I was devastated when I found out I needed a mastectomy, even more so when I was told it would be unilateral and reconstruction would be delayed at least six months.
One of the first things I did was scour the internet for what I would look like with one breast. I found several pictures of bilateral mastectomies but there were few of unilateral mastectomies. I wanted to know what I would look like, what I would wear, how I would feel. I stood in front of my mirror and covered my right breast, imagining my chest flat with the scar across it. I held it down under clothes to see how they would sit.
In my research, most information was about having reconstruction or wearing a prosthesis, but I knew I would be in pain following surgery and with radiotherapy, and I was a bit offended by the expectation that I would want to hide my chest. A prosthesis felt like the wig I was given during chemo, something to hide what was happening to me.
My gut reaction when I was told I needed a mastectomy was “take them both”. I worried about cancer in the other breast although I was assured my risk was incredibly low, and I was worried about how I would look with the unevenness. In a lot of ways, I think I would have been more comfortable being completely flat.
Time has allowed me to start coming to terms with keeping one breast. Having the less invasive surgery, retaining sensation in a whole breast with a nipple and having the option to wear padding on my flat side all seemed reasonable when I stopped panicking. I spent a lot of time checking out other women, trying to find someone who looked like me, and realised that this was the first time I had really looked at boobs unless they were totally out there. I wore some fitted tops to see if anyone looked or commented, and they never did. Realising that no one other than you really notices your breasts on a daily basis was liberating.
But still, what will it look like is a huge question and, while I’m not ready to share topless pictures publicly, I will share some in clothes because this is how other people see me. flatclosurenow.org is a good place to see more images.
I always had uneven breasts and my remaining breast was the smaller, maybe a B cup, and I can go without a bra quite comfortably, although I have an extroverted nipple which can make tops stand out like tents.
After my mastectomy, I had no idea what to wear. Most of the advice I read initially was assuming I would wear a prosthesis. Later I found some recommendations which were around wearing frills or patterns to distract or disguise. After 20 years of finding a look that suited me and developing an image I wanted to project, I was frustrated as hell that I would pick up something I loved knowing that it wouldn’t work for me with one breast, and I cried every time I went into a change room. I felt like an imposter wearing frills and patterns which definitely weren’t my style before my mastectomy, but they allowed me to try something different and see that there were options if I was willing to try. As my confidence grows I’m slowly going back to more fitted and plain colours which I’ve always preferred wearing.
Should I have a double or single mastectomy and what will I look like is something that I hear repeatedly in my support groups. I’ve heard a unilateral mastectomy described as the most visual of breast cancer surgeries, and it is definitely confronting and challenging. I haven’t touched the emotional scarring that goes with having a body part removed, which affects all mastectomy patients. However I’ve been so surprised that, for me, it wasn’t nearly as visually obvious as I expected, maybe it will have to be in the future…
If any unis have pictures they would like to share, let me know and I can add them to the gallery.