One Old Sage

Thoughts, Stories, and Bits of Wisdom

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:!/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.



42 comments on “Mastectomy – One Man’s Perspective

  1. anotherjennifer
    June 1, 2013

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

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      June 1, 2013

      Thank you. I appreciate your comments. It is a topic that is very close to my heart.

  2. Thank you, Nelson. Found you through Jenn’s blog and It is awesome to connect with people all over the world who are simply amazing. Thank you for sharing your story and perspective.

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      June 1, 2013

      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! :)

  3. Matty S
    May 25, 2013

    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.

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 25, 2013

      Thank you for sharing your experience. Speaking of inspirational women, I think you only need to look in the mirror to find one.


  4. coachdaddyblogger
    May 25, 2013

    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.

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 25, 2013

      Thank you. It was both difficult and easy. Difficult in that it is a subject that is so personal to people and easy because it was what I lived.


  5. Diane Henders
    May 24, 2013

    Beautifully written, as usual. You have a true gift for sharing warmth and tenderness in your writing. Bravo!

  6. Facing Cancer Together
    May 24, 2013

    This is a beautiful, beautiful post. I wonder what my future children might think of my missing breast . . .so it’s just so nice to read your perspective. Thank you :)
    ~ Catherine

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 24, 2013

      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.

  7. bethgainer
    May 24, 2013

    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!

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 24, 2013

      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.

  8. Lynette d'Arty-Cross
    May 23, 2013

    Nelson, you are a completely awesome human being.

  9. myeyesareuphere
    May 23, 2013

    What a beautiful memory of a wonderful family and what you took out of early experience into the rest of your life. Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. dglassme
    May 23, 2013

    Nelson, thank you for sharing your story with us.

  11. Cancer in My Thirties
    May 23, 2013

    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.

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 23, 2013

      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.


      • Cancer in My Thirties
        May 25, 2013

        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,

  12. Knot Telling
    May 23, 2013

    Another thank you here. I can’t say anything that the people who got here before me haven’t already said, so again – thank you.

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 23, 2013

      Those are two words that are very powerful to me and I can’t ask for more and thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  13. vtashman
    May 23, 2013

    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.

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 23, 2013

      Thank you. They had their faults like all of us but we never lacked for love in our house. I appreciate that you took the time to read it and comment.

  14. Pingback: Mastectomy – One Man’s Perspective | Jenn in her own words...

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 23, 2013

      Thank you for your kind words and sharing my post. I appreciate it. I am humbled by the response it received.

  15. jennt28
    May 23, 2013

    Just simply thank you. A beautiful piece of writing!

  16. Nancy's Point
    May 23, 2013

    I’m very moved by your words. Thank you so much for writing this.

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 23, 2013

      Thank you for reading it. I’ve been very moved by the responses I’ve received to this post.

  17. ramblingsfromamum
    May 22, 2013

    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

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 22, 2013

      Thank you very much. Your kind words are most appreciated. It’s one of those posts that just came from the heart.


  18. Cindy Patrick
    May 22, 2013

    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!

  19. Carolyn Frayn
    May 22, 2013

    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.

    • Nelson - One Old Sage
      May 22, 2013

      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.


  20. Rivki Silver
    May 22, 2013

    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.

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