The problem with my closet

Aug 30

It’s my surgery anniversary.

One year ago I had my double mastectomy.

Cheers?  Salu?  I dunno what the right sentiment is, but it seems right to acknowledge the date and raise a glass to a year of living breast-less.

Because, really, what else can one do?

What I really think about with my surgery is that I put Maren on the school bus for her first two days of kindergarten, and then on day three of kindergarten, I went to the hospital and had a pretty major surgery.  Doing cancer while raising small children is still such a bizarre juxtaposition of events.  SuperGramma took over at my house, while I spent 3+ weeks recovering at my parent’s house.  I didn’t even see fifteen-month-old Greta for the first three weeks after surgery because I could barely walk/sleep/eat, forget caring for a baby.  SuperGramma stayed on for another three weeks after I came home because just about everything I did hurt.  SuperGramma got to spend some amazing quality time with her granddaughters, and I got to be spoilt: I didn’t unload the dishwasher (or do any other housework, either) for six whole weeks!  I know, SuperGramma rocks!  It was a special time in our house.

Having end-of-summer surgery meant that I got to transition directly to fall/winter clothes.  Therefore, it was a bit of a shock this spring when the warm weather rolled around and I had to find appropriate, feminine clothing to suit this new body.  And I think challenging is the right word: it’s problematic to be breast-less from a fashion perspective.  Without going into too much detail, I decided pretty quickly that prosthetics were not for me.  I just could not strap several pounds (seriously, they’re heavy) of molded silicon to my front and walk around with a straight face.  (No offense to anyone who feels more comfortable with prosthetics–they were just not for me.)  I work to find clothes that will work with a breastless body; it is challenging, and it is not really fun.

So, it was really the summer clothes situation that made me think about reconstruction and what I want to do.  Insurance will cover reconstruction, and Brad and I sat down with my favorite local plastic surgeon to discuss options.  For me, the surgical plan would be to make incisions on my back/shoulder blades, take skin flaps from there (keeping the blood supply intact), spin them around and use them to cover silicon implants on my front.  There would be two to three surgeries spread out over several months.  The end result would be two seven inch scars on my back, and a loss of 10-15 percent of my pushing up strength in my arms (think pushing up out of a chair with arm rests).  I’d also obviously have “breasts” made from skin flaps and filled in with silicon implants, but I would have more scars and numbness in that whole area.  “Breasts” doesn’t really seem like the right word.  It’s more like “numb lumps of implant/tissue” formerly known as breasts.

Is it just me, or does that whole process/end result just sound so very not worth it?

My Chemo Room friends, my Cincinnati plastic surgeon, and various members of my medical team have also recommended a relatively new type of breast reconstruction that is being done in many areas around the country: microsurgery.  Microsurgery is where the surgeon uses excess fat/tissue from your body, removes it, then transplants it to form breasts.  One girl in my Chemo Room had it done, and the surgeon took the skin from her belly (any other mama’s out there have a “baby roll”?) and moved it up.  Her end result is that she has breast lumps  made from all her own tissue (and no more baby belly roll!)  I confess, I do see that as a double bonus, and it’s the type of reconstructive surgery I’m interested in.  I’ve begun researching my microsurgery options, and right now all the data indicates that I should start at the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans.  They are ground zero and the experts in this area.  Other surgeons are doing it, and doing it well, but I want to do it with the team who does this all day long, every day.  The big downside is that it will cost thousands of dollars (insurance covers it, but not the significant out-of-network portion, or the travel expenses).

So, IF I could snap my fingers and have the surgery done for free and have it done now (poof!), then I would do it.

However, lots more discussion and research has yet to come if it is really going to happen.

I’m hesitant to have more surgery and time away from my family.

I’m hesitant about the cost: I am having a hard time picturing the day that I am going to say, “Yes, honey, let’s spend $5,000 (guesstimate) on boobs today instead of going on that memory-making vacation.”  Seriously.  I cannot imagine.  This whole thing is probably never going to happen because of that huge cost.

I’m hesitant to allocate my family’s resources: time, money, energy on something as frivolous as breasts.

