The day after my mastectomy I was released from the hospital with a nearly concave left chest and a drainage tube at each end of the incision that ran from mid-chest to under my arm, stopping just short of my back. I looked like a Cyborg.
Not until I saw my surgeon ten days later and had both tubes removed was I able to get a special bra with a puff to “even things out”. Which hadn’t been such a big deal because I really wasn’t feeling wearing anything remotely nice with plastic sucky thingies protruding from my body, but I was excited when I was finally allowed to get a post-surgical bra.
I liken it to getting a training bra. It looked kind of like one and came in sizes such as small, medium, etc. The assistant in the Women’s Resource Center looked at my ta (the singular of tatas), nodded her head and said, “Medium bra, small puff”. Whatever. I couldn’t be sad about the “small puff” comment because small was better than nothing, which is what I had on the left side. I couldn’t wait to get home and put on my new bra with the insert to see how my tops looked.
Running to my room like a kid at Christmas, I practically threw off the shirt I was wearing. I had already ripped the packaging off the puff in the car and stuffed it into the convenient pocket of my new best friend. I fastened the clasp, adjusted the straps and looked in the mirror only to be totally deflated (no pun intended). The “small puff” was too big! It didn’t even me out, it just made me lopsided in the opposite direction. So I pulled out the filling until it was just about the right size. I guess that would be extra small.
The humiliation didn’t end there, though. A couple weeks later when I received my chemo-port the professional staff had to keep asking me which side I’d had my mastectomy on. Really? I chronicled that experience here (which also includes me on drugs) because if I’m going to share one embarrassing moment I might as well go the whole way.
Finally I was given the go ahead to get a real mastectomy bra and prosthesis. Barbara Graves Intimates in Little Rock is one of the few shops in the area that have mastectomy merchandise so my friend, Beth, and I decided to go into town for dinner and a boob.
Prescription in hand, we weaved our way through the beautiful lingerie that wouldn’t work well on a uniboob and found the very pleasant fit specialist. She took us to the prosthesis room with boxes and boxes of silicone blobs and asked my cup size. I didn’t want to say Almost-a-Boob so instead I came out and told her what I was thinking.
I knew I would eventually have reconstruction and was fairly certain I would have a prophylactic mastectomy at that time. If I was going to go through all that trouble you could be sure I’d be making the surgeon earn his money. So instead of matching up my right breast I wanted to see what it would be like as a larger version of me. The problem, however, is that insurance will only pay for one prosthesis if you had a single mastectomy and those puppies are expensive.
That’s when the helpful lady told me it’s very common for women to return their “breasts” after reconstruction. The foobs (fake + boobs = foobs) are then cleaned and sterilized and given to women with no insurance. So Blue Cross/Blue Shield bought a regular foob for me and Barbara Graves donated a filler foob for the other side. And a happy day it was when I could proudly stuff my bra and not feel like a fraud.
The Girls (as Beth named them) were treated very special. Every night they had to come out of their pocket, get washed and then put to bed in their cradle. Seriously, that’s what the box was called. A cradle. Sometimes they were hot and sometimes they were heavy and sometimes they misbehaved abominably – like when I went swimming at the YMCA in my new mastectomy swimsuit and the Girls decided they’d rather swim around my waist instead of stay where they were supposed to – but for the most part they were my good friends. They did their part to make me feel a little more normal than I otherwise would have. That is until late December 2006 when I put them away for the last time and had reconstruction.
We had moved to Pennsylvania six months before my reconstruction so I wasn’t able to drop the Girls off at Barbara Graves’ when I happened to be out running errands. They slept peacefully in their boxes on the shelf of my closet for two-and-a-half years. And then a month ago we drove down to Arkansas for a visit.
Instead of luggage in the back of the car, we had our dog. The luggage had to go in a special travel bag on top which had to be taken off and put inside the car during our overnight stay on the way down and the way back. Along with the luggage was a bag full of mastectomy bras and camisoles and two boxes with breast prostheses in them. When we stopped on our way down the guys were taking everything out of the bag – a bit of a pain – and I heard Todd tell Taylor, “Well at least we won’t be bringing mom’s boobs home with us.” Because, you know, they were so large and unwieldy.
While on vacation my mother and I ran into Little Rock one day and I took all the mastectomy paraphernalia with me. We drove up to Barbara Graves, I walked in with all my goodies and the attendants seemed as appreciative as if I’d donated a bajillion dollars. Or maybe a couple grand. And it made me happy. Maybe now some woman with crummy or no insurance will be able to feel a little more normal than she otherwise would have.
Cross-posted at Mother’s With Cancer