2013-09-07-photoBefore my surgery, I spoke openly about my decision to undergo a prophylactic bi-lateral mastectomy in the wake of a BRCA-1 diagnosis. I’m now about six weeks post-surgery, the (proud?) owner of two brand spanking new “foobs” (fake boobs), and I’ve had some time to process the new additions.

First, I believe there’s a huge misconception among the general populous about what it means to have one’s breasts removed and replaced with artificial ones (if they are replaced at all). When speaking about my upcoming surgery, I had many well-meaning people say things like, “Well at least you get new boobs!” and, “Your husband must be so excited… has he picked ’em out yet?”

Yeah, well, it’s not quite like that. Not at all, in fact.

It seems that those not in the know tend to equate post-mastectomy reconstructed breasts with augmented breasts or “boob jobs.” Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, augmented breasts are actually real live breasts with nipples and healthy breast tissue behind which silicone or saline implants have been placed, either under or above the muscle, thereby pushing them up and out. We all know what augmented breasts look like; some of them look very real, and many of them look stunningly beautiful. If augmented breasts didn’t look damn good, breast augmentation surgeries would not be so, ahem, popular.

So even though augmented boobs are often called “fake boobs,” they’re really not. I, on the other hand, do have fake boobs (or “foobs,” as I have become prone to calling them).

What is attached to my chest right now are a pair of silicone implants with no breast tissue in front of them. I am essentially sporting implants covered with skin. There are no real breasts there to hide the fact that my “breasts” are just implants — man-made, silicone-filled implants which feel like gel-filled bags and ripple when I move certain ways.

And right now, I have no nipples either. Because leaving enough breast tissue behind the nipple to spare it can create more risk, in that cancer can still occur in the tissue left behind. Also, if the surgeon failed to leave enough tissue attached to the nipple, the nipple could become necrotic and die. As in, turn black and fall off.

No thank you. I wasn’t that attached to my nipples.

So I opted against nipple-sparing surgery, and currently have long incisions where my nipples used to be. To put it graphically — but not so graphically that it would require a “warning” tag when published — I went from looking like this:

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To looking like this:

 

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(Hopefully you get the idea, despite my crude pencil sketches.)

And the view from above right now is even weirder for me. I went from seeing this:

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To this:

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no regrets about my decision to have preventative surgery. None, whatsoever. I sleep better knowing that I just shaved about 77 percent off of my 87 percent risk of contracting breast cancer in my lifetime. Nor am I unhappy with my results. I had excellent surgeons and my reconstructed breasts look just like they’re supposed to look at this stage. I will have skin-grafted, man-made nipples attached in the next few months, and later have color tattooed on them for good measure. The new nipples (“fips”) will hide some of the existing scars, and hopefully will be nice and round and perky. But they’ll have no feeling. They’ll just be there as accessories. Like earrings.

And while I still look cute in a sexy bra, I no longer walk around topless, and now tend to sleep in camisoles rather than in the buff. I’m also somewhat shy around my husband, and am still shocked at times when I look in the mirror. It’s an adjustment, for all of us, even my toddler who gently pats the boo-boos she now sees on my chest.

For me, the psychological impact of losing my breasts was much greater than the physical impact. I am healing rapidly and know that the physical scars will fade. I also know that I made the right decision for me and my family. But those of us who either opted to have mastectomies as a preventative measure, or had mastectomies as a life-saving measure, aren’t excited about our “new boobs.” In truth, we’ll never be the same. We see ourselves differently now when we look in the mirror, because we are different, inside as well as outside.

But at least we’re here, stronger and wiser for the experience.

Image via Mark Montgomery; sketches via the author.

Original published on Huffington Post.

 

2 Thoughts on “Me and My Foobs: What It’s Really Like Post-Mastectomy

  1. Lisa fisher on November 28, 2014 at 10:49 pm said:

    Hello no Montgomery,my name is Lisa and wow lady are you amazing ,I stumbled across your it’s cancer baby videos and wAtched them all eager to hear your story.
    I lost my then 48 year old mama to breast cancer,but that is my only connection to the dreadful disease.
    I do ,however have severe unremitting always gonna be there rheumatoid arthritis.No, no,not the kind they show on Tv with the models that have an ache on a joint.This disease struck meat age 10(maybe before),it was first diagnosed as growing pains and when it was diagnosed it became mine to battle for life.I didn’t know it at the time but ultimately I would become significantly disabled from JRA (juvenile RA).As soon as my innocent unsuspecting little teenage self turned 18 and was “finished growing” I was given the opportunity of having a four of my lower body joints replaced,bilateral hip replacement s and bilateral knee replacements,all to be done in the time frame of eight months.Being young Innocent and certainly loving the idea of “New joints” against my mother’s Wishes and advice I chose to go ahead with t b e surgeries.
    I was 18 years d and unfortunately incapable of imagining my life and needs at age 40 when these “new joints ” wore out and three of the four needs to be revised.This is a process by which the artificial joints no longer function and have to go through surgical reconstruction a over again.In my case one hip became so bead that my pelvis broke as a result.
    I was not able to have supportive spouse since I had been supporting him by standing on my bad legs working at Vons grocery store as checker. When said husband found out that the recovery process would be long and arduous he divorced me.We had raised two children together and a third baby boy I had given birth to one year previous to the divorce filing.
    wow!my story is hard to hear and I rarely lay it out,since I cannot trust mistletoe people with my heartbreak.People,i find do not h ave the capacity to give understanding.

    I do live with chronic severe RA,it is not going away,However I am now in school full time to become a medical social worker something I have been “in training” for my whole life,oh and remember that special baby ? My Ty William is five years old and I am raising him as a single mama.
    joanna,if you could offer me any guidance as to how I could tell my story to inspire others as you have myself I would be so grateful.
    Kind regards
    Lisa Fisher

  2. Rhonda Maxey on January 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm said:

    Very well put Joanna. I was stunned by the difference it made in my life when I had my “reconstruction”, in every aspect. Absolutely nothing glamorous about it. But, we are blessed and for one, I am appreciative of the gift of life with each day that passes! I think of you often and will keep you on my heart and in my prayers! You’re a very special person!

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