Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Deconstructing the Reconstructing

I've never considered myself to be a vain person.

Yes, I care about the way I look, and I understand the power of appearance in our society. But my parents raised me to value intellect and character. Be confident in your appearance, and then, hit 'em with your smarts.

So if you had told me just a year ago that I would be sitting in a plastic surgeon's office discussing breast implants, I would have said you were crazy. To me, plastic surgery - boob jobs, tummy tucks, facelifts - were for the very rich, very self-obsessed Real Housewives in our society. The portrayal of plastic surgery in popular media borders on the grotesque. I didn't understand people who would go through the risks of an operation for a strictly aesthetic result. It seemed the ultimate in vanity. No, this was not something for me.

Of course, I have never been unhappy with my appearance - until now. Believe me when I tell you that looking at my reflection in the mirror days after undergoing a double mastectomy to treat breast cancer was one of the toughest moments in my life. I now know what it feels like to look at myself and think I'm ugly. I now know the impact that can have on one's life.

I was lucky in that moment to know that the way my body looked was temporary. My plastic surgeon placed tissue expanders in my chest during the surgery, beginning the process of reconstruction.

For the past six months, those expanders have been gradually filled to create a capsule for the silicone implants that will be placed there next week. The process has involved some discomfort, a little pain, and a lot of self-questioning. More than once, I have left the doctor's office wondering why I'm doing this. I'm 55 years old - why do I need to have breasts, especially ones that have no function? Why am I putting myself through the risks of another surgery for a strictly aesthetic result? I can't entirely answer those questions except to say this breast reconstruction is helping me to heal on a deep psychological level.

Despite the questioning, I feel like I have made a good decision, one that is right for me. I spent a lot of time with a doctor I trust going over my options. I understand why some women choose not to have reconstruction. A colleague at work, who had a unilateral mastectomy 10 years ago, chose not to have her breast rebuilt. She met with a surgeon, but decided it wasn't for her. She told me she thinks of her altered body like a Picasso painting. It is a strikingly beautiful image.

I have also since learned more about plastic surgery. Much of what I thought of as plastic surgery is a small subset - cosmetic surgery. The field encompasses much more. This type of surgery restores form and function to a body that is either formed improperly or damaged by disease or trauma. It includes craniofacial surgery, microsurgery, hand surgery, reconstructive surgery, and the treatment of burns. It is much bigger than I thought.

And those people who choose to have cosmetic surgery to feel better about themselves - I get it now. This has been another lesson learned on this complicated journey. Any time I get to learn to be less judgmental of others is a good thing.