So I only have three days left, including today, of having an impressive cleavage. At 7.30am on Friday morning I will be checking into the short stay unit at the Royal Surrey County Hospital for my state-funded boob job, to reduce the size of my left breast so it matches the now cancer-free, smaller but much more pert right breast.
After it all heals up, I reckon I’ll be down to about a C-cup from a DD – happily, bigger than I expected before the initial op last Easter (yeah, it was that long ago!). I won’t need to be tucking my silicone chicken fillet into bras to fill out the cup any more. I will be able to spend all the lovely Rigby & Peller and Figleaves vouchers that generous friends and rellies have been giving me, on pretty bras (much more choice for smaller sizes, I gather). Given the ‘tits like a 19-year-old’ state of the right one, I may even be able to get away with not wearing a bra in the summer (though I do feel that once a lady is past a certain age, going for the ‘smuggling Tictacs’ look under a Hollister t-shirt is possibly just a bit sad). Another plus: I won’t have to hoik my post-breast-feeding puppies into undergarments any longer. And I’ll be able to wear polo-necks!! What’s not to like?!
Well, I’ll tell you what’s not to like. There is a massive psychological difference between staring down at mummy boobs that grace one’s tummy when unscaffolded and thinking: ‘Gosh, I would love to have a few grand to get these chaps lifted and possibly reduced! I’d feel so much younger and clothes would fit better and I’d feel more confident and sexy if I had a boob job!’; and the procedure being forced upon you, in two far-apart stages, because the cells in one of your tits went a bit mental and threatened all sorts of nastiness if they weren’t cut down to size. The decision was out of my hands.
I really liked having big boobs, saggy or otherwise. I liked having an impressive cleavage. So did DH. He’s a tit-man through and through, and was particularly fond of the soft bits at the side, so he’s got some adjusting to do as well. I liked wearing low-cut tops and dresses. I’ve always been quite happy for all and sundry to be thinking ‘Woah, look at the top bollocks on that!’. Plus breast-feeding my two babies is one of the proudest achievements of my life, and every stretch mark and scar is a reminder that I have done some things right as a mummy.
So while I can intellectually process the ‘positive’ aspect of my balancing surgery on Friday, forgive me if I’m not really feeling it. I never wanted my body to be a different shape entirely, and I never wanted a cosmetic boob job. A bit more toned, a few pounds lighter, less prone to dry skin, sure. But being resculpted entirely against my will? That’s a bitter pill to swallow.
I’m sure I’ll get used to it – I’m sort of used to having one small boob and one big one, nine months after that first mission-critical op, and I never thought I’d get used to being lopsided. And it’s a short, simple op and the recovery will be quicker, and there’s no lymph involvement this time. And it’s being done by the same brilliant surgeon, Tracey Irvine, after we sorted out a slight hiccup whereby the date I’d had in my head for the op since September – 23rd January – didn’t get transferred to her 2012 diary and there was a certain amount of date juggling before we came up with 3rd Feb. That – Titgate – was very hard to deal with because I’d been psyching myself up for this op for months.
And now the real date is here and I’m finding it harder than I thought. I need to pull myself together. It’s only a standard breast reduction, FFS, what am worried about? It’s the final piece in the cancer treatment jigsaw. After this, apart from 4.5 more years of Tamoxifen, it’s over, right? Cancer journey completed; job done, well done Pinch, time to get on with the rest of your life.
The thing is, though, it’s starting to dawn on me that this won’t ever be over. My body will be a different shape forever. I will always have heavily scarred breasts. And I have finally realised that I will always have to take care of my right arm and try to avoid cuts, burns, bites, excema, cracked skin. After the rather nasty cellulitis/lymphoedema incident which had me on antibiotics for a month before Christmas, I now have a snazzy graduated compression bandage which runs from my knuckles to my armpit. I have to wear this if I’m going to be working on the computer for a long time (ie, doing my job four days a week), driving for any length of time, ironing, lifting, housework, exercise. Forever. It looks a bit like I’m a dummy in a shop window when I wear it, because it’s flesh-coloured. It’s quite tight and tricky to get on, like wearing support tights.
I don’t have any strong feelings about it, to be honest – it’s quite reassuring that there are things I can do to hopefully stop me getting cellulitis again, because that was so grim. I don’t think a gentle nudge that I have to look after myself is necessarily a bad thing, really. But it is a constant reminder, nevertheless.
And then something else happened a couple of weeks ago that added a new dimension to the realisation that once you’ve had caaancer, life is always going to be different in so many ways, some which are actually good lessons or blessings, and others which aren’t. That new dimension was fear.
I haven’t felt fear since the day I was diagnosed. At the risk of sounding like Simon Cowell, I genuinely mean that. Not one twinge. I always knew I’d be fine. And then me and DH watched the eagerly anticipated first episode of the new series of Restoration Man (the one where Gorgeous George the architect sees a couple through some crazy water mill restoration project). The couple in question had been able to embark on their mad scheme after a critical illness cover payout after she got ovarian cancer. That was a few years ago, she was fine, silver linings all the way, we cheered, such a strong echo of our own experience. Then about half way through, the whole thing turned into a nightmare. The cancer had come back. Secondary cancer is incurable. She became more and more frail. George and her husband were in tears. So was DH. Then she…well, she died, and never got to see their dream project completed. Eeeeeek. Awful.
I must admit that was the first time I’d fully appreciated how fearful DH still is of my health, and possibly why he’s never really felt he can properly ‘celebrate’ me ‘getting better’. It was also the first time I’d felt any sort of fear. It crept on me like a chilly shadow: ‘What if it does happen again? And what if, then, I’m not so lucky?’.
But I can’t think like that – I have had such good, thorough, belt-and-braces treatment. Plus I’m never going to be as stressed and lacking in sleep as I was for a couple of years in the run-up to my diagnosis. And I’m taking control of my diet, and doing my yoga, and all the esoteric non-medical stuff I believe in. All I can do – and all DH and my family and friends can do – is trust that things are exactly as they should be, right now, and all is well in my world.
It’s weird that for me all the stuff about the long term and my own mortality has only started sneaking in since I finished my treatment. It’s probably why I’m a bit up and down at the moment. I spent over a year with my head down, buggering on through it all, and only now do I get flashbacks that make me really shiver, and give me some insight into how everyone else might have been feeling.
I think the main lesson is the obvious, and hardest, one: that we only get this day once, and so it needs to be good. Whether that means it’s productive, or fun, or lucrative, or problem-solving, or organised, or thought-provoking, or relaxing, I want to go to sleep every night thinking, yes, I made the most of that day. Whatever the size of my bloomin’ tits. Bye-bye Chesty La Rue, it was nice knowin’ ya. There’s a new pair of chesticles in town.