When the breast care nurse brought me some samples of silicone prosthetic breast in hospital I juggled them. We laughed, and I told her I really just wanted to put something on my Facebook status about juggling breasts.
They are heavier than I thought they would be. Of course, if I had only had one breast removed then having something that weighed about the same would be important. I’m told women in this situation can have problems with neck pain, shoulder pain and even balance if they don’t wear a prosthetic breast. It’s less of an issue if you’re naturally small breasted but mine were large. My pathology tells me they were close to a kilo each.
Of course, having had both removed means I now have the option. Prosthetic breasts or no prosthetic breasts? It’s not a question I ever imagined having to ask myself. I’m still undecided.
I can’t really wear anything just yet. I’m still healing. I have seromas, a build up of fluid under the skin, on both sides so best to stick with singlets for now. I have the contact details of a woman that will come to my home and fit me with artificial breasts and bras to go with them. I also have the address of a shop in the nearest major city. If I want to wear something swimming there are special ‘light weight’ prosthetic breasts, but the breast care nurse tells me that the standard silicone ones are fine. You would think so. They make bake ware out of silicone.
The Breast Cancer Network Australia sent me a bra and some ‘soft form’ inserts to wear while I’m recovering. I asked for something in a C cup rather than my original F. They look strange. They look stranger to me than my dolphin chest. They remind me of embarrassing performances by footballers at end of year functions where dressing up as women is something of a tradition. They look really obviously fake. I don’t know if bigger ones would look any better. Decisions, decisions.
I still get a shock when I look in the mirror. I want to make jokes about someone stealing my breasts while I slept but I suspect I’m the only one that will find that even remotely amusing. I don’t hate how I look. It’s just a shock. When you’ve been large breasted all of your adult life, suddenly being flat chested takes some getting used to. The bonus is not having to wear a bra. I’m loving it. I’m inclined to not wear one ever again. That would mean just dressing for my new body shape.
My friend, Jo, always looks fabulous. When she first had her double mastectomy she didn’t bother with prosthetic breasts but in recent times she’s decided that there are some outfits that just look better with them. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t wear fake eyelashes. I stopped colouring my hair when I turned 50. I also think it would be odd for me to spend most of my time just not bothering and then to wear breasts occasionally. Will it be a thing that people notice and comment on? “Is Meg wearing fake boobs tonight?” Worse, will it be a thing that people notice and think is odd, but don’t comment on?
I decided to spend this week going through my wardrobe. Yes, I’ve only been home from hospital for a week and I knew this was going to be upsetting, but my thinking was that this was a task best done early and quickly. A bit like ripping off a bandaid. What I didn’t want was months of standing in front of my wardrobe, choosing something to wear and then putting it on to find it looked terrible. I pulled whole sections out and dumped it all on the bed. It took me a couple of days and only a few tears to get through it all.
I’m about 168cm tall (5’6″) and a size 12 or 14. At 52, I don’t have a lot of low cut or revealing clothing but the first thing to go was anything that clearly needed breasts. That included tailored shirts with darts (which look like arrows pointing to where my breast used to be!) and anything cleavage dependant. Surprisingly, some cross over tops still work but I need something under them.
Queue the joy of singlets. I already had a large collection of singlets, mostly from Target and Big W, that I wear under sheer shirts and jumpers. It turns out that a lot of things I can’t wear on their own work just fine with a singlet underneath. Same goes for scarves. There’s now a lot of great Youtube videos on tying scarves in all kinds of ways. Here’s one of my favourites:
The one about half way through called ‘the magic trick’ is a personal favourite. The great thing about a scarf is that they give you interest and detail at the neck line and help to disguise the lack of a bust line. Before I consigned anything to the chuck pile I tried it with a scarf. I still managed to almost halve my wardrobe.
It did help that my daughter was getting first pick of anything I didn’t want. There were a few things that I knew she’d wanted since I’d bought them. She was so excited to get the floral cardigan that looks wonderful with her curves but odd with my lack of them.
It was also an opportunity to seriously reconsider some of those time travellers from the 80’s and the 90’s. I cried over the red velvet Mr K evening gown. Ever notice how really beautiful evening wear never goes out of fashion. I bought this dress for a ball many years ago, wore it to a work event in China where I met Pelé and to a Police function in Wollongong with my new boyfriend that I met on the internet. We’d only been dating a few months and it was a big call to walk into that room with me. He’s fearless. It’s part of why I married him. When he discovered me crying over that dress he put his arms around me and held me and told me that he loved me.
There were also some pleasant surprises. Some things work better without breasts. Anything with a cowl neck, unstructured jackets and shirts, and coats that fall mid thigh all look great. Anything with a large collar or pockets and detail across the chest, and caftan style tops with big patterns are also back in the wardrobe. Detail is my new best friend.
Out are tops with waterfall hems that used to balance out my large breasts but now make me look bottom heavy and triangular. Things in plain, solid colours are now relegated to under-wear. They’ll be fine under shirts and jackets but they show every little ridge and bump in my chest. Same goes for gypsy skirts that hang to my mid calf and have a bit of gathering at the waist. Nope. On the bright side I think I’m going to be able to wear shorter, straight skirts that show off my legs. Thank you (again) yoga!
One of my favourite cardigans almost went out until my husband suggested changing the way I wear it. By wrapping it across my body and pinning it at the side it looked great. This sent me back to the chuck out pile to see if anything else could be worn differently. Nope.
Most of my knitwear made the cut and all of the pants and jeans are just fine. I no longer own a single yoga top. The built in shelf bras now sit almost as low as my waist. Lucky I have all those singlets.
It worked through all of my clothes over the course of two days and I now have a wardrobe full of things that I know will look great. I’ve got some new combinations that are going to work really well and a bit of a wish list for the next time I go shopping.
And boy do I have a really great reason to go shopping!
Once I’d sorted everything I went back through my chuck out pile and asked myself if there was anything that I loved so much I would want to wear artificial breasts to keep it. There wasn’t. Not even the red velvet dress. Clothes are just clothes.
This is my new body. I love how brilliantly it’s stood up to all of the awful things I’ve put it through. I’m not embarrassed by it or ashamed of it. I think it looks just fine without breasts and until that changes I’ll be passing on the silicone and sticking with the scarves and singlets.
I’m also open to the possibility that, like Jo, I might decide somewhere down the track to wear prostheses. And it would give me another reason to go shopping.