Personal Mastectomy Experiences

I remember being bandaged up and kind of wanting to look at the mastectomy scar, but not really wanting to look at it. I remember it being very red up here. I just said, no, I am not going to sit here in this hospital gown feeling ugly about myself. Oh, no. I had gone out and gotten some nice little nightgowns, some little satin gowns because I wanted to feel good about myself. I might have lost a breast, but that doesn't make me any less sensual or beautiful. When the doctors were making the rounds in the morning, he had to pull the gown up and he turned around to his medical students and he said, "This is why you always encourage patients to wear their hospital gowns. It always takes a little bit longer. . . . " I said, "Look, who gives a rip. I'm paying for this. You work for me."

In the time between my biopsy and my mastectomy, I had a lot of time to think. And one of my daughters' girlfriend's mother had gone through a mastectomy. I had heard that she was doing very well. She had gone through the chemotherapy. I knew her enough to say "hi" to her and ask her how she was and that was pretty much it. I knew she knew what I was going through because of our daughters being friends, and I was waiting for her to call me and say look, what would you like me to tell you? What would you like to know? I waited until about three hours before I was due to have my mastectomy. I had to leave for the hospital in an hour and I thought I can't wait any longer for this lady to call me. I'm going to have to call her. I called her and told her what I was I going through and what I would be doing in the next two hours. She said she was aware that I had a positive mammogram. I said, "You know, I really need to pick your brain here. I want to know how I'm going to feel, what I'm going to be looking at." But she said it was so personal that she'd really rather not talk about it. It would be like living through it again. And I said, "Oh please," I said. "Please try and put that aside," I said, "because I'm walking in this blind. I said as far as I know, I don't want to see anyone, I will be devastated when I wake up. I said I imagine I'll be in a lot of pain." I said "I'm taking the ugliest thing I can, the ugliest nightgown. I won't even let my sisters come up and visit." And she said, "Okay Colleen. Take your most beautiful nightgown you have, let your sisters come up. I guarantee you that they will monitor you with pain medication. You do not have to be in pain, and you'll be very surprised. It isn't as bad as what you hear about." And she was right.

I had no idea what it was going to be like to be without a breast. I didn't know what the scar looked like. I just couldn't imagine being without one. If this is what's going to save your life, then that's what's important. It was real important that you learn to accept the body that you have. You never get used to it. I decided that I would face it head on. You have a scar from the middle of your arm over here and it's totally flat. When you look in the mirror, it's difficult to adjust to at first. One thing I was upset about was my stomach was bigger than my breast. I would laugh about that. I guess that's where your sense of humor comes in again.

 © 1999 Michigan State University
Communication Technology Laboratory