October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Some people think breast cancer awareness is one of the "nice" causes, everyone supports it and it gets plenty of publicity. While this is true, it's hardly nice for the women (and men!) affected by this insidious disease. Like with all cancers, the treatment is often worse than the disease itself, and there can be far reaching consequences of this treatment.
One of my favourite bloggers @YogaChikk has written a powerful post about her experience on her sex & relationship blog Naughty Time. Since her site does contain graphic adult images, she's given me permission to repost it in full here for those who might not appreciate those images (or who want to read it with the kids around!). You can find the original post here.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month--My StoryThis post is going to be different from my others in that I will reveal something that has been a very private and emotional thing for me....
I have had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
I am doing it solely to help other women and the men in their lives to understand the emotional and physical upheaval that goes on once there is a diagnosis of breast cancer. Because my blog is about sex and relationships, that is how I'm going to discuss this..
As women we see our femininity based in those things that are completely female. Our breasts are one of those things. Our breasts can feed our children, and bring us and our partner pleasure. There are very few things that say WOMAN like your breasts do. Undergoing a bilateral mastectomy was...traumatic. Suddenly instead of round breasts and perky nipples...there was just a flat chest and scars. My path was a rocky one and it didn't go well. I spent a year, having repeated surgeries. In that year, not only was my health impacted, but so was my relationship.
Its hard to feel sexy and feminine when a part of you has just been amputated. Your clothing doesn't fit right...you have numbness and pain. Your body has become almost the enemy...something you are fighting against. Everytime you look at yourself in the mirror there is the glaring evidence that you are not whole. How you and your partner deal with that will go a long way towards your emotional health during this traumatic time.
During my personal journey I met a lot of other women. Some had supportive partners and some didn't. One story stood out to me among all others. A woman said that after her mastectomy her husband didn't even want to look at her chest until her reconstruction was complete. I was personally horrified by the lack of caring and compassion he showed his wife. She was basically undergoing a radical change to her body and self esteem and her partner was concerned with only himself and her final outcome. Don't be THAT guy.
I know its not pretty. There is nothing sexy about a flat chest and scars and the expander process is far from a walk in the park. However, if your partner realizes and verbalizes that their love for you is about more than just your breasts. That the loss of those symbols of femininity doesn't make you any less feminine. That you are still desirable and loved. Then you will be able to cope so much better with the whole process.
When breasts are reconstructed, there are aspects that men are not aware of...like your new breasts will be numb. Nerves are cut and you will likely have very little to no sensation in your reconstructed breasts. Nipples as well have to be reconstructed and they also will have no sensation, are typically flat and do no react to temperature changes or desire. The areaola is tattoo'd on, this is typically the final step in the reconstruction process. Some women choose not to have a "realistic" tattooing, they may choose to tattoo their breast or mastectomy scar with a symbol of beauty to them. I say that whatever they choose ...their choice should be supported.
You may not wish to engage in breast play the way you did prior to your mastectomy. Your partner sucking on your reconstructed nipples may cause you more distress than pleasure, because you may feel awkward about having him touch these reconstructed breasts in a sexual manner when they still feel more prosthetic than a part of you. When you show your newly reconstructed breasts to your lover, you may be scared of their reaction...that they won't see you as sexy or beautiful anymore. That your breasts which are a source of pride for most women will never be what they were...and this impacts your relationship and self esteem.
The fact that the reconstruction process is typically not a fast one, means that for months you may have no breasts at all. This may dramatically change how you interact with your lover. You may wish not to take off your shirt during sex...or you may refrain from sex altogether out of embarrassement or fear of his reaction. I say this...love shouldn't be about your breasts. Love is about your sense of humor and intelligence, its about your laughter and being a good mother/sister/friend/lover. Your partner fell in love with you because of WHO you are...not what cup size you wore. So, don't give up sex, and don't underestimate its ability to bond you, reassure you and reconnect you when you need those things the most.
Know that this is your journey..and even with a supportive partner, you take it alone. No one can undergo the process for you, each step you take is towards a goal of health, and you should be proud of that. Be proud of your strength and determination. Be proud of the fact that you met the battle head on. The scars we have, show that you are a fighter. Yes, your body has changed, but you stood your ground and you have nothing to be ashamed of.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month...I ask that all my female readers, do a self breast exam monthly and get annual mammograms. The guidelines say to start them at 40*, but if you have any family history of breast cancer or you feel anything abnormal in your monthly breast exam, then please consult your physician. Don't wait.
You are a unique jewel in an ocean of bodies on this Earth...and you would be greatly missed by the people that love you. So, for them, as well as for you..please get checked.
A very different perspective to those we usually read about. There is no excuse for being ignorant about breast cancer and early detection. There is so much information readily available, and many organisations ready to help should the unimaginable occur.