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January 17, 2012

I can't describe it as anything other than sheer

glee.

Well, that might be a *wee* bit strong for now, but I honestly think it is what I have been feeling for the past week or so.  In other words, that first post-surgical blog post was not just the meds talking.  If you remember, I was a bit stressed about the surgery, so much so, that I took a 'relaxation' pill the night before.  I kept the stiff upper lip and tried to be positive, but also allowed myself to think that the surgery could fail, the worst-case scenarios would happen and I would end up regretting everything.  Given that I did not expect that my world was going to improve 1000% overnight, imagine when it did?

Okay, okay, we'll leave it at 990% for now.  After all, I do have a follow-up surgery and some tweaking, but overall I am so content.  I KNOW without a doubt that the DIEP was THE best procedure for me and I am so glad that I have so many friends who would not let me skip this opportunity.  

Do you know what I did last week?  When it was finally time to take that first, real post-surgical shower, I looked in the mirror.  I gave a long, hard look and do you know what I saw?  I saw resolution.  I saw (and felt) a decision that will never, ever be regretted.  Despite what some people say, despite that there are entire groups who feel that reconstruction is a waste of time and money, I will forever be grateful for the foresight I had to research my options and go with my gut.

You see, there are many people out there who believe that reconstruction is useless.  There is the idea that breast cancer is over-sexualized and it's all about "saving the ta-tas."  Trust me, by the time you get to my point (and remember that I was only Stage 1 and am doing just fine), there was little or no saving to be done. There rarely is at that point and all of the awareness in the world is fine, but it won't necessarily prevent you from losing body parts that you have come to appreciate.

Now, one might say, "But, my God, you get to live!"  Well, it's not as if I went off on a bender, driving down the wrong side of the road or spent my days living in an otherwise reckless manner.  As some people like to say, it was a complete crapshoot.  However, that begs the question:   Why are those who are stricken suddenly supposed to hate a body part and want to immediately part with it?  Why are we supposed to be grateful to have our chests mutilated, our skin burned and perhaps our bodies filled with toxins?  If we didn't do anything wrong, then each additional "fix" just adds insult to injury.

Yet each and every day, I read of someone who decided against reconstruction because she doesn't need a breast to be a woman.  No, I suppose one doesn't.  So, then, many women who opt for reconstruction are made to feel as if they are somehow desiring to be pin-up models or are trying to enjoy that size C that God forgot to give us in the first place.  So, here is my question:  If a man had to undergo something similar (say a slightly different type of cancer) and he wanted reconsctructive surgery, would he be made to feel like less of a man?  Would he be told to just cut it off, that it doesn't define who you are, so just get over it already?

Somehow, I think not.  So why can't women enjoy the same privilege?  Why is it assumed that we are aching for a Playboy contract (let's face it, that's not happening) or that we don't feel whole without body part that so many deem to exist solely for a sexual purpose?

Maybe, just maybe, it's like any other body part.  Would you not be upset to lose an arm or a leg?  So, why are we so quick to decide that this is so much less necessary than any other limb?  

For many women, the breast is much more than just a sexual object, as it is also a primary source of nourishment and comfort for wee ones.  I don't know how I would have gotten through the feeding and comforting of three children without them.  Yet, because a miserable cell invaded one of mine, I am supposed to discard it like yesterday's trash. I was supposed to look in the mirror and feel whole again despite the fact that there was a blank slate where one of my primary tools of early parenting was cut off, poked, prodded, tested and thrown away.  I was supposed to feel stronger and more self-assured because I lost a body part?

No, thank you.  If there is an option to make me look and feel whole again, I will take it. I look in the mirror now and while I don't see a perfectly matching set (but never did), I do see a work in progress.  I have cleavage that looks and feels natural.  I feel pressure, pain and hot and cold in growing amounts each day. Nicholas can snuggle up against me (okay, not right now, but one day soon) and he will be able to rest his head on my chest as we read books or tell stories and it will feel as natural and normal as it did in the past.  However, decidedly, the best part of the whole situation is how I feel at the moment.

I feel Glee (yes, with a capital "G").  Glee for making the right (and only) decision for me.  I feel sorry for those who feel as though they have to continue to push the idea that reconstruction is somehow bad or wrong.  I would never tell someone that they should or shouldn't (though would give my experience if asked) and think that the needs of the person dictate what should happen.

I also do not think that it is correct to imply that anyone who pursues their surgical options naturally has less self-confidence.   In fact, I feel quite the opposite.  I took a huge risk and had to have not only an enormous amount of confidence in my doctor, but also in myself....and thus far, nearly 11 days later, I do not have one regret nor do I expect I ever will.

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Jen, I am so happy for you! You are awesome!

I love this post! I love that you're filled with glee :) I agree with everything you've written and I think in your place I would most likely have made the same choice. It would not be about restoring my sexiness or womanliness, it would just be about Me feeling like Me. I can understand someone not wfeeling the need to reconstruct, or choosing to take pride in their scars, like a medal of triumph reminding them every day that they won - but on the flip side of that, I imagine I would not need scars as a reminder that I had won, but would want to restore my body in celebration of the fact that I was still here, and would be here for a very long time. But that's me... this is you, the only person your choice has to be right for. Hooray for you!

You say it girl! This post should be heralded to all that are going through something similar! Well written and spoken from a place of realism and truth!

Thank you for writing this!

I have not come up against anyone in my immediate world who feels that recon is not necessary, though I have "met" many women online who do. However one feels about it is cool by me. I was most interested in your perspective on having DIEP vs. tissue expanders to implants. I chose the latter b/c I was honestly scared of the long surgery associated with DIEP. I am coming up to my 1-year anniversary since my bilateral mastectomy, and due to delayed healing issues, am still dealing with expanders.

The recon road is long and while the end may be in sight, it sure as heck isn't a straight line getting there. Thank you for providing a positive and honest story about recon! We need more of them!
-Renn

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