I Succeeded In Redefining Beautiful Breasts, For Myself Anyway

NSFW

A/N –This is the final part of my tattoo-instead-of-reconstruction story, click links for first parts. I’ve been lazy about finishing it, and now I realize I did not have the clear focus to say what needed to be said. I just got that focus.

Former Grunge Girl Attempts to Redefine the Idea of Beautiful Breasts Part 1

Former Grunge Girl Attempts to Redefine the Idea of Beautiful Breasts Part 2

Former Grunge Girl, Yada Yada Part 3

The band's logo, the idea behind the tattoo design
The band’s logo, the idea behind the tattoo design

I’ve renamed the page that contains pictures of my non-reconstructed breast after lumpectomy and after tattooing to make a very important point: The Right Choice For Me – No Reconstruction. Let me, the Cancer Curmudgeon, state for the record, unequivocally, in the event I’ve not made it clear enough, that yes indeed, this is a very personal choice, and mine was perfect for me. I love my Red Hot Chili Peppers band logo tattoo. My tattoo in lieu of replaced nipple looks fabulous in and out of clothes. I’m very happy about my choice. I made the right choice for myself and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

This is not a comment in any way on others who’ve elected to reconstruct. I simply want to reaffirm that my choice is right for me, and it might be for others as well. The point of all this is to reiterate, as I and many others have said before, there is no one right way to do cancer.

What brought this on? Commenting on HuffPo, of course. When will I get it through my thick head to avoid that site at all costs, even when other bloggers I like post links to it?

A few days ago I read some HuffPo blogger’s essay describing in detail her reconstruction. That’s great, there are a lot of these stories of mastectomy, expanders, reconstruction and etc. on blogs I follow. Hell, nearly all the comments on the essay itself included additional personal mastectomy stories. But stories of non-reconstruction seem a bit less prevalent, and therefore I’ve had to work harder to find them. I mean, sure, there is P.Ink on Pinterest, but that is pictures, mostly, the stories behind are not there (or they were not before, keep reading).

So in the comments, I said:

“I wish more shared their decision to NOT reconstruct, as I have done.”

I thought this statement expressed a simple wish, not a lament that I’d regretted my decision. Here is a response to my comment:

“Why? I can’t imagine not wanting to look good in your clothes and feel good about yourself. It’s also a very personal choice. 

I lost one to cancer and one for preventative measures. I am very happy with my reconstruction. Originally I did not intend to have my breasts replaced but after talking to women who had done it, I changed my mind. Like the writer said, the physical impact is minimal, it’s a fairly minor surgery. And the mental consequences are only what you make them. I chose to accept it as over and done with. Every woman should aim for that attitude. It’s just not that big of a deal.”

(My response to her is a condensed version of this post.)

Where did I say in that one sentence that I thought I did not look good or feel good? Where did I criticize anyone’s choice to get reconstruction, just because I’m curious about different stories? Why did this woman assume that any woman who opts out of reconstruction looks and feels bad, and that this bad feeling was the motivation behind my comment? The third sentence, in which she acknowledges that it is a personal choice, does not make up for the judgmental tone of the previous. To me, in my irritated state, it implies that the ONLY presumed way a woman can look and feel good about herself is to have replacements. It negates her following statements about mental consequence and attitude, which again, assumes that any woman who elects to not reconstruct must not be happy—like I’m just sitting here, crying over my scar, because that is the mental consequence I’ve chosen. Again, read the links above to understand fully the path to my decision.

Granted I might be a tad unfair here, she does not know me or my blog, or the story I’ve documented on my blog. But, again, that’s just it—she doesn’t know “me”; it was just a comment from another reader, one she has no knowledge of. I’m stupefied that anyone would just automatically assume some random reader (in this instance, me) made this comment out of being unhappy with the choice, would NOT have done something totally different—like get a tattoo—and do it on purpose and LIKE IT, and not consider many other women might also have made unconventional choices and were happy about them. Seems there is a whole world of cancer patients out here that refuse to fit into any a narrow world view. I happen to be one of them, and I’m blabbing my story.

