There are a lot of women talking about breast cancer and the subsequent treatment and surgery. Many of these ladies have shared the horrible truth of what cancer has done to their bodies in great detail, sharing the intricacies of a life affected by a debilitating disease. I am currently on the other side of active treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation are a thing of the past and I’m mostly finished with the reconstruction phase that follows bilateral mastectomy. Lately, however, I’ve been noticing a reconstruction side effect that is not topping the lists of reported side effects.
(Don’t worry, this is not a side effect. This is a photo of my strange bust line the night before my tissue expander exchange surgery. Dr. K had to overfill the right expander to help my skin expand and to help choose the desired size. I think it looks hilarious.)
The side effect is not a scar that reaches across each breast (though I have that), it’s not mysterious itches and pains that thread their way through my chest (I have that too), it’s not reduced strength in my chest and shoulders (yep, got that) and it’s not constant pain in my back where they took my back muscle (I’m afflicted by this one too).
No, the side effect that nobody is talking about is not any of the common side effects listed above.
It’s crumbs. Crumbs in my new cleavage. It’s food that is easily caught by my new shape.
When I get undressed at night, I’ve been noticing little dots of crumbs in my mid-bra area. I feel like I use a napkin and I’m sure I brush myself off if crumbs land on my shirt, but still, I keep noticing remnants of the day’s bounty right in between my upper girl parts.
The other night we had peas with dinner. As I brought the fork to my face, I tried to hold back a sneeze. The hold I had on my fork faltered and the whole bite of green peas went into my shirt. I looked down and I could see them there, caught between my skin and my bra. I quickly looked up. I was with my family, but luckily nobody noticed. I didn’t feel like it was something I could address at that moment since I am working so hard at modeling appropriate behavior–I mean how classy would it be if I started rooting around in there while at the dinner table? So I let the peas stay. A few bites later, two more peas jumped in to join their little green friends. Now things were getting ridiculous.
Another time I was eating (inhaling) some french fries when one fry landed in THE AREA. Absolutely crazy! I never saw this coming when they said they could rebuild me. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would gain a couple cup sizes and a place to store a snack for later. One time I stashed my phone in there. That’s tacky, but it was an emergency situation.
I do need to get a little serious though and mention that this whole reconstruction thing is not a piece of cake. It’s not like regular breast augmentation where you get to keep your breast tissue and nipples and feeling. It’s really a hollowed out area that has been refilled with what kind of feels like heavy water balloons. There isn’t a lot of feeling left in the skin that I got to keep, but there are occasionally shooting pains somewhere in there and occasional itchiness that is somewhere down deep. The itchiness leaves me so frustrated. I want to scratch it, but it can’t be reached from the outside. So bizarre. The girls aren’t exactly symmetrical either–but can be called upon to “pull together” when a neckline calls for that type of thing. The other really weird thing is the left side that has the muscle and skin from my back. The way the scarring turns out it looks like I have a giant eyeball shape over there. (I had latissimus dorsi flap surgery).
Women who go through breast cancer treatment often face seeing themselves as non-feminine. Losing hair and your breasts? And then add early menopause? For me, that was pretty much all the ingredients that made me a girl. At some point, I just felt like this asexual being that had no true gender identity. People could counsel all they wanted on the fact that it was all temporary, but when I was living it, there was very little hope that my body would ever be right. The other thing that had to be realized was the fact that things would never be the same again; things would never be normal. Normal for me would be my long, straight hair and natural bust line. (This is where I should say something and refer to it as my new normal. New normal is as bad as breast cancer journey. I don’t subscribe to either of those cliches.) The body I have now has curly hair and reconstructed breasts that create a space for catching crumbs and peas. I’m happy with how things are turning out, but I’m still not considering all of this as normal.
(This is where this post shall end–there’s a piece of granola digging into my right breast.)