7.03.2015

First Intimate Experiences After Mastectomy

There are a few topics of interest among those who have had, or are considering a mastectomy with reconstruction, like myself.  I've always been open with my journey, some think too open, but I'm going to continue because people want to know.  I recently said on Beyond the Pink Moon:

I started my blog for my family and friends on FB, all 200 of them, many whom are acquaintances. Never did I think I'd have a voice beyond that. 
To which my friend Nicki Durlester replied:

You do indeed have a voice "beyond that." The powerful voice of a #BRCA #advocate!! You will touch more lives than you will ever know and perhaps save some too. The ripple effect... Doesn't get any better than that in my humble opinion. 
I don't say this from an ego standpoint, I say this as a woman who has made an incredibly difficult choice and who hopes that I do help just one person go through this journey.  Intimate or not, its life, and its affecting more women than you might know.  So, here's three recently "new" experiences for me after having had a mastectomy with reconstruction.  These below situations will differ for everyone, depending on your own type of surgery and recovery timeline.  

Bra Shopping


One of the milestones I was able to celebrate at three weeks was changing from the surgical bra to a regular bra.  You never realize how much you loved your bras and took them for granted until you've been in a big, bulky and hot surgical compression bra.  What I didn't know was that finding a bra that fit right would be a challenge.  Remember, I had a one-step, nipple-sparing, reconstruction with direct to implant.  I have no rippling, and so far, no need for further follow up surgeries.  I can only speak to my experience, not for anyone else.

Your first step, get fitted. You have changed shape, and whether you wanted to or not, size, in some way or another.  I went from a mother of three nursed kids to a perky mom of three kids.  I'm no longer able to do the "lift and place" method of getting my breast into the cup of the bra.  The bra needs to fit ME.  That means shape and size changed.  I needed to figure out what my new measurements were.  

Next, ask your doctor what type of bra he wants you in.  Mine suggests non-underwire bras, which is fine by me.  I really disliked my underwire bras to begin with, so going for something more comfortable was an easy change to make.  My nurse also suggested getting bras that had good support and some light padding.  I was able to find many different styles of non-underwire bras in various stores, but I was surprised that they didn't all fit the same.  Some were great and some just didn't want to conform to my new breasts.  There were gaps where I wasn't used to having them, and they just didn't lay right over the breast nor underneath.  It will take time to find the right bras for your new shape.

I grabbed some bras for the short interim in various stores.  Some work wonderfully and still make me feel feminine, some don't work so well and remind me of the awkward situation.  That being said, there are a few online companies known for helping women after reconstruction too.  I have orders placed and I look forward to seeing how they fit.  These are Genie Bra, The Coobie Store and new to the scene, Ana Ono Intimates which were created specifically for breast surgery clients.  Once I get these and test them out, I can let you know.
UPDATE: Genie bras are great!  I bought each style and I'm loving the full coverage and support of them.

By Steifer with help of Gytha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Massage


At three weeks out, I asked my doctor if I could get a massage.  Happily, thanks to things progressing well, he approved.  When I made the appointment with the spa at La Torretta, I was very upfront, as letting them know was key to my amazing experience.  I knew I couldn't lie on my chest, yet I wanted a full massage, so being open and honest was in everyone's best interest.  It wasn't an easy thing to do, as its slightly uncomfortable letting a stranger know about your situation, but I think I saved everyone any last minute surprises in the massage room.  Thankfully, they were more than accommodating, but needed a doctor release just to be sure.

Doctor release in hand, I was able to have a normal, full-body massage.  After sleeping slightly inclined for three weeks, my back, neck and shoulders were beginning to feel the pain.  My therapist was lovely.  She was originally going to have be in a Satori chair and just do reflexology, but once we spoke in person, she decided to treat me more like a pregnancy massage, and I got the full experience, lying down on my back in a massage room.  She was able to complete a full massage while avoiding my chest.  She asked me questions, made sure I was OK and provided a comfortable environment.  I wore a good, supportive bandeau style bra which allowed me to be covered, comfortable and supported, and allowed the therapist access to my shoulders without straps being in the way.  I wasn't ready to not wear anything as I still need some support.

Intimacy


This is probably the most difficult subject to discuss and yet one of the most important ones...for women and men.  I don't know if my husband will write a post on this from his point of view, but I think I can speak for both of us on some accounts.  Without divulging too much, I'd like to touch on this topic as best I can.

I'm extremely blessed to be with someone who is very open with me and with whom I feel completely comfortable.  He's seen me go from a young and fit 20-something, to a woman who gained 50 lbs with each pregnancy (you can't come back from those stretch marks!) and now, to a woman who has reconstructed her breasts...the only ones he's ever known on me.    Through each stage, he has told me how beautiful I am.  After my surgery, he told me how pleased he was with the results, that I looked perfect.  Here's the kicker, I believe him.

I say I believe him because I'm not one who takes compliments graciously.  I have a hard time.  I find flaws.  I'm not nice to myself quite often when it comes to body image.  I struggled with eating issues growing up and struggle to this day to be kind to myself.  However, in this case, I believe him because I do look good.  I can't criticize my new shape.  My results are better than I expected, and for me to say that and mean it, means a lot.  

My husband and I dove into intimate situations right after surgery when it came to showering.  I've never had to have someone help me shower, yet here I was, dependent on my husband.  The first shower with the nurse was one thing...I didn't care and I was pretty doped up.  But then we were home, three days out from the surgery, and I needed help doing something that seemed so easy.  Because of the medicine, the sleeping and sitting, my body was weak.  It was hard for me to have enough strength on my own to stand up the length of a shower, let alone wash my hair and body.  I needed him and I needed to be OK with him helping me.  It wasn't just that, it was the fact that he was seeing my breasts, drains hanging out and stitches underneath, fresh from surgery.  Ideally, in a perfect world, he wouldn't see them until everything was healed and the scars were gone.  But that didn't  happen.

As time went on, and I became more and more comfortable with my new breasts, I was more open to my husband commenting on my breasts in a more intimate, non-surgical way, and most importantly, for him to ask questions and eventually, touch them.  We were making the bridge from something medical to something intimate.  He took cues from me...he's curious, which is natural.  He only talked about them as much as I was comfortable with doing.  At three weeks, I'm less sore, my breasts are settling in more and I'm feeling really good about myself.  My husband has been patient, supportive and nothing but open.  I can't give the magic timeline for this to happen for everyone.  I can't say that everyone will feel as comfortable or as open.  What I hope is that every woman feels supported, and that her support follows her lead.  It's not easy, its not comfortable and it may take a long time before she wants her breasts to be discussed, looked at or touched.  Just...listen.




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