I discovered a lump in my right breast in September 1985 after having had a negative mammogram the previous spring. I had a needle biopsy and was told it was negative; then I had a surgical biopsy that was positive. I had a modified radical mastectomy on the right side and a prophylactic (preventive) mastectomy of the left breast.
My surgeon advised me that a modified radical mastectomy on my right breast was medically the wisest choice. He and two other physicians told me that a prophylactic second mastectomy was not absolutely necessary but not a bad idea because of a suspicious mirror image thickening in the left breast. Being a worrier and the daughter of a woman who died of breast cancer I decided to do whatever was most likely to safeguard me from further cancer.
How can one possibly state in a word or two how one feels about such a dramatic change? My feelings are mixed. Of course I wish my body looked like it did before surgery. I grieve for what I lost, especially during swimsuit season. I believe good health is more important than having a conventional female figure. I chose not to have reconstruction because of the risks of implants and the general hassle of flap surgery. My husband and I were able to accept my new look.
At the time when I was making my decision I heard an interview with the actress Ann Jillian; her statement that her body simply had reverted to a “little girl look” made sense. I had experienced a flat chest prior to puberty. In a way, a one breast look would have been less familiar. (I might add that Ann Jillian was, and still is, living proof that a woman with bilateral mastectomies can be beautiful.)
Now, twelve years later, the no-reconstruction look makes a statement. I am proud to ally myself with strong women who aren’t ashamed to acknowledge openly that they are breast cancer survivors. I suspect if all women with breast cancer would stop pretending nothing had happened we would see more progress in funding and research.
I am working on becoming more courageous about not hiding my surgery. I still wear my prostheses but I wear them less and less. With each passing year I am more at peace with my decision.