Sarah DiMuro | @sarahdimurowrites
I remember the first time my beloved mother-in-law saw my chest a few hours after my double mastectomy. “Wow, there’s nothing there,” she said, her sad eyes inspecting my bandages. I laughed at her response. “Well, Natalie, that’s kind of the point,” I replied, ignoring her grief over my amputated breasts. Perhaps I would have felt differently if I had her ample bosom, but my tiny tatas had never really been something I thought much about. One was always bigger than the other and it wasn’t until I had my son and breastfed him that I had any connection to them. Of course, when I found out one of them was trying to kill me, they both had to go.
It all started the day before Family Day weekend in 2018. I had made an appointment with my doctor to inspect a suspicious lump I had noticed in my right breast, fully expecting her to dismiss it as something benign like a plugged milk duct. The moment she felt it, though, she knew it wasn’t good. An hour later I was racing uptown for an urgent mammogram and ultrasound, and by 4 p.m. that day my worst suspicions were confirmed: cancer.
“I captured it all and didn’t worry once about the way I looked. I even filmed myself at the hospital the day of my reconstruction, donned in my sexy hairnet and hospital gown.”
A few days later I was sitting in my breast surgeon’s office getting a biopsy. More people had seen and handled my breasts in the past week than in my entire life. Yet each time I had to expose myself to a doctor or clinician, I was less and less self-conscious, and by the day of my double mastectomy, I stood there proudly, robe open as my plastic surgeon took a blue Sharpie and mapped out which areas would be cut into and excised.
I had never been a shy person when it came to baring all in a doctor’s office but this heightened comfort level was becoming increasingly present outside of a medical setting. Letting go of my breasts gave me the freedom to let go of so many of my insecurities. I was reaching for my skinny jeans even on days when I thought I looked bloated, saying to myself, “Who cares, just wear the damn jeans!” And when I wore them I felt powerful, like why wasn’t I wearing these before? What was I waiting for?
I reached out to an organization, Rethink Breast Cancer, that’s geared toward younger women like me going through this disease, and they were excited to collaborate. We started a vlog where I documented my journey, including doctor’s appointments and daily ups and downs. I filmed myself, bare-faced and crying at midnight because I was freaking out about a possible recurrence or sweating on the treadmill to alleviate some of the bone pain caused by my medication. I captured it all and didn’t worry once about the way I looked. I even filmed myself at the hospital the day of my reconstruction, donned in my sexy hairnet and hospital gown.
A few days later at my follow-up appointment with my plastic surgeon, he noticed that one breast seemed to be bigger than the other and I smiled. “Hey, that’s how they were before so it’s like a little tribute to the old girls,” I said. He mentioned how down the road we could also do nipple tattoos or even create a nipple from some of my skin. “Doc, please, I couldn’t care less,” I said. “The scars and asymmetry, for me, it all works just fine.” He smiled and we chatted a bit about our young kids.
Each morning after I shower I inspect myself in the mirror. I see the scars across my chest that have faded slightly but remain a light pink against my pale skin. I reach up to dry my hair and the skin puckers and you can almost make out the implant hovering beneath my skin. But all of this is a reminder that I’m a survivor, so much stronger than I could have ever imagined. Before all this I would look at my body and pick it apart: “Oh, look at that cellulite on the back of my legs, and boy, is my butt flat.” And while all those things are still there, I don’t allow them to take up as much space. I wear the dress, the bathing suit – I don’t let my insecurities prevent me from living.
One morning, my toddler was pulling at my nightshirt and exposed my chest and scars. He said, “Boo-boo, mama?” and I smiled and said, “Nope, no more boo-boo.” My body may not be perfect but I’m so glad it’s mine, and boy does it know how to fight.
For more information visit Rethink Breast Cancer.