Of course, her opening shot of “Why?” says it all. Not only does she not think anyone could be happy doing anything other than reconstruction, she doesn’t think those who’ve opted out should even speak up.  “Why” she asks, as if we do not even deserve a voice, especially since she assumes that voice to be only whining about our “wrong” choice.

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I HATE breast cancer, that I had it, and that it damaged my breasts, anyone’s breasts. The pink ribbon’s “tyranny of cheerfulness” (Samantha King, “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” film) demands women conceal the sadness that can accompany loss of breasts falsely presents breast cancer as a party, whose attendees are warriors who never falter. I especially hate this notion that women who have mastectomies “just get new ones”, a comment I’ve seen/heard mastectomy patients REALLY condemn. I hate the save the ta-tas culture that blithely dismisses the lives in need of saving with that slogan, and that to save those lives ta-tas usually need to be lost, making the slogan a total lie.  Indicating the loss is “no big deal”, to me, is incredibly dismissive of those of us who’ve really struggled and mourned our breasts, and by reading numerous other bloggers’ stories of mastectomy and reconstruction, sounds like many women I admire mourned their breast loss, and have written about it quite well. See Nancy’s Point and Chemo-brain, just for starters.

Another thing to consider in the story of how everyone does cancer: some folks have better emotional support and tools. Or some of us know the best way to deal with anger, sadness, and negative emotions is to let them out, not submerge them. And some folks have some incredibly tough personal situations in addition to cancer which can make the experiences much more difficult—it isn’t like every other problem in life ceases during cancer. If anyone is lucky enough to have a no big deal kind of cancer experience, great; now, stop lecturing everyone else. Stop telling others what kind of attitude is appropriate, because some of us choose to point out the dark side of breast cancer because we want to help the patients coming up behind us, rather than just glibly telling others to improve the attitude. And certainly stop assuming knowledge of others’ extenuating circumstances beyond cancer—it greatly influences the cancer experience—it is no one else’s right to determine for others what is or is not a big deal.

The completed tattoo, same day
The completed tattoo, same day

I may hate what cancer did to my breasts, and I once mourned the damage, but I love what I did to reclaim them, to own my scars and to own my experience, to make my cancer experience absolutely Cancer Curmudgeon-y. My scar and the fact I had cancer are a part of me now. Just like the time I got hit in the face with a clothes hanger, leaving a dent at the top of my nose. Just like the time I dropped a very large, heavy piece of glass on my foot which has left my left toenail forever screwed up. All of this is a part of me. So I took the breast surgery scar and used it as a backdrop, a canvas, if you will, that reveals even more important aspects of me than my cancer status— which is a lifelong love of GREAT music. For a year I avoided looking at my body, my scar, I just hated it so much. Now, I catch sight of my scar, I smirk, and laugh at the anti-reconstruction rebel in me, the late bloomer/formerly-uptight-woman-worried-about-how-a-tattoo-would-look-at-40 me who finally got a 90s tattoo, two decades later. I think about RHCP bassist Flea, one of the greatest, or maybe THE greatest, bass player of the rock era—sorry Geddy Lee, John Entwistle, John Paul Jones, and Les Claypool. Oh, well, lookee there—I’ve used my cancer scar to jump off and think about things far more important and interesting to me than my case of cancer. Mental consequences, indeed.

(Source: around---the--world)
(Source: around—the–world)

I pondered in a recent post about folks judging others’ “unnecessary mastectomies” what those of us making our choices public could and should expect in terms of criticism and applause. I concluded that it does not matter if it is tens or millions of people who know of any of our choices, no one has the right to judge decisions of others that only impact the person making those choices. I also acknowledged that it did feel good to get the compliments. So I pause here to thank anyone who has liked my numerous posts on my story and pictures, and for all the wonderful comments. I thank women who’ve shared their non-reconstruction stories in comments on my blog. I thank other women who’ve told their stories, anywhere. Mostly, I especially thank tattoo artist Eric, who helped me with the concept and design of the tattoo, and who made that particular section of having cancer the only good days in the whole mess. Visiting him for the first time to pitch the idea and getting an “I love it” response—well if there were ever a cure for my cancer blues, that was it. Going back to get the work done, having him tell me that he was so glad I wanted to do it, because he wanted to execute such a cool idea—it was a great feeling to be the source of an excellent opportunity, to make something good out of bad. I hated being topless for 15 minutes for those 30+ days getting radiation—I hated the whole radiation experience. But lying topless for 3 hours to get the tattoo, I loved that. I cannot express in words why this is so, but the fact I hated one and loved the other probably says more than I even realize.

