Walking towards the door of Barbara’s Mastectomy Boutique, i still wasn’t sure what i was expecting. I wasn’t even sure why i was doing this. I have spent the last five months parading around with my one-breasted status; why get fitted for a prosthesis now? Maybe it was simply because my reconstructive surgeon had handed me a prescription on Monday for a prosthesis, and i was just following up on her idea. Maybe it was because the idea of going back to work and teaching a classroom of teenagers who would be staring at my chest even *more* now was unsettling. Or maybe … if i am being really honest with myself … it was because even after five months i still hadn’t learned to embrace what the new me looks like. Whatever the reason, here i was, walking across the parking lot to where Barbara was waiting for me outside the door.
“Are you looking for Barbara’s?”
I looked down at this womyn and nodded my head. She was seriously so short; even with chunky 3″ heels, i still only measure up to 5’7″, but i was TOWERING over this womyn. She introduced herself as Barbara, the owner, welcomed me inside, and instructed me to head to the back room and remove my shirt. “I’ll be right there,” she assured me. “Just have a seat and make yourself at home.”
I’m pretty sure i don’t sit around my home topless on a regular basis, but i did as she instructed. I walked down the hall and quickly removed my sweater, collared shirt, and sports bra. (I don’t know why i always feel like i have to rush to remove my clothing when i am in places like these; i always end up just sitting/lying there, awkwardly waiting.) Barbara appeared and immediately started pulling forms out of a folder. “Sign here … and here … initial here … remember to postdate these pages because we haven’t finalized authorization from your insurance company, but you should be fine … Susie handles all the paperwork, and she really knows her stuff….” On and on she droned while i sat there topless, feeling completely ridiculous to be filling out paperwork while half of my clothes were missing. I mean, couldn’t we have completed the paperwork BEFORE she had me remove my shirt?
In hindsight, she was probably just trying to normalize the situation for me, acting like it was completely no big deal that i had to be half-naked for an entire hour while a complete stranger took my measurements, helped me in and out of bras, and inserted prostheses into the garments.
… but it was still weird.
For some reason, i thought that a prosthetic breast would be hard, heavy, some sort of over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder kind of contraption. Not even. These things are light, teardrop-shaped pieces of silicone that slip easily in and out of pockets sewn into the mastectomy bras. They have the same soft squishy feeling as a natural breast, and they weigh about the same.
The bra selection – while fairly extensive, with about a dozen different styles – was a little disappointing. Of course, this is coming from a girl who has over 30 different Victoria’s Secret bras in a vast array of colors and textures, with all of them aiming for “sexy” more than “functional.” The only actual color they had (besides black, white, and nude) was lavender, and many of the styles were … well, not that stylish. Still, i appreciated the space i was in. Here i was, standing in a room filled with bras, sports bras, tanktops, and swimwear – with every single item designed specifically for post-mastectomy womyn. I was being educated by a fellow survivor who CLEARLY enjoys the service she is able to provide to this particular cancer community. To top it all off, the prosthesis and four bras were being covered 100% by my insurance company. United Healthcare was actually paying for me to have the luxury of looking “normal” to the outside world.
I walked out of Barbara’s Mastectomy Boutique wearing the navy blue post-mastectomy tanktop and the prosthesis. Sure, it was only 67 degrees outside, and yes, i was cold … but there was something about walking out of that store looking like a two-breasted womyn that just FELT good. It was like it was my secret to hold onto, this cancer battle of mine. For the first time in a year, i no longer LOOK like a cancer patient. My hair is growing back, my skin has color to it, i’ve regained all my weight (ahem…and then some), and now i have two mounds properly filling out my shirt. Am i ashamed of the cancer that almost claimed me but didn’t? Of course not. I fought an intense battle with my own biology, and i WON … but i don’t necessarily want the rest of the world to know all that i endured. I want cancer to be one of those things i share with people after i have gotten to know them a little better and learned that i can trust them with my more vulnerable parts … but to the rest of the world, I just want to be seen as my original fierce, confident, sexy self.