Mastectomy – One Man’s Perspective

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard from two women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. One is a friend of ours that we’ve known for over 20 years. The other is Susie Lindau at: http://wordpress.com/#!/read/blog/id/22014950/ a blogging buddy.

Susie’s eloquent post is very moving. She talks about finding out she has breast cancer and the emotions and decisions that she has made since then. Susie has decided to have a double mastectomy to arrest the cancer and follow up with other treatments to ensure it is eradicated.

First, let me be clear, I have no idea how a woman feels when she has been given this diagnosis. I’m not going to even attempt to say I understand because I clearly don’t.

However, there is one thing I do understand. I know what it’s like to live with someone who had a double mastectomy. For the record, it isn’t Linda in case anyone thinks we’ve been holding out.

I lived with a woman for 18 years who had a double mastectomy for 16 of those years. That woman was my mother. In late 1951, early 1952 when I was only 18 months old, my mother was diagnosed with what appeared to be breast cancer. At that time the technology didn’t exist to determine the type, full location, or alternative treatment options. The only treatment option was a double mastectomy.

Thankfully she made a full recovery but I’m sure she went through the same emotions that any woman today would go through. Will her husband still love her, what will her children think, what sort of impact it will have on her ability to work?

She survived the surgery and the recovery which by today’s standards was long and painful. There was no attempt to save breast tissue and her scars were large. How do I know the scars were large? Because she never hid her surgery from me when I was growing up. This is who she was. Did I love her any less? Of course not, she was my Mom. That didn’t mean that she still didn’t piss me off from time to time but that’s what happens between parents and their children. It isn’t always sweetness and light.

I never knew what a woman’s breast looked like until I was six years old and Mrs. M came to our house with her new born son. She was breast feeding and in those days, there was no stigma to feeding your child in someone’s home. Mrs. M started to breast feed and I remember standing there in bewilderment wondering what that was on her chest and what was that baby doing with it.

Mrs. M asked if it was Ok if I watched. Mom told her that it was perfectly fine as I had never seen a woman’s breast before.

Mom explained to me that she had breasts before her surgery. I remember feeling a little bewildered but as six year olds are want to do, I was soon off playing with Mrs. M’s son and daughter. Mom later took the time to tell me what happened to her. Some things we never forget.

In my younger years, one of my jobs was to fill her prosthetic inserts with air. In the 50’s and 60’s, the primary option available was a balloon like inflatable that fit into a pocket in the prosthetic bra. It could be inflated to whatever degree of firmness appealed to the wearer.

As gel-filled prosthetics became available and most importantly, more affordable, Mom hauled me off to the mastectomy supplies store to help her select the gel insert that was right for her.

Now I confess that standing in a mastectomy store with your mother and her asking you to feel the gels could have been a little intimidating but it wasn’t. This is what I’d grown up with in some form. The saleswoman never blinked an eye seeing a woman bring one of her sons to help. It seemed to be an everyday occurrence. I know Mom was excited when she got her first gel prosthetic because it felt more natural to her.

When I was in my teens, my Dad made it clear to me that just because Mom had lost her breasts, it didn’t make her any less desirable as a woman. OK, this is where the “Oooo” “ick” factor comes in. There are some things you don’t want to hear about your parents. Am I right? After all, our parents NEVER had sex!

What my Dad did either knowing or unknowingly, was tell me that it wasn’t a certain body part that defines your feelings for a person. It is who the person is that matters.

Physical attributes come and go. Just check that picture of yourself in that bathing suit at age 20 and look at that recent picture of yourself at 60. Trust me, things change!

So I guess this is a long way for me to say to my friends who are undergoing breast cancer treatment, your breasts don’t define you.

Your spirit; your love for your family; your love and caring for friends; your caring for your community; your writing; your humor; your hugs and kisses; your intellect; those are the things that define you.

As I said before, I can’t fathom your emotions but I do understand how it feels to have a loved one who survived a double mastectomy and continued to love and be loved.

I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

 

 

  1. This was a beautiful, moving post. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Your mothers sounds like an amazing woman. May her memory always be a blessing.

  2. This is a beautiful post. I’m grateful my friend Darcy pointed the way here. I had a single mastectomy in 2009, my boys were not babies, my youngest being 16 at the time, my ex husband long gone. My breast was not relevant to us, my life was. The fear of losing their mother was the prevalent thought, unfortunately that fear was not resolved with treatment.

    I just wanted to thank you for writing about the very good that lives in others and within yourself. Too often we are a overwhelmed by the ugly, shallow and ridiculous. I personally wish I had both breasts removed… but that’s a longer story. Thank you for sharing your memories Nelson.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am glad to see that everyone had the right idea about what is important. I hope that whatever else you are encountering is beaten back by a strong spirit and the love of those around you.