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I stared writing this post over 5 days ago—my life got very hectic and it was too much trouble to sit down and finish. I began in a fit of pique at the response to my comment, but by now I’m not that annoyed anymore. More like, just rolling my eyes at the ignorance of it all. It is this ignorance that compels me to finish and post this, rather than abandon it, which I considered. Things may never change; people will never stop judging each other, will never stop thinking that everyone’s feelings and actions should be exactly like their own. But I don’t have to like it, and I can speak up as long as I have the energy and will to do so. If this rambling tale helps even one woman someday realize she does not have to go with the status quo if it doesn’t work for her, then I’ve done alright.

This incident inspired me to revisit P.Ink on Pinterest, and revisit my own neglected boards there (oops!). I’m not much for joining groups or picking one breast cancer organization as better than others—I am still a Cancer Curmudgeon after all—but I think I’ll do this. I asked to submit my pictures to P.Ink, and received a wonderful email informing me that they are adding a new dimension—interviews to get those of us with tattoos to share our stories to inspire others, to let others know that getting tattooed instead of reconstruction is a valid option.

Looks like I’ll get to read similar stories—the ones I asked for that kicked off this whole mess—after all.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

21 thoughts on “I Succeeded In Redefining Beautiful Breasts, For Myself Anyway”

  1. I was hoping that you would pass along a warning to your readers about a scam artist who is trying to solicit funds from various cancer support groups. His name is Charles Marinello from Arizona and he posted a request on my Breast Cancer Support Groups site. When some of his story didn’t add up, he became verbally abusive. Further investigation showed that he was peddling his bogus story to a lot of different cancer sites. People should be warned about this man. His behavior in trying to defraud women who have survived the worst that life had to throw at them and then his abuse when caught shows people need to be warned about this man.

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  2. Well done, as always!
    Thanks for responding to that woman (and anyone who thinks like her) on behalf of all women who’ve faced breast cancer, regardless of what they have or haven’t done with respect to their breasts or lack thereof.
    Whether one chooses to reconstruct or not — and what we do with our scars — is a personal decision, and I am grateful there are voices like yours who aren’t afraid to speak up and to educate those who so clearly need to be put in their place.

    As someone who had a bilateral mastectomy and did no reconstruction, I am often questioned. Especially in the beginning when it wasn’t a choice, just a “fact.” My surgeon — the top breast cancer surgeon in our region (I say this because it is why I respected his opinion so much) — told me to fuhgeddaboudit, that it would be damn near impossible on my left side given how large the cancer was and how deep it was (into the chest wall). As for the right side, he was against me doing anything and said that I needed to focus on survival and that if I “made it” and got through the remainder of the chemo (I’d already had a bunch before surgery) and radiation, he would set me up with the microsurgeon if I wanted to look into it. So that was that. I obviously did “make it,” and after about 18 months, I met with the surgeon because I was curious. My options are fairy limited on the left side, but he said he could make me a really nice right boob. I chose to do nothing.

    That was 18 months ago. I had nice full C cup boobs before cancer and now I’m flat on the right and almost concave on the left. And I think it will probably always be that way and I’m mostly fine with that. I say mostly because I’ve heard plenty of comments that always feel like a kick in the gut, like, “How can you live like that?” Or comments about how my husband is suffering because I’ve made a selfish choice and someone his age — he’s the same age as me — deserves to have a wife with breasts. And other equally appalling things as I’m sure you can imagine! People!

