Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Problem With Not Having Breasts

It has now been a year and a half since my double mastectomy.  My, how times flies!

Physically I am all healed but if I don’t do stretches, I tend to close up and my shoulders hunch forward.   Stretches and a monthly mastectomy massage keep my range of motion open.   Easy.   I still feel like I have a strip of duct tape across my chest.  I am told this is because the scars have adhered to the muscle underneath so when I move, the skin pulls.   I've gotten used to it and don’t really notice unless I think about it.

Most of the emotional issues have faded although I occasionally have a sense of loss and feel a sadness around that.

And there are some real pluses to having no breasts -

- No more mammograms.

- No more wrestling out of sweaty sports bras.

- No need to ever wear a bra.

- No bounce when exercising.

- Incentive to keep the gut in check since having a flat chest really accentuates the belly.  (Think men with beer bellies)

 -No embarrassing hard nipple issues when cold.

- Backpacks, which are generally designed for men, are much more comfortable to carry.

- Sleeping on my stomach is much more comfortable.

- I now have the same body as Angelina Jolie.  Okay, maybe not.

I was left with two serious problems I had not anticipated.  One is clothing.  Although I did buy prosthetic boobs I did not like the feel of them.  And when it got warm they were like heavy, sweaty rubber clinging to me.  I gave up wearing them after about a month.  Which was fine.  I don’t mind the flatness.  What I do mind is the lumpiness.

My summer wardrobe was basically V-neck t-shirts for work and tanks for outside of work.  Dark colors I can still wear, and things with patterns or stripes.  But your basic white T, or anything light colored, shows every lump and bump which bothers me.  Perhaps more than it should.   But how does a lesbian survive without a basic white beater?  I am still struggling with it.

The other major problem was sex.  Frankly sex went to the back burner for a long time after the surgery because I couldn't move very well and my chest was very sore.   Then I had the second surgery and radiation, and again, being touched in any significant way was difficult.   Fortunately Martha was very understanding and patient.  But once I was fully physically healed,  I found I was no longer enjoying sex.  Frankly, I had gotten a lot of sexual pleasure from my breasts and wow, I really missed them.   So we began kind of trying to have sex, having rather one sided sex, or just giving up.  And I started to get really sad about it.  For the first time the reality of the mastectomy hit me.  This was forever.  Even if I opted for reconstruction, the nerves were gone, the sexual pleasure would never return.

Although Martha was never much of an emotional support when it came to the cancer (if fact, she couldn't talk about it at all) she was/is a rock when it comes to the physical stuff.  She took care of all my physical and hygiene needs after my surgeries, she took over all my chores, etc.   And when she saw that sex was becoming a problem for me, she simply said “Maybe this is like when someone loses their sight - then their hearing gets better.  Maybe you will develop other erogenous areas that will compensate.”   Together we set off to find them.   And find some we did.    It’s not the same, but it’s okay.

A year and a half later.  I know a lot of people think I just breezed through this mastectomy.  And perhaps in some ways I did.  One of the benefits of having something very physically and emotionally traumatic happen in my past is that everything else pales in comparison.  “Is this as bad as that?”  Nope.  Okay, I can deal with it.

But in other ways I think I am just beginning to mourn.  And adjust to the changes.  Sex is definitely getting better thanks to a very patient and giving partner.   Clothing is still a problem.  So much so that I am thinking about doing some kind of reconstruction.   I really don’t want non-feeling breasts but perhaps some small implants that will at least stretch out the lumps and bumps.  I don’t know, I really don’t want to go through another surgery for a long while.

So that's where I'm at.  Physically  good.  Sometimes a little sad.  Sex and wardrobe challenged.  Definitely boobless.  But dealing with it.   Day by day.


  1. Of course you are dealing with it... that's what survivors do.

    I am impressed at Martha, and really both of you, on your mission to find other erogenous areas. That is such a positive way to look at something difficult. Good for you for not giving up.

    In the meantime, grieving for your breasts sounds healthy. I joke sometimes that I would love to have them off, but you are right in that there are all kinds of consequences to that action. I know that when my mom had her double mastectomy she was appalled at the shape of her tummy. Let me assure you, it wasn't large! It's just that she was shaped so differently.

    And, good for you for posting a picture. That's brave! I don't think you look all that lumpy, but I'm not living in your body. It must feel so very different. You look good!

    1. My massage therapist told me that since they cut through the fascia (sp?) layer that there is a natural slouching of flesh that occurs after mastectomy. Thus the mid section tends to puff out more. I am thinking I need one of those inversion tables and maybe I could get gravity to work the other way.

      I have pictures that show the lumpiness much better but they were pretty horrendous and I didn't want to scare anyone : )

  2. I have a friend whose insurance would only cover the removal of one breast. She has had major body image issues that have resulted in severe depression.

