To the left, to the left … All the single ladies, all the single ladies…
Yes, I am a fan of Beyoncé, but these lyrics also have a lot more meaning, which I’d like to share with you in my unique take on life as an asymmetrical woman.
So, there was a film on recently, in it a man takes an earth shatteringly beautiful woman home after picking her up in a club. They get back to his room and he confesses, he was umm exaggerating about the size of his body part. She laughs and says, ‘Don’t worry, let’s be real.’ She then takes out her contact lens, then whips off her wig….he gasps…..next come her boobs, he attempts to leave, and I kid you not, followed by her bottom and lastly leg.
I’m not quite sure what was funny in this after all, as hang on just a few years back this could be me.
Breast cancer can have you feeling like the incredible detachable woman
Just 4 years ago my body was in symmetry, my body parts could have lined up two by two, to jump on board Noah’s Ark. Two eyebrows check, two boobs check…
In May 2012, aged 40 and full of life and mischief, my life was interrupted by a shock diagnosis of an unknown primary tumour that had metastasized (spread to you and I) to my lymph nodes. The next two weeks were largely spent in hospital gowns, having every available test, chemical cocktail and radioactive power being charged through my confused body. Every day I woke up hoping this was a bad dream and put on a brave face to all those I loved. After 2 weeks it was confirmed as Breast Cancer.
I would say I was fortunate that I had 5 weeks from my diagnosis until my mastectomy, it gave me time to absorb this information, and actively search images to see what this would mean. I can’t imagine how difficult it would feel to be given a diagnosis on Monday and operated on Wednesday. I needed time to understand just what the heck was happening. So I remain grateful circumstances enabled this (my surgeon being on holiday).
Have you ever seen a mastectomy image? I hadn’t, so I educated myself and told myself, ‘You’re going to need to love this new you, as you might be like it a long time, if not forever’
After being told I had cancer I wasn’t offered immediate reconstruction, not everyone is, it depends on the type of treatment you need afterwards, I had a locally advanced cancer which appeared aggressive so they wanted to whip it off as soon as possible, before blasting me with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. By the way it is annoying when people say, ‘so and so had reconstruction immediately, why haven’t you?’ Or ‘so and so had recon and now has amazing boobs and a flat stomach' – yawnnnnn.
I had time to prepare and cope with being left asymmetrical, and predictably my humour emerged as a coping strategy. I planned a Bon Voyage Booby Party, where with good friends we celebrated the imminent departure of my left boob, playing snap, match the boobs, eating chocolate nipples. Jelly boobs and all members dressed with fake boobs, the best being the old lady sock boobs that made passers-by imagine we were a Hen Night. For me laughter is the breast cure …
I had a blog 2theleft, where I could express my feelings, and a closed Facebook group for my close friends and family, which was usually filled with images, and articles. Many might think my humour tasteless, but it worked for me. We made a playlist….’to the left’ obviously made the list, so did ‘Gone’ – Nsync, ‘Man I feel like a Woman’. Tasteless and tacky yes, but a way of helping me and those closest to me to cope with the shock of what had happened.
You don’t necessary jump up and fully embrace your asymmetrical look, for some women it can take weeks, months or even years to accept and embrace this change. For me, I made it my mission to love my lop-sidedness. I wanted to see the scar as soon as possible, and joked with the surgeon by turning one side I was 7lb lighter. Not sure she found this as amusing – she did make me wear a straight jacket for a while! I jest….
I wanted to accept the new me, and considered without my left breast I could place my hand on the bony landscape where a boob used to exist and feel my heart beating away, it’s kind of comforting. I mulled that it perhaps would make me more vulnerable, and open to love. Hmmm we’ll come back to that.
It’s not easy being asymmetrical, your body wants to compensate for the shift and balance. Dressing is different, you have to change the way your dress so that your prosthesis doesn’t fall out, or appear over the top of your clothing giving away your secret. Initially you have a softie, that you can squeeze into shape and then after your scar settles you graduate to a silicon prosthesis that sits inside your bra and feels like a real breast. It certainly intrigues most people who feel it, it’s like a boob shaped stress ball. A heavy one.
Perks of asymmetry…You have Go Go Gadget Boobs, I have a different one to swim, a different one in the summer – I’m sure I could have a special one for nights out even with a sequined nipple if I searched the internet.
