Dispatches from the Dressing Room

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When I was younger, bra shopping was a bit of a thrill. As a teenager not even close to letting a boy see anything beyond the occasional strap slip, fancy lingerie was pretty much for my own personal enjoyment, and shopping for it felt a little naughty.

As I got older, I’d make the twice-yearly pilgrimage to the mall, sidling elbow-to-elbow with other bra bargain hunters to dig through the discount bins of Victoria’s Secret’s semi-annual sale. My collection of brassieres grew to necessitate their own drawer, filled with everything from racy lace numbers to the most utilitarian of sports bras.

In my mid-30s I became a mom, and breastfeeding forever altered my lingerie drawer. Punchy pink satin bras languished in favor of more practical–and comfortable–cotton nursing bras that I’d buy in bunches while lugging my newborn around Target.

Then cancer happened. I lost my breasts (or lost them in their natural state). While I opted for reconstruction, what I’ve been left with isn’t exactly what I’d had before. Never let anyone fool you into thinking mastectomy and reconstruction equates a “free boob job” (seriously, stop saying that, people).

That’s how I found myself at the mastectomy bra shop. I actually went there before my surgery to pick up some post-mastectomy supplies (sports bras with a front closure, camisoles with pouches built in to hold surgical drain bulbs). And once I’d healed, I came back for bras to fit my new body.

Unlike Victoria’s Secret, this bra shop operates pretty much by appointment only. Also unlike VS, they take insurance. Yes, this is one fantastic perk of this otherwise pretty shitty turn of events–insurance will pay for my bras. Of course, my new insurance makes it a huge pain in the ass by only approving one bra per day, meaning I have to go to the store multiple times to pick up my allotment one at a time (I’m trying not to complain about getting a bunch of bras for a small co-pay, but it is kind of annoying).

Being at the store is a strange experience. Just like at the cancer center, I’m usually the youngest person in the room, other than the sales staff. I sometimes think the salespeople enjoy that because they get to bring out all the fun, brightly colored, more youthful styles.

In the old days, the thought of someone joining me in the dressing room as I tried on bras would have sent me running for the door. But in this post-cancer world, such indignities don’t even phase me. That’s good, because trying on bras at the mastectomy shop is never a solo experience.

A very kind, sensitive woman helps me figure out what bras will work for my body. She brings me armfuls of different styles and sizes to try, and offers gel inserts to help me fill them out (lots of talk about how I don’t have an “apex”). Yes, even though I’ve gotten implants and fat grafting to help fill me out, the shape is different, and kind of weird. Because all of my breast tissue was removed, there’s a flatness to my chest above the implant, and there are also slight indentations where the grafted fat didn’t take (yeah, that happens).

It’s a long process to find bras that fit my weird shape and look and feel good. And while the saleslady does an excellent job of trying to make it as fun as possible for me, there’s still something uncomfortable and a little depressing about the process. It’s just another one of those moments where I ask myself, “Is this really my life? Is this really my body?”

Body image is one of the biggest struggles for breast cancer survivors. Even if you have reconstruction, it’s never perfect or exactly like what you had before. And you’re left with scars and all sorts of other physical reminders of the trauma you’ve been through. One the one hand, these things remind me how strong I am and what I’m capable of enduring. But on the other, they’re constant reminders that I’m different, both inside and out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feelin’ Myself

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I don’t know what it is–maybe it’s the new year–but I’ve been in a mood this week.

And that mood has been decidedly good.

I’ve really been “feelin’ myself,” as the young folks might say. What exactly does that mean, you might ask? Well, according to the Urban Dictionary:

capture

Yep, that really does sum it up. I went back to work in the office yesterday, and it felt SO good to be back. I love my job, and I love my coworkers, so I really missed being in the office every day with them. And they all welcomed me back so warmly–the day was like one big warm fuzzy.

And on top of that, I missed having that nice, normal routine of getting up and leaving the house to do something every day. It just felt so nice to get back to something that feels so familiar.

I’m also starting to embrace my growing-in hair. I’m honestly just grateful to have enough to cover my scalp, but beyond that, I’m actually starting to get into the look. And it helps that I’ve gotten lots of compliments on my hair from my very kind coworkers. While the wig I wore before more closely resembled my old hair, it never looked or felt right to me–something about it was just off. What I’m rocking now is MINE, and while it doesn’t look like what I had before, it looks right because it’s me.

Physically, I’m still recovering from surgery, but I feel so much better and have my next surgery planned, so I have a timeline for when I’m going to look more “normal.” My body is still pretty rough, but I’m coming to terms with it and looking for fabulous new clothes to cover it (any excuse to shop!).

So, if you see me walking around these days, you might notice I have a little more pep in my step. It’s because it’s 2017, and I’m feelin’ myself in the new year. I hope you are, too!

 

Goodbye, Girls

 

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I was in 4th grade the year I got my first training bra.

I scarcely had anything to fill it, but all my friends were getting them, and when you’re on the verge of becoming a teenager (I believe it’s called  a “tween” nowadays) and your friends are doing something, you just have to do it, too.

So, one Saturday my mom took me to Sears (lingerie and lawnmowers–talk about your one-stop shop!) to pick out a training bra. I perused the rack of simple white numbers, settling on one with a dainty blue flower applique on the front.

That Monday I wore my new bra to school. No one knew I was wearing it–save my girlfriends to whom I excitedly flashed the straps on my shoulders to prove I finally had it–but I knew it was there, and it made me feel so grown-up.

Tomorrow I’m bidding adieu to my “girls,” or at least, to them in their natural state. I am nervous. I am sad. I am angry.

I’ve never been the type of gal to be all wrapped up in her ladies, so to speak. They don’t define my identity as a woman, or how I feel about my appearance. But they are a part of me. They fill out my clothes (and I am way into clothes). They nourished my child. And they also tried to kill me.

So they must go.

I started crying in the car tonight on the way home after dropping my son at his grandparents’ house, where he’ll stay this week while I recover. Through my tears, I told my husband how much this all sucks. Yes, I am very lucky in so many respects. It could all be so much worse. But, still–it fucking sucks. I cannot believe sometimes that this is my life. This is really happening. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and this will all have just been a really terrible, vivid dream. It just can’t be real.

I’m sure it will feel very real tomorrow. People who’ve been through this surgery assure me it’s not as bad as you’d expect, and that it’s easier than chemo. I can’t imagine how that could be possible. I mean, chemo sucks pretty hard, too, but there aren’t drains (ugh), and I could still hold my son even when I felt like garbage.

But for now, I’m saying goodbye. I’ll miss the girls as they once were, but I’m hoping they’ll cause me less trouble from here on out.