This blog forms part of my Doctorate in Experiential and Creative Arts Therapy which I am studying through the Melbourne Institute of Experiential and Creative Arts Therapy (MIECAT) based in Melbourne Australia. My Doctorate inquiry is a creative exploration of my experience of breast cancer. I am particularly interested in women’s lived experience of their bodies following a mastectomy.
I had a mastectomy the week before Christmas in 2008, following a diagnosis of breast cancer and two previous bouts of surgery. Because of the time of the year I didn’t have a breast reconstruction at the time as all the plastic surgeons were on holidays.
Following my mastectomy I have been exploring whether to have a reconstruction. Apart from paying for a consultation with a plastic surgeon who outlined the different medical procedures available, I have struggled to find support to assist me to work through this decision. My body with one breast and a scar still feels strange to me. I tell myself that the loss of my breast has not had any major physical impact on me; on how I live my life. It is not like I have lost a foot or hand that would seriously hamper me and impact on what I can do. But I still feel its loss!
Should I have a reconstruction? The plastic surgeon tells me it would be quite easy to create another breast for me through inserting a saline implant under my chest wall and creating a nipple from part of my other nipple. She would then create a truly realistic breast through tattooing a new aureole. The surgeon tells me that in order to match my ‘new’ breast I could also get my other breast ‘fixed’ and have a breast implant in that too. Then I would have two new perky firm breasts. She asked me what size I would like to have as she could make my ‘new breasts’ any size I liked.
Why would I do this to my body? Is it because I want to aspire to culturally imposed stereotype images of what it means to be a woman? Is it a way of trying to resist the reality of my ageing body by having two new firm uplifted breasts created? No sagging breasts for me!
On the other hand why shouldn’t I have two breasts if that is possible? Am I barricading myself into an equally oppressive view that says it is wrong to attempt to maintain your beauty? Why shouldn’t I be able to look good? To look attractive by society’s view of female beauty?
I am still undecided as to what to do. As part of my Doctorate I implemented a series of workshops using different arts modalities for women who had had a mastectomy and not had a breast reconstruction. A strong theme that came out of these workshops was the pressure women are placed under by their surgeons, and sometimes friends and family members to have a breast reconstruction. They are told that it is only through this action that they can truly move on and feel normal again.
I offer this public space for other women to comment and add their voices to my own voice in exploring their experience of their changed bodies following breast cancer.