When breast cancer patients with a genetic predisposition to the disease are faced with a choice between life and beauty, it’s a simple decision for most. The challenge is in living with it.
My bilateral mastectomy was in November, and I’m still adjusting to the changes in my body and psyche. One can enjoy life without breasts and fertility. But treatment changes life for young, single patients in unanticipated ways.
“It’s tough to feel pretty without my breasts. The implants are weird looking,” I told a psychologist at the University of Miami’s Courtelis Center for Psychosocial Oncology. “I really don’t feel beautiful anymore.”
“You are not your breasts,” she replied. “There is more to you than that. You have a pretty face. You are intelligent and interesting, and that makes you beautiful.”
Physical attractiveness is directly linked to human mating patterns. Studies have shown that women with larger breasts tend to have higher levels of certain hormones that promote fertility.
The face is not as important when it comes to first impressions for most men. In a 2009 study, researchers from New Zealand’s University of Wellington measured tiny eye movements to record which areas of a woman’s body men looked at first. Not surprisingly, they found that about 80 percent of men’s “first fixations” were on the breast and midriff. About 20 percent stared at the woman’s face.
Publicists and TV producers use this to sell their shows. Last week, covering the Latin Billboard Awards in Coral Gables, I was glad I didn’t have to compete with the women on the red carpet — and even some of my colleagues — for attention. “The dress has to hug you in all the right places,” a blond reporter from Argentina told me. She looked like a peacock in a tight, backless white gown full of feathers and sparkle.
The breast implant parade of Telemundo soap opera stars offered many “va-va-voom” moments. Actress Jacqueline Marquez wore a golden-sequined dress with a deep V-cut that barely covered her voluptuous breasts. Out of the dozens of women at the show, only a few had natural-looking breasts.
For cancer patients like me, whose real breasts were like time bombs, advances in plastic surgery have been miraculous.
“Not every one gets surgery. It looks so fake,’’ a male co-worker said. “It’s better to just leave the scars. I have seen some women get tattoos to cover them.”
My jaw dropped. “Are you crazy? That’s not me. No way,” I said.
The saline-solution breast implants have made me feel less like an alien. Surgeons insert the expandable implants to stretch the skin. After several weeks of radiation therapy meant to kill lingering cancer cells, the skin needs about a year to heal to avoid injury.
Although I’m working on placing more value on intangible qualities, I’m looking forward to joining the silicone-implant club next year. I agree with a man on the Telemundo production team at the Latin Billboard Awards: “Que viva the fake boobs!”
Part 8: Facing my fears after mastectomy
Part 11: Radiation therapy gives her hope
Part 12: Finding strength from others
Part 14: A new outlook on 2012
Part 17: After radiation therapy ends
Part 21: Too much fear, too little trust
Part 26: High hope for new drug
Part 27: Religion is an unavoidable topic
Part 28: Treatment changes social life
From the Editor: Journalist confronts cancer, takes readers along