When I was a kid, my mother bought us fairy-tale books. One fairy-tale most of us are familiar with is Humpty Dumpty.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
I always remembered the picture of Humpty. As they were trying to put him back together, his shell was chipping and he kept falling back apart. Sometimes in my mind, I feel like Humpty. I’ve been taken apart and put back together multiple times; my shell is chipped with some pieces missing and others in the wrong spot. That’s what breast cancer has done to me – cracked my shell. I feel I will never be put back together again.
It’s been three years since my double mastectomy. The time between diagnosis and surgery felt like a whirlwind; so many appointments, biopsies and scans. I felt I was being poked and prodded every day. I really didn’t think about after surgery. I don’t think that the reality that my breasts were being removed hit me until they were wheeling me into the operating room.
I really liked my breasts. I’d just gotten to the point of being very happy and comfortable with them. They were sexy. They were full. They were home-grown and all mine. We travelled all over together and then one day, CHOP; they were chopped off like carrot tops.
Struggling with body image seems to be a “norm.” There are so many influences telling us how we are “supposed” to look. Being women; we deal with insecurities, but when you add a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, expanders, chemotherapy treatment, radiation treatment, what was once a seed of doubt, grows into a full oak tree.
I remember the first time I looked in the mirror after my surgery. My mother helped me get dressed for my first follow up appointment. Standing in front of me in a hoodie and a pair of jeans, was an unidentifiable bald headed, flat chested, young man. I felt and looked like a boy. I lost it. I don’t know what I expected to see, but I didn’t expect to see that image. I felt so ugly.
It took me nearly a year before I could show my scars or be naked in front of my boyfriend. That night, we were laying in bed talking. We hadn’t laid in the same bed in nearly a year because I’d been sleeping in a recliner since the mastectomy. I had a longing to show him my scars because it would symbolize a sort of getting over a hurdle for me – this had been weighing on my mind for a while. He told me that I did not have to show him if I wasn’t ready. I just wanted to get it over with. I slowly pulled off my top and watched his eyes. I’d already prepared myself for him to be repulsed, the same way I was when I first saw the scars. But he wasn’t. He just looked at my new breast and looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said, “you’re still beautiful.” I cried uncontrollably. I felt like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders.
Since then, I have had several more surgeries and the left side of my body looks like it was patched together by a mad scientist. The steroids that I take on a daily basis have packed on the pounds. I often wonder if I’ll ever feel sexy or even feel whole again.
Sometimes I feel ugly. Unworthy. Less than a woman. Less wanted. Less lovable. Way less than whole. But I know deep down (waaaaay deep down) that those things are not true. I know that I am more than my outer appearance and I know that I am being super critical of myself. I know that my physical body does not define my worth. I work daily to improve my mental state so I can accept my physical. My scars show me my strength and endurance, but are also a constant reminder of the trauma that my body has gone through.