But obviously you have no sensation, so if someone slams a door on my left boob I look blankly at them, or if someone nudges me by accident and flushes expecting a reprimand…they are surprised that I probably didn’t even notice. Or and if it’s cold my right nipple will respond, and not my left – which is obviously AWOL. I think people are too polite to mention this.
Going through airport customs or being searched to get into a club or concert will have a little doubt – imagine they realise it’s a fake boob and then think I’m a drugs mule, or female impersonator. The ping of an elastic glove can have me running faster that Bolt.
Women joke about finishing work and removing their bras, I can go one up on this, by coming home and whipping my boob off. I never thought at 40 I’d be going to bed with my boob nestled beside me in its only little pillow. Will be my teeth next?
If there is a strong breeze in the office I can whip it off and it becomes a paperweight …or if a conversation with a potential date isn’t going well I take it off and end the night…. OK the last two are fictitious, but what a thought though.
The lows…At first I’d be self-conscious going boob less even around my kids, but during chemo and radiotherapy I lost that, along with all my hair, including nasal hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, toe nails and finger nails. I didn’t lose weight though, no steroids and chemotherapy bloated my body and the scales went up by 9kg. How’s that even fair?
Ending 2012 I felt absolutely repulsive to all, including myself sadly. In public wearing a wig, and being fully dressed I might have the occasional guy smile at me and I’d drop my eyes feeling a fraud. Thinking if you saw me underneath this you’d certainly not give me the same appreciative glance. The toll of the diagnosis and treatment can grind you down, I didn’t want to focus on how bad I looked, or felt, and instead focused on finishing all treatment and getting back in the gym.
Being stripped of all things that you define as making you feel feminine is extremely difficult. Every day we are bombarded with beautiful celebrities and images of ‘perfection’ I can safely say I felt offended by society’s ideal of beauty at this point in my life and had serious eyebrow envy.
Well my boob won’t, unless I am a strange mutation after all. Hair – yes, but let me tell you growing back from bald is the longest wait of your life.
The year following active treatment ended my confidence, that had initially soared for seeing off cancer and having No Evidence of Disease (NED) dropped as reality took over, feeling uncomfortable with the no style short style hair, the traitorous eyebrows that never grew back and my stubby eyelashes, oh and hard to shake Tamoxifen pounds I wanted to hibernate.
Between 2012 and 2014 every woman seemed to have HD eyebrows, doubly long lashes and waist length hair. I had a pair of eyebrows drawn on with a sharpie – to stop them rubbing off, and slow growing chemo curls.
Don’t hate, appreciate….
In truth your body is a miracle, just as it can stretch and accommodate a growing baby, it can defragment from cancer treatment and pull back together.
It’s not even 3 years since I finished chemo and I have hair I can flick, and twirl round my fingers, and hide behind again, oh boy that feels good. To reassure anyone currently in treatment, no product advertised makes it grow faster or thicker, it just takes time. Obviously my nails grew back, my eyelashes too, not as full as they were before but that’s a potential side effect of being thrust into a premature menopause from Tamoxifen.
It’s widely reported that women diagnosed with breast cancer face high rates of anxiety, depression and decreased self-esteem. Whilst going through treatment everyone is behind you regarding you a hero for battling the bad C word. Once the active treatment ends, you are left piecing back together your life and body parts potentially.
I am always saddened when I read about women who feel they have been ‘mutilated’ and can’t look at their scars. Women whose partners or husbands leave them as they too can’t cope with the physical, psychological and emotional changes that cancer leaves you with.
I was dating prior to my diagnosis, and I haven’t since. Why? I consider this a process that I’ve been working through, I had to work through loving me fully and wholly first. Guess also after all I’ve been through this hasn’t actually been a priority – a) Beat Cancer b) get a boyfriend.
Ok admittedly perhaps I was too fearful to show my vulnerability and face rejection for exposing my own unique lopsided beauty before now. It all takes time. For anyone else in the minority, as it certainly feels that ‘being single during cancer or beyond’ is a minority, when you read the thousands of threads praising loving husbands, Hang in there. People will tell you that, ‘someone who really loves you won’t care.’ The person who probably said that wasn’t single!!
My advice – be your own cheerleader, love yourself and let your body and confidence repair. Once you start to feel this returning, opportunities will appear too. I did a search to find threads, blogs and articles from other single women post breast cancer who had not had reconstruction and found barely anything. So I guess we have to be the ones to step out boldly and do this, what have we go to lose? Remember if the date's going badly, whip out the prosthesis and watch him run.