Saturday, October 09, 2010

Continued from yesterday…

I went to collect a new falsie from the hospital yesterday, as my old one was split. I wear it because I had a mastectomy ages ago. The falsie I have now is brilliant. It sticks onto my skin, so I never have the embarrassment of it falling out of my bra as I did in the old days, when I wrote this piece…

Who needs reconstruction ?

“The worst thing about your mastectomy, as far as I’m concerned” said my husband, “is finding your falsie in the fruit bowl.” OK, I admit it, sometimes when it’s itching a bit I do take it out and leave it in the receptacle closest to hand. And while I’m not upset by finding such a good friend in unexpected places, other members of the family are not so keen on reaching into the magazine rack for the Radio Times and getting a handful of pink blancmange instead.

We wouldn’t have this problem if I’d had a reconstruction after the mastectomy. It was seven years ago and I feel I got off lightly because I had no other treatment. And although I’ve had occasional cysts - which do make me worry until they are diagnosed and dealt with – I’ve had no recurrence of cancer.

I did originally discuss reconstructive surgery with my breast care nurse, a fellow mastectomee and someone who also shared my sense of humour. She entertained me with the trials of colour matching fake nipples, and with stories of swimming on holiday and being startled at the sight of her freedom-loving prosthesis, having escaped the confines of her cossie and approaching her atop a wave.

But I didn’t fancy implants because I wasn’t keen on having alien bodies inserted into my own body, which with advancing middle age looks alien enough (on those occasions when I’m feeling robust enough to look at a reflection of myself with no clothes on.)

The truth is that I have adjusted to being an Amazon. The only real drag is having my falsie slip out at awkward moments. Like the time I was painting the gloss in our new house while the builder and plumber were in the adjoining room. I was on my knees doing the skirting board when my falsie slipped out of my bra and threatened to fall out of the bottom of my rugby shirt. How could I grab it and hide it before anyone came in, when I had paint all over my hands and there was nothing in the room but a tin of paint, a bottle of white spirit and a grotty old duster?

I don’t feel the need for a reconstruction. I always cared more about having a flat stomach than a big bust, and yearned to be like Audrey Hepburn, not Dolly Parton. Also, I am 53 and have been married forever, and my husband has never been a boob man. Before the operation and since, he has been everything I could have wanted a husband to be. The surgeon was tactful and skilled and all the nursing staff were sensitive, but it did take time to accept my new …well, lopsidedness. Now I am used to being asymmetrical, and having a scar instead of a breast, if neither I nor my husband care, why should I want a reconstruction?

When I asked him about it again today he said “Reconstruction? Isn’t that something on Crimewatch where they make a passing resemblance to a former reality and hope viewers’ imaginations will supply vital missing details?” Then he asked how they would make the new boob sag incrementally over time to keep pace with the old one. He pictured me at sixty as part Lolita and part Nora Batty.

The doctor did talk about alternatives to having bits inserted. It was possible to take fat from the belly, she said, and use that to reconstruct a breast. Now she was talking. I could return to the lost era of the flat stomach. But was a return to the operating table a price worth paying ?

Then I had the idea. Women who have had breast surgery are offered free counselling and plastic surgery on the NHS, on the grounds of helping their adjustment and speedy recovery. If some kind of plastic surgery is going to make them feel better, does it matter what it is? Maybe they should be offered a voucher for non-specific treatment after a mastectomy, so they could have liposuction, or a new nose, if that would improve their body image and boost their self esteem. Maybe I’ll write to the health secretary about it. If the scheme is adopted, I’ll keep the falsie and go for the tummy tuck.

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