I’ve been moving nonstop for weeks it seems. Del and I were in England for a week or so doing wedding stuff, then I had to go to Belgium to get some finishing touches done with my plastic surgeon. I’m not going to go into great detail as, at this point, my natural instinct is to treat my revamped body parts with the same modesty as I did my old ones. If you know me well, you might be laughing now. But, yes, I do have some modesty. But yes, the thresh hold always was pretty low.
But this got me thinking…A close friend once asked me what it felt like to be reconstructed. “Would you be embarrassed to take your shirt off in public, or no? Is that instinct different now?” It is a brave question, but one that I might have secretly wondered myself, were our positions reversed. Well, having said that I never quite understood the idea of embarrassment over ones body (OK, at least not since I was indoctrinated to the topless beach scene in Europe back in college. After that, I was never able to think anything more than, “We all have the same parts, what’s the big secret?”), it’s still an interesting question. Is it different? Well yes and no.
It is different for a couple of reasons:
1) By the time you’ve finished breast cancer treatment, you’ve undressed in front of an army of people. Simply, you get used to it. Especially in Europe where doctors don’t do the “modesty gown” thing. I’m so accustomed to just stripping down with the doctor sitting there at his/her desk that in my recent American medical visits, I find it more awkward to use the gown while they step politely out. Now I just sit there in my skivvies, the gown left sitting there folded and sterile on the bench instead of pretending like they’re not going to just come back and move it aside. I mean, what’s the point? Doctors find that pretty funny.
2) It’s true – at least initially – that I didn’t feel the reflex to “hide” my top after surgery in the same way you do your “original” parts. Like the rest of my treatment, I considered my new body from a sort of scientific perspective. It was something I observed more than felt. We are taught to cover certain parts, and then those parts are gone…and replaced. Then of course you’re so amazed at the results that you do get that urge to become one of those BC survivors who’s notorious for flashing everyone she knows. (You know her.)
However, it is the same too in that:
1) For a long time, I felt modesty with my changed body more akin to what I would assume is normal (American) modesty. You might remember that the first time I went to Turkey, I was extremely reluctant to go to the hammam because one is usually naked. I was suddenly, extremely uncomfortable with that idea, and when a friend pressed me on this I once even teared up. This modesty, however, was a about the fact that suddenly we didn’t “all have the same parts”. And that’s not embarrassing in itself, but one look at me and people – perfect strangers – would be privy to information about a huge part of my life. They would suddenly know one of the most traumatic things that ever happened to me. They could see my emotional scars. Most people at least have to buy me dinner first. But suddenly being topless meant having no control over strangers’ access to my most private struggles. That just didn’t feel right. Talk about feeling naked. (Eventually that feeling faded, however, and my 2nd time to the hammam I went au natural and it felt awesome to not give a damn.)
1) As I have sat with my body changes, they come to feel more and more natural. So whereas I might have once felt like I had new parts built to resemble natural ones, I no longer feel that way. They are mine now, they are more and more “natural” to me. And my instinct to treat them equally to my original ones has grown with time.
Actually, I have this crazy fantasy where I leave my mark on the world by producing the first BC-survivor pin-up calendar. One the one hand it perhaps sounds terribly inappropriate. But to me, the thought of introducing to the world “sexy cancer survivors” is awesome. The idea isn’t to be an exhibitionist nor promote objectification. It’s to put it out there that cancer is not the end. That your life can come full circle. To break the remaining attitudes and taboos. To show that cancer doesn’t define you forever. To show the world that breast cancer doesn’t make you any less of a woman. It sure tries. But these days? It fails with a capitol F. I’d just love to pin that on the wall in all its glory!