This is a guest post from a dear friend that wants to remain anonymously. The words are her’s and they are powerful. The images are to show you the difference in many
I envy other women’s nipples. I don’t want to be the weirdo who stares in a yoga class, who vaguely remembers what it was like to feel self-conscious about my own hard nipples at the end of a sweat session. Such a simple thing, those two sensitive nubs.
One of the things well-meaning people like to say when a friend is going through breast cancer is, “At least you get a free boob job!” It’s something I heard more than once. But rarely are the final products larger, fuller, or prettier than the breasts they’re replacing. A mastectomy is not a boob job. It is an amputation, a cleaving off of one’s cleavage, a removal -- one hopes -- of disease.
It is a strange thing to shy away from taking my shirt off in front of my husband when the lights are on. I’ve turned my back while undressing since just three years into our marriage. I wasn’t always so modest. My twenty-five-year-old self in her low-cut shirts and dancing on tabletops could attest to that. Despite reconstruction and expensive tattoos that look like real-deal nipples, I am self-conscious about the purplish-blue scars that run across the lumps where my breasts used to be. Despite my husband’s proclamations that he doesn’t care what they look like, I do. I am envious of women who seem to embrace their scars so readily, especially on social media. Am I the only one who loves the story these scars tell, but still has a hard time looking at them?
But the toughest thing about my post-mastectomy “breasts” is that they have no sensation. According to this article, I am not alone, though doctors mostly don’t mention it at the outset. Perhaps they think: Be rid of the cancer, and all will be well.
Sometimes I can almost sense the sudden contraction I used to feel when I walked into a cold room, like my brain still sends signals to flesh that is no longer there. When my second baby was born, I would “feel” the internal pull and tingling that used to precede my milk letting down when nursing my firstborn. But on the outside, my skin is mostly numb. Nerves were cut during surgery, and the sharp zings I once felt tearing across my chest, signs that my nerves were regenerating, stopped years ago.
Seven years later and I still miss my nipples. I miss those nerves-regenerating zings, even. I hadn’t realized how much I’d relied on my breasts, sexually, until they were no longer participants in bringing me pleasure. These new ones are all form, but no function, like Barbie boobs (but less symmetrical). And so I will occasionally be the weirdo staring at other women’s chests after yoga.