151. The Dolly Parton option

Tomorrow is mastectomy day.

The thought occurs that today is the last day of my life when I need to wear a bra.

Loss or liberation? Will I mourn the loss of a cleavage and try to emulate the suggestion of a shapely front, or celebrate the ability to do naked star jumps without a complaining chest? I have no idea, and I'm intrigued to find out. It could go either way, but my money is on Liberation.

What I'm wondering is (a) what I'll look like flat-chested, (b) how noticeable it is, and (c) whether I'll mind if it's noticeable. I am making no assumptions here.  So far, my attitude has firmly been of the This Is Me variety, love me or leave me. Grey hair, wrinkles, mastecomy scar? They speak of a life lived long enough to have earned them, of challenges overcome, like badges I've earned.

But every woman has to find her own comfort zone.

I am not making any firm predictions. Since my first mastectomy-without-reconstruction, I have always worn a prosthesis to match the remaining breast, contrary to my general au naturel approach in life. The lob-sided look is not great, even with my modest A-cup.

Wearing a relatively small prosthesis is not a problem. Who knows, I may have been less keen on the unreconstructed look if I had been blessed (or burdened) with a more generous cleavage. When I was fitted for a proper prosthesis (there is a special clinic for such things), I picked up the largest specimen when Prosthesis Lady wasn't looking, and found it unexpectedly heavy. Choices are perhaps harder and less straightforward when your breasts are quite literally a bigger part of you.             

There are times when I couldn't care less. Swimming with a softie just feels ridiculous and unnecessary, so in the pool or on the beach I no longer bother with a matching pair. The communcal changing room is no longer the challenge it once was. In all these past seven years, no woman sharing the lido experience has ever batted an eyelid at my scarred chest - although it still strikes me as odd that I have never, ever, seen another woman there with any sign of having had breast surgery. Not sure where they all are.

I have found that doctors and nurses DO make assumptions.

When the surgeon told me I needed a mastectomy all those years ago, she described the operation: "First I do the mastectomy, then I get the plastic surgeon to do the reconstruction on the same day." She launched into a detailed description of what that was like, taking bits of shoulder muscle to mould into a nice shape, or failing that (as I protested that surely I'd want my shoulder muscle to do muscly things in my shoulder) taking a bit of fat from... from where exactly? Not much of that to spare, so I might end up with half a buttock. That smacks decidedly of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I had to be very firm about my refusal of such options ("Are you sure? You can think about it!").

I found the thought of walking around with a permanent implant of some sort equally alarming. It's a deeply personal choice, and oh, I do understand why many women choose differently.

What I don't understand is why I always had to work quite hard at convincing the hospital staff of my choices. Once convinced, though, they applauded me. "You're so right!" they'd say. "Having a reconstuction is not an easy option." (Why do you only hear about the drawbacks AFTER you've refused? Same with the Cold Cap, which is meant to stop your hair falling out. I had to keep telling the nurses that I didn't want it, after which they conceded that not only was it indeed highly uncomfortable, it often didn't work anyway).

This time round, though, there was the Chief, who took one look at my flat right side, felt the lumpy left side, pronouncd that surgery was needed, and happily assumed that I wouldn't want a reconstruction this time either. Which makes the surgery so much easier - I'm predicted to be back home the following day. (With a reconstruction, I'd be in hospital for a good week).

"You can just wear two prostheses," he said. 

"I don't think I'll bother," I told him. "Now that my flat front will be nicely matched."

He looked at me and pondered, "Well, you might want to wear it when you're going out. You could have a Dolly Parton."

My husband and the breast nurse (new to the job and looking somewhat taken aback by this conversation) probably didn't dare laugh until I did. I thought it was genuinely funny.

There's a thought, though. If you're going to pretend that you have a frontage, why copy the old building? If there's nothing to match, I can be the architect and the world's my oyster.

When it came to the follow-up discussion with the nurse - they take you into a room with tissues after you've heard the surgeon's verdict, to talk through some of the detail - she opened the drawer to give me a new softie. (That's breast cancer jargon. If you don't speak Breastish, see here.) What size did I want?

I made the rash decision not to go for the Dolly Parton option, so I reached into my bra to pull out the current pretender. Something to match this one. In the end, she gave me two of the same size, which is more generous than last time, when I begged in vain for a second softie.

Later, I passed the Dolly Parton option by my daughters. Hm, perhaps not quite your style, was the verdict. Looking at this photofit of my possible future self, I think they may be right. So, whilst keeping my options open, you'll be relieved to know that Dolly Parton is crossed off the list.