    I think your breast looks beautiful! Absolutely beautiful! And I am glad you are so happy with it — that’s really all that matters…

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    1. The thing was, the woman who responded WAS a breast cancer patient, who spoke as if her values and views on the breast cancer experience, or maybe even the experience itself, were shared by all others with BC. The details of your experience prove (at least in my mind) that no two experiences are alike, and there are many extenuating circumstances, cancer related and not, that complicate matters and make it the proverbial “big deal”. I apologize for contributing to the divisiveness within the breast cancer community, but I will not tolerate what I perceive to be condescension and narrow-mindedness.

      The comments about your husband’s suffering are intolerable–hope you’re handling them. I would fail at that.

      “How can you live like that?” Man, I thought about that a lot during cancer–so many things I thought I’d never be able to handle–giant pills I had to take before chemo, the pain as they prepped me for surgery….One lives like that or does things because one has to, or it is a choice made in the hopes it will make life easier, better. I’m an ass too, guilty of the judgmental attitude I condemn in this post! I have a friend with Lyme who takes at least 50 pills a day. As I helped her make packs of pills to take at various times of the day for a several days-long trip, I asked “how can you take so many pills”–just out of my own world view in which after cancer I’ve tried to eliminate as many pills from my daily regime as possible. How stupid and ignorant of me–she does it to make herself feel better. One lives like that so they can do that (live).

      And thanks for the compliments about my post and my freckle-riddled torso, ha ha!

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  3. I love the tattoo. It feels as if you conquered all the negativity you have encountered and you are passing on a pretty umbrella of ink that will protect others. Perhaps the new cancer color can be red!

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    1. Thanks! I DO hope others find solace in the story here, even if tattoo is not their path. Me rambling about the tattoo is probably just my sheer indulgent enjoyment of it. The main thing is, I just want others to be totally OK with their choices, and to remind everyone that the choices are not all going to be the same. Heck, I did not get a tattoo in the 90s because I hated the idea that everyone was getting them to show how “different” they were. It was like, “we can all be original and different, as long as we do it the same exact way.” Guess I really didn’t do things the same way….

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  4. I don’t know why there is so much judging going on – even within the breast cancer community itself. And the woman’s comment about her choice – “not a big deal, minor surgery, every woman should aim for that (her) attitude”. Wow. And then the comments that “Cancer in My Thirties” has received about her decision and her husband’s suffering – unbelievable really. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, you realize no, you haven’t. There’s more where that came from!

    Anyway, kudos to you for doing things your way. Your tattoo looks amazing. And I like your equation. That pretty much sums up your entire post! You are happy with your decisions. In the end, that’s what matters.

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    1. Yeah, I thought at this point, nothing more could surprise me, but that is so not true! I was knocked over when I first read the comment that inspired this piece, then again at what Cancer In My Thirties said.
      And thanks for liking my tattoo–I’m so glad I did it.

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  5. dear cc,

    you have done an amazing job turning that woman’s one-sided and judgmental attitude into a very excellent opportunity to show how we need to acknowledge and respect, and yes, even celebrate every individual’s way of honoring their breast cancer experience with what ever their choice may be. I think she may have, indeed, done you and us a favor by all the yammering and one-sided thinking aloud because it revealed so much about not just her attitudes, but about how such narrow-mindedness can impact the whole conversation by lowering the standards of true caring and empathy and respect – things within our own community that are paramount. and I agree, her first word, “WHY” was a big hint to was would then follow.

    you were doing an excellent thing by showing interest into other’s stories – the ones who elected not to have reconstruction. you didn’t volunteer to be put on the block to defend yourself, you were gracious and showed true interest in your invitation to others to join in on the conversation. this woman offered NOTHING by way of conversation, she only wanted to point out that her choice was the best choice, and why wouldn’t it not be. I sure would hate to have her as a friend if I were ever facing making those kinds of decisions. probably wouldn’t be able to get my own thoughts and feelings in edgewise, to say nothing of being deprived of needed support.

