In all of the reading, all of the meetings and appointments and briefings and simulations that came prior to having my breasts removed, no one ever mentioned the phantom pain. No one ever told me that a year later, I would still be reaching to adjust breasts that are no longer there. No one told me I would feel nipples harden that were no longer there. No one said anything about phantom premenstrual breast tenderness with no period and no breast tissue.
When it first happened, I thought I was going crazy. I thought it was a sign of mental breakdown. I reached up to scratch an itch on something that no longer exists. How do I walk around like this and people expect me to talk about the weather and the traffic? Do they not know? Can they not tell? How can you expect me to care about the banal details of life? Can you not see I am one chipped nail away from completely losing my mind? My breasts are gone, fuckers!
This thing has been done to me. This thing has been done to me and I did not want it and I did not ask for it and I had no choice. There was a gun to my head and the voice said you hand these over or you die and I did. The surgeons cut. them. off. It wasn’t a revision. It was a re-sizing or a modification. They cut them off. They are gone and they are not coming back. No amount of medical school or surgical training can bring them back. All the clean scans in the world can not change this central fact.
There is only so much more pain and mutilation I am willing to endure for the hope of a marginal improvement. I don’t know where my line is but I know I am getting close to it. My expectations for what cosmetic reconstruction can accomplish have been greatly downgraded in the last year and a half. Every phase of my cancer treatment did some kind of harm to my body, some kind of mark that affects what the surgeon can do later.
I think I might get a tattoo. Not a set of pseudo-nipples but honest to God ink. Something that conveys the ridiculousness and beauty and pain of my present situation. There have been so many people creating so much havoc on my person, there is something that feels right about taking that power back and choosing my own havoc, my own art, my own statement of identity and fuck you-ness of surviving something that was supposed to kill me.
This side show helped to deepen my understanding of those who are so attracted to physical pain. There is a beauty to it, a purity of form to pain, to its mastery. There is beauty in coming out the other side of it, unbent and unbroken, alive and with no fear. I understand the desire to move toward the pain, not away from it. I understand the desire to control it.
Pain is a transitive element. It tells me I am alive. It is a warning shot across the bow. Pain tried to get me and it did not win. The number of things I fear are few and getting fewer by the week, by the hour.
There is beauty in the struggle. There is grace and stillness and love in what has happened. I know it is there. My job now is to find it, to find the beautiful, to mold and carve and contour and bring shape to the shapeless and meaning to the absurd and step out and face all that has come and claim my victory.