    I think you are doing remarkably well, both physically and emotionally. How strong you are to share both the picture and the honest emotional implications of this drastic surgery.

    I agree with e - grieving is healthy, and I think you look great!

    1. Thanks! I think I am doing well.

      I can understand what your friend is going through - I think it would feel much more disfiguring to be so unbalanced. The removal of only one breast seems so short-sighted, and cruel to me (unless a woman is still of child bearing years.)

  3. AnonymousMay 23, 2013

    Well, for what it's worth, I'm totally getting implants (teeth!) the minute I can afford them. And (yes) a mini-lift. Because I don't like how I look and I've decided since I can change it, I will.

    That said, I can understand not wanting more surgery at the moment.

    As far as Martha is concerned, props to her for wanting to find other erogenous zones. And to you too.

    1. I think I need a butt lift : ) Gravity is not our friend!!!

      Yes, props to Martha - she has gotten me through a lot.

      And to answer your other question, here, because I think it is an interesting one - yes, I sometimes have that phantom breast feeling. After the surgery I often had shooting pains in my non-existent breasts and occasionally still do. Sometimes I think I can feel some pleasurable feeling there too. I still go to wash them in the shower, and in my dreams they are still there. I wonder how long that will last . . .

  4. Your posts always embody a full range of human experience. The joy and frustration of children returning from college. The humor and the grief of a double mastectomy. It is a refreshingly honest perspective.

    I particularly love your list of the benefits of not having breasts. I would add the benefit of not being suffocated while doing inverted yoga poses : )

    1. Well, my breasts were never big enough to suffocate me. I guess I should count that as a blessing too : )

  5. AnonymousMay 24, 2013

    Okay - I just realized you started writing again - so this will be a long winded comment - since I just caught up.

    1. bumper stickers - we don't have many around here - a few political (love the W 04 ones still on there), lots of club soccer ones and the occassional stick family.

    2. good for you going to the psychic - I have always wanted to go. I just want a good outcome - lol. I think I would be critical and then be like - wow!

    3. you know you may not be a teacher, but you are definately a survivor - and maybe your "thriveability" is what others need to see. You don't always have just highs - but lows as well - and through it all - you are able to thrive. That is all others need to hear about - that teaches more than you will ever know.

    4. yay for bike season. just got mine out too. love riding the trails. my scooter won't start - waiting of the fella to come pick it up and fix it!

    5. i love piano music and would love to be able to play - that has always been on my bucket list. we have a piano - no one uses it - my partner is a wonderful musician - but the memories of playing keep her from it...

    6. it was fun to hear your "complaints" cause we are experiencing the same thing - the clothes on the floor - the pop cans on the dressser - the beds unmade - the bathroom... ick - told them to bring the hamper down the other day and pulled clothes out and there were the folded ones we had done the days before. :O

    6. although you don't look very lumpy to me - cause I have my own lumpiness - you could layer your tanks - put a different color under the white one - my kids do that all the time - it looks good.

    welcome back! (even though you have been back for a while!)

    1. Wow, thanks for going back and commenting!

      I am making a big sign to hang up that says THIS IS NOT A DORM!!!

      And I'm definitely going to try layering the tanks. Could work.

      And thank you for your kind words on the teacher thing. I am beginning to understand that just sharing some of my stories can help others who are going through similar stuff. It is the biggest reason I am posting here again.

  6. I don't know that you meant it this way, but this post was incredibly inspiring to me. Thank you for sharing every part of this post. (Also, it's so great to read and catch up on you and all of my bloggy friends, I've been out of commission while house-hunting and it's so great to be back here. And I got a nice house!)

  7. Congrats on the house! Wow, that is great news. (although I will miss the sweet image of your family in that little yellow house)

  8. AnonymousMay 26, 2013

    I love your list of positives - the backpack item is particularly interesting since I never thought about how my breasts might actually be what's wrong with my backpacks and it's not that I can't find the right one to fit my body! Epiphany!

    There are challenges in everything, I guess. I'm glad Martha has been understanding, silver linings...

    1. They now probably make packs designed just for women, but I cannot give up my old, tried and true pack.

      My straps now lie more comfortably, but the bigggest plus was the chest strap, which I can now cinch tighter, and in a better location, which has given the pack a lot more stability on rough terrain.

  9. My sister had breast cancer six years ago and underwent a double mastectomy and she has been cancer free ever since. She says that she loved feeling unencumbered with breasts (she was rather well endowed) but had the same problems that you talk about regarding sex. She said that she hadn't realized how much her breasts were part of her sexual pleasure. She and her husband found ways around it too. I'm pleased that you are doing well too...

    1. Thanks Maria. As much as I am struggling with this particular loss, the good thing is that after 20 ++ years together, this is forcing us to change up the old familiar routines. And that is probably a very good thing.