      Nelson

  3. Of all of your sharings, this writing, was my favorite. Such huge insight into a childhood experience, that obviously had impact, So graciously written, about your Mom, with respect to Linda, and in regards to women affected. Good stuff-Thank you!

  4. Nelson, it is so comforting to hear a perspective written so tenderly from a male who has gone through the experience with someone as close to them as their mum – a very brave woman who has brought up her son with great realism and understanding. Health – no matter what age is of primary importance and I am grateful that I have not experienced BC and my heart goes out to those who have. You made me smile at the ‘ick’ part – how many of us have said that our parents never had ‘sex’! Women everywhere – be proud for who you are for it is the inside what is what is loved – the personality – not the outer cortex. Thank you for this post for your tender words and to all those women who have or are going through BC, my heart goes out to you and I wish you strength in your fight . x

  5. Thank you Nelson, for sharing a man’s perspective. It sounds like your parents were/are wonderful caring, loving people and it served you well. I appreciate you putting it to words.

  6. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I clicked on your post. I have to say that I was deeply moved by your story and by your perspective. And I have to thank you.
    I have twin sons who I nursed for just over 2 years. But they do not remember that. In fact, they do not remember that I had breasts or what life was like before cancer. I was diagnosed when they were in kindergarten. And I have often wondered what this experience has really been like for them. And what they will take from it or remember when they are older — and how it will influence their relationships with women.
    Your story gave me a window into their world. I hope they grow up to be as compassionate and as thoughtful as you. Thank you ~ and my warmest wishes to your friends.

    1. As additional information, I have two brothers who are 9 and 12 years older than me. (WWII came in between.) They saw Mom before and after her mastectomy. The only thing they cared about was having Mom come home.

      Your sons experienced roughly the same thing I did. I am fairly confident that the last thing on their minds is that Mom has no breasts.

      What they’re going to remember, particularly as they get older and understand more of the world around them, is the time Mom gave them a hug when they got hurt; told her she loved them; and of course the time(s) where she thoroughly annoyed them because she did something that was in their best interest and they couldn’t see it at the time. With age comes wisdom. 🙂

      As far as their relationship with women is concerned, I would hope that they understand that breasts don’t define a woman. You didn’t stop loving them because you lost your breasts and my guess is they haven’t stopped loving you. If they pay attention to their inner spirits, they will have a greater respect for woman than most men.

      Thank you for your very moving note.

      If I can ever answer any questions directly, please feel free to email me.

      Nelson

      1. Nelson,
        Thank you so much for your response… Just like your post, it was both enlightening and comforting for me to read. (I even enjoyed the part about annoying the boys–I’m certain they’ll have many memories that fit into this category!)
        Your Mom sounds like a special woman. I’m sure she was proud of the boy you were and the man you became. And I trust that she’d be proud you are helping others by sharing your story…
        Thanks so much,
        Leisha

  7. Nelson, you have a wonderful family, which you describe so well in this beautiful, poignant piece. Your parents showed how wonderful role models can be. Love this post. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. We may have lacked a few things and we sure had some faults but a lack of love wasn’t one of them. Mom and Dad were proud of what we were when they passed away and would be even prouder of what we continued to become.

    1. Thank you. My guess is that they will think nothing of it. They will probably ask, when they get old enough understand, why is there a difference in Mommy’s chest? However, it won’t do a darn thing to make them love you any less.

  8. I commend you for tackling this subject, Nelson. I think when we fellows can talk about things like this and offer our perspective, it’s a good thing. And as always, your compassion and wisdom shines through. Well done, friend.

  9. Had a double mastectomy myself 3 years ago at 42, and I love to hear your perspective on this… Thank God not having my breasts has never been an issue with my husband or my 6 yr. old- who like you, looks at my scars and doesn’t cringe. He knows I am the same person who loves him. I am so happy you had such an inspirational woman as your mom.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’ve received more back from this post than I gave. I’m also pleased to report that Susie has come through her double mastectomy with flying colours. Woo Hoo! 🙂

  10. A beautiful piece. Thank you for your honest perspective. We need to hear more stories like this.

  11. How beautiful. My partner said very similar words to me after my mastectomy.
    I shared this article with my 18 year old son. He has struggled with my cancer. He read this and hugged me with tears in his eyes. Thank you.

        1. I am happy to say that Mom was proud of all her sons. Sometimes we made her more proud than others. 🙂 I am glad that my post had some meaning to you. I always appreciate it when people take the time to comment on my posts. I wish you continued good health.

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