But, for the sake of my daily trip into the closet where I figure out what I’m going to wear, I’m keeping it on the table.  The problem with my closet is that I spend more time thinking about the aftermath of cancer in there than I do anywhere else.  I don’t really like thinking about the aftermath of cancer, so I try not to.  But every time I’m in my closet, and figuring out what to wear, I find myself in a conundrum.

I’ve worked hard on my self-esteem: I’m beautiful, and I’m confident.  (I just have to say, I am so proud of myself: I worked hard to say and believe that about myself.)

But with the anatomical changes over the past year, I spend a fair amount of time figuring out how to conceal, camoflage and cover up.  It would be nice, very nice, to not have to worry about that any more.

I thought about this topic for a long time before I wrote it up.  Talking about breasts and breast reconstruction is so very much the icing on this whole ordeal.  Being cancer free is the cake.  Being cancer free and raising my babies is what matters.  Breasts, ha!  I scoff at breasts.  They do not matter.  My life matters, and I am so grateful for it.  This is just one more example of the complexity of being a cancer patient.

Cheers!  Tonight I am going to the pool with my family, raising a glass, and celebrating this beautiful life.


  1. Charity Buchanan /

    Beautifully written, as always! Your writing is so moving and I find your words very motivating; as a mom, as a teacher, as a woman of faith. I was fortunate enough to be the winning bidder on one if your sister’s “hot pink” works last October on Celebrity Solstice. Jenn called our piece “Maren’s Heart”. It sits by the window in my bedroom and serves to remind me daily to “do today well” and to cherish the many blessings in my life. Thanks for sharing your journey!

    • Megan /

      Charity, thank you for sharing this. I poured a lot of love into that vessel and it makes me so happy that it has a space in your home and connects you to my big sister. Lately, I’ve been thinking every day where I was last year, living on the Solstice while Mom and Jen were fighting through these big milestones. The Hot Pink Glass Shows and the auctions for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation were so special. They changed me, and my body of artwork. Thank you for being one of the wonderful people that I met at sea, who engaged in my family’s story and held me up when they couldn’t.
      This afternoon, when I read Jen’s post and your comment, I was in the middle of polishing and engraving a glass vessel that will be sold at next week’s Volley for the Cure silent auction. I hope this glass finds a home like yours.
      Love, Meg

  2. Newbyfriend /

    I have an idea, take the scarves we wore on our heads last year and wear them around your neck! I have some to donate!!!!! You are beautiful the way you are, and you are helping me through all this post cancer work, mostly mental! I am packed for my Mediterranean cruise, leave tomorrow, and I am going to do each day well. I feel so blessed too.
    Have a great trip to Aussie country, is that still on?

  3. Congratulations!! I’m coming up to my year of diagnosis anniversary and still waiting for my own NED status but hopeful for it.
    That’s a really tough decision to make – both of your arguments are valid, in the grand scheme of things breasts are nothing but at the same time after everything you’ve been through and more importantly the way you have been through this whole if you want them then you deserve them. I know you’ll work it out and make the decision that is best for you xx

  4. Karen Federlein /

    Jen, I should have told you what I told Lindsay (tutu maker) when I saw you yesterday. You look awesome, healthy, beautiful, happy!

  5. Hi Jen,

    I’ve been following your journey since it started and I get so much of what you’re saying. I had DIEP (microsurgery) last summer in Ohio and would be happy to share more about it. Please let me know if you’d like more info.

    Peace to you!

  6. Your openness is inspiring, and I love your perspective…
    “I’ve worked hard on my self-esteem: I’m beautiful, and I’m confident. (I just have to say, I am so proud of myself: I worked hard to say and believe that about myself.)”

    You have so much to offer others!!

  7. Carla Woelcke /

    Well written and really explained how I feel. I had only a right-sided mastectomy and so am lop-sided. I so want to feel sexy and beautiful, don’t like the prosthesis very much- it is heavy and makes me sweat. Considered the same type of reconstruction as you, but was clearly told by the surgeon that it would take about a year out of my life in terms of time and energy. I so appreciate his honesty because that is exactly what I DON’T want. My husband is always telling me I am beautiful and I can tell he really means it. He doesn’t see me as lop-sided- he just sees me. So for now I have found to be the most comfortable and practical is to stuff my right side with a sock. It works….

  8. Have you thought about knitted prosthetics?