Sitting on the plastic surgeon’s exam table in my open-front robe, waiting to meet the doctor for the first time, I said to my husband, “Look – there’s the Box-O-Boobs.” I pointed to a stack of clear plastic drawers stuffed with silicone breast implants, the most recent manifestation of my life’s recurring theme, “Everything I swore I’d never do, I’ve ended up doing.”
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2009, just shy of my 45th birthday. Caught early in a routine mammogram, my type of cancer–ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)–was not life threatening. However, because I had malignant calcifications in three different areas, mastectomy with reconstruction was recommended.
So many ironies came in to play. First and foremost, I was the only small-breasted woman in my family. It was something I joked about often and probably over-identified with in my personal commentary. I was “the small-breasted sister” in a family of three girls. While children’s growth milestones are usually measured against their relatives’ heights, my sisters called to tell me when my two nieces overtook my bra size.
But getting a boob job had never come to mind. Let me re-phrase that. It had come to mind, but only as one of the many things I swore I would never do, along with being a stay-at-home mom, living in the suburbs, owning a mini-van, and cleaning my kids’ faces with my own spit. Although I did, indeed, end up doing all of the rest of those things, a boob job would never happen. I would never sink so low.
So there I sat, holding my robe open in front of the plastic surgeon’s resident. My husband and I were still in the process of weighing treatment options since getting the biopsy results a few days earlier. The choices were lumpectomy (removing the cancerous tissue) followed by several weeks of radiation, or complete removal of the breast (mastectomy) with reconstruction. Reconstruction wasn’t required, of course, but having watched my aunt suffer the emotional strain of her mastectomy 30 years ago, before reconstruction techniques had been developed, I felt fortunate to have another option.
The good news was that chemotherapy wouldn’t be necessary, since the cancer was localized, not yet invasive (though my pathology report would later show that the cancer was high grade and aggressive). Having chemo off the table was something positive to hang on to, since I would suck at it. I am so prone to nausea that I’ve thrown up after doing a U-turn driving my own car. I take Dramamine like other people take Vitamin C.
I asked the resident how the reconstructed breast would compare to the original on the other side. I flashed my robe open again.
“Oh,” she said. “I can tell you right now, we can’t make it look like that.”
“You mean because it’s too small? They don’t make implants that small?” I asked.
“Basically, yes,” she replied. “We would augment the healthy side to make it as similar as possible.”
The bottom line was that I was being medically ordered to have a boob job on my healthy side as well. The joke was on me, apparently.
I’ve reached my outside boundary for blog length, but stay tuned for more of the story. The blog title comes from a t-shirt I saw a survivor wearing — wish I could take credit for it.