from my thighs and sides and put it around the implants to make them look more natural. It left my thighs dark purple with bruises, the pain was much worse than I had imagined. Over time, the bruises disappear, but so does the fat around the implant; my body reabsorbed it. Now when I take my bra off, I see ridges and dimples that can’t be flattened without a third surgery. My breasts are more lifted and smaller than they were after breastfeeding three kids, and without nipples, I’ll never have to buy breast petals to wear with a strapless dress again. But it’s also true that drainage holes introduced during my mastectomy have left pits that remind me of cigarette burns when I see them in the mirror.
“You’ll do great,” people say. “You will feel very relieved.” I needed their voices, echoing as the doctors brought me into the operating room. All things considered, I did pretty well, I have very few complaints about that.
However, can my body hold two truths? Do I have room between the asymmetry of my new breasts and my clean breast health ratio, to lament? To tell: I also lost something. After having a baby, my breasts sagged and sagged, but they never seemed unnatural. They are mine. Now when I undress in the closet and turn my back, it’s not just that I’m easily embarrassed. I am also taking the space to rediscover my body, what it feels like to live in a place that has been rearranged. Not every one of us, at some point in our lives, has to admit that: What we thought was this body was one thing, but it turns out to be another.
Previvor. It was a privilege, without a doubt, a profound bow to science and to me, to God. I can’t help looking around at friends who’ve had cancer and never had a chance to get over anything. We call that perspective, right? But if I told you that I know how to navigate the psychological terrain between glorifying the suffering stories of others and my own, I would be lying. It’s not healthy to hide behind gratitude without admitting that sometimes I feel like the subject of a Cubist portrait – a woman made of pieces put together, almost recognizable as her own. I am looking for space, as a forerunner, to mourn. A space where I can stop and consider that my scars are signs of remission but also lesions of my choosing. I am lucky and disappointed, in debt and sad.
I may never have the right boobs for a Playboy, but I’ve recently reconsidered my “Thanks, I’m fine” approach to nipple tattoos. Now that my skin has healed and I have distanced myself from the trauma of the surgery, I am more open to the idea of making my breasts more beautiful. It may be wishful thinking, but it’s probably not ungrateful to want your breasts to look more polished or finished.
One day, I ordered a temporary tattoo print — a mix of cool blues and greens, a hint of lavender, coral, and pink — called “Bonds.” Back when I first went to see a plastic surgeon, he showed me photos of women wearing intricate designs, instead of nipples, with ink on their breasts. I couldn’t appreciate their artistic decisions back then; I was drowning in new information. I’m somewhere between perspective and grief now, and maybe this area is just about re-imagining my body and its beauty. I keep the fake tattoo in its plastic film on a bookshelf in my office, as a reminder that I have options. Over time, as I re-analyze what’s important to me from what can be thrown away, I’ll probably call Vinnie and ask if he’s taking special orders.
Taylor Harris is a Pennsylvania-based writer and author of “This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Face of the Unknown.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/25/well/mind/breast-cancer-mastectomy-recovery.html After a mastectomy, moving between gratitude and grief