If you’d told me when I was a teenager that I’d have a breast amputated in my 30s, I would have gawped and wailed in horror. Back then, looks meant so much. They certainly weren’t everything, but at the time I felt that my appearance would dictate my fortune – and not just in the mating game.
By the time fate intervened and it was a toss-up between my boob or my life, the boob suddenly seemed rather insignificant. It was with regret I took a last look in the mirror the night before surgery was booked, steeled myself, and waved goodbye to a unique protrusion of my identity.
I’ve blogged before about the collateral of defeating cancer, and how very lucky I know I am to be here, and I’ve written about the umbilical miracle that meant not only could I escape with my life, but with the life of my unborn child, too. So I am not ungrateful, but the mutilation of survival does give me the odd moment of chagrin.
'No more chicken fillets!' they encourage, 'Imagine the cleavage of your dreams!' But it's complicated. Were it a simple case of implants, I'd be under the knife quicker than you could say '34C please'. But previous surgery means robbing Peter to pay Paul, and I'd have to choose a body part to masquerade as a boob. Naturally it would have to be a part that lends itself to the consistency of breast tissue, such as fat from my belly, back or thigh. It would mean grafting skin that wouldn't match, dealing with scars resistant to healing, even feeling an itch on my back and having to scratch the new boob to satisfy it. All-in-all, I'd end up another step closer to Frankenstein's monster. No offense to anyone who's chosen reconstruction - you all look an awful lot better than I do. But the physical compromises to boot are a step too far.
And so it is I choose to live mono-breasted, without too much heartache.
Still, there are practical difficulties which leave me frustrated. Swimming is one activity which makes my heart sink. The fewer the clothes, the harder the disguise. At first I avoided swimming, even at the expense of my children. Then I purchased some fiddly, uncomfortable swimwear and braved the waters. But honestly, the whole rigmarole was putting me off.
So it is I come to write this blog, after a remarkable, timely coincidence which recently gave me renewed courage to just be as I am.
I've taken to using the half-hour of my daughter's swimming lesson to grab the opportunity for a quick dip myself. Three weeks ago, I told myself while hanging up the wet stuff that this was silly; it was time to swim au naturel. Not nude, please note, but wrapped in a swimsuit, single-breasted.
I emerged from the changing room with trepidation, avoiding all eye contact en route to the water's edge, clinging tightly to the towel, praying nobody I knew would be here to see me. I counted to three, shed the towel swiftly and jumped straight in to the water's concealing embrace. Then I swam 20 lengths, showered with arms across my chest, and retired triumphant to dress. Yes! I'd done it. So much easier and more comfortable. I might even do it again.
Once I was clothed, I opened the changing room door to retrieve my daughter.
And there in front of me stood... a one-boobed woman! She used no towel to disguise her figure, which missed its left breast. She chatted happily to her friend and their small children, and seemed totally unselfconscious. I was almost disappointed to be clothed, with my curves strapped back on.
Had I been in my costume, I may have dropped my towel and shouted,
'Ta da - snap! Together, we have a matching pair!'
Thank you, dear stranger, for the unknown solidarity you have given me by being there just at the right moment.