The most talked-about chemo side effect is hair loss. When my eyebrows fell out, I turned to YouTube where a beautiful woman with a British accent and alopecia discussed the importance of using both powder and pencil to create the effect of thick brows. “Don’t worry if they don’t match,” she whispers, leaning into the camera, “Your eyebrows are sisters, not twins.”
The “sisters, not twins” expression is also used in the world of breast reconstruction. In the case of women who have single mastectomies and opt for implants, the goal is to complement the remaining breast, not duplicate it. In my case, I had what’s called a nipple sparing double mastectomy, which means the surgeon flipped open my areolae like manhole covers, removed all the breast tissue, and inserted expanders to hold the place for my future implants. For six months, under my pectoral muscles, sat the expanders. A woman in my support group referred to them as Capri-Sun packets, which explained why sleeping on my side felt like snuggling with a succulent.
Four days ago, I had my exchange surgery, where once again, the manholes were opened, the lunchbox beverages were removed, and silicone implants (cushioned by some of my own fat) were inserted into place. I am bandaged up for one week, waiting to return to the hospital for the great unveiling.
I am not a woman who leads with her chest. My guess is that my breasts were rarely the subject of conversation, for which I was always thankful. However, I did love them, especially when they fed my babies. Since I found a lump at the beginning of this year, my breasts have been manipulated, evaluated, kneaded, drawn on, and cut open. Friends and strangers have asked me what sort of implants I want, and whether they will be smaller or larger than my “real” breasts. Upon learning that, due to the permanent perkiness factor, bras would no longer be “needed,” several women have remarked, “You’re so lucky.”
I am not offended by any of this, and I often bring up the subject myself. Boobs are fascinating and fun. They’re squishy and sensual and look nice in clothing. Focusing on my appearance is admittedly a distraction. Implants are sexier to talk about than ovary removal, which I also had done this week. No one makes porn sites about medically induced menopause.
But I am simultaneously tired of talking about my breasts, and nervous for the big reveal. I’ve asked to be alone when I remove the bandaging. I want to be the first person to see and touch them. They will be sisters, not twins. And I will love my breasts. Not because of how they look, but because they will be cancer-free.