    I have said it before, but will say it again. your choice was an absolutely beautiful one. and having the collaborative element with your ink artist, the excitement of creating something that is so YOU, and the happiness and satisfaction each time you see it is what counts. you have never said – oh, gee, guys, look at this – this is the way to go! nope – you have always, always said it was a very fine fit for you. and you had every right to talk about it, as well as show those great photos of how it turned out. how anyone could begrudge you that is absolutely astonishing.

    so no worries – keep you head held high and know that all those who love your blog, who love and value you and your wonderfully unique and honest voice that speaks out so eloquently for the rights of others to choose their own ways of coping and doing whatever feels right are firmly right there with you. and don’t give up your desire to hear from others about how they chose not to have reconstruction – just not on that crazy-assed huffpo site! and just be glad that you are you – and NOT her.

    sending you much love and light, and a big thank you for this important post, CC

    Karen, TC

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    1. LOL, yeah, I know it was an unconventional choice, that won’t work for everyone. I just try to think–well, I’m letting everyone know that it is one kind of option, if anyone’s interested! So, yes, it was very good–it lit the fire under my butt to finally finish the story I started telling so long ago about how and why I did it.
      Thank you as always for the support and kind words, much needed these days!

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  6. Hi C.C. I am such a fan of yours. On this issue though, I’ll raise the stakes.

    I’m embracing breastlessness. I now shop in the boys’ section for clothes – no darts to contend with.

    Here’s my take on rejecting even wearing prosthetics and the pleasures of living with a flat chest.
    http://conflictcompetence.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/embracing-breastlessness/

    and my top 10 things to love about breastlessness.
    http://conflictcompetence.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/bests-of-breastlessness/

    Bottom line; I had little choice about cancer and the treatment necessary to survive. I have so many choices about how to live now that I’m breastless. I picked the attitude that reflects my gratitude to still being here, which is to celebrate my body just as it is. Despite being flat as the prairies I live on, I’ve never felt more sexy in my life.

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    1. HI Deborah, you are one of the ones I’m thanking in this post, for linking your non-recon story here (the first time I posted Outside the Stats). Your comment about celebrating your body is exactly the kind of thing I was thinking when I responded to the comment maker on HuffPo, or to anyone who does not think those who’ve chosen not to reconstruct should talk about it, or could possibly feel OK with that choice.
      I’ve come to realize since posting this that it all has to do with the values of each person, and you’ve shown what you value in your top 10 list. Someone asked me if I changed my mind later (tho’ she doesn’t think I should change it), could I reconstruct? Funny, all I could think was that I would not want to screw up the art, the logo, Eric’s handiwork. The tattoo cost considerably less than any future reconstructive surgery would, yet to me it is priceless. That is how much I value what I’ve done.

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      1. Thanks right back to you. My story got more unbelievable this month and if it hadn’t happened to me I might not have believed it – I had to have the double mastectomy redone. Yup, amputate breasts, hit reset, repeat. As I wrote in my post: Who has four total mastectomies?

        Like you, I place more value on the learning than on perfect (by whose standard?) breasts. I again declined the reconstruction the surgeon offered at the same time, even though Canada’s excellent universal health care would have paid for it. This journey has been quite the trip. Thanks again for taking it with me.
        http://conflictcompetence.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/resilience-helps-when-a-double-mastectomy-gets-redone/

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  7. This is amazing and you are amazing. I love your tattoo so much! I’m a huge RHCP fan and have the logo tattooed on my ankle. but this is brilliant! I go in for a MRI tomorrow because they found something questionable on my mammogram. I immediately had an ultrasound and have a dilated duct with “something” inside. that’s all the info I have. I’m a military dependent so I’m at the mercy of military healthcare. I’ve been waiting 2 weeks for the MRI and have no clue about ANY of this stuff. Of course I’m assuming the worst. I’m for sure keeping this tattoo in my mind.

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    1. Oh dear! I don’t know much about military care. An MRI is just a different way of looking at it. Some people hate MRIs, and definitely keeping still is a challenge, but they are not too bad. Good luck, and let me know how it goes. Will be thinking of you!

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