Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 1,184: A Man's Perspective on Mastectomy

As we are about to enter the fresh hell of Pinktober, when all sorts of normally reasonable people begin to wax nostalgic about the tatas and talk about free boob jobs and basically make women with cancer out to be some kind of heroic porn stars in the making, I thought I would interview a guy about what it's like to love a woman who has had one or both breasts cut off of her body. And the only guy I could think of who would agree was my husband. So here's Gabe's two cents on the whole thing.

K: So in general what did you think when you first heard I had a recurrence? Were you surprised? What did you think would happen?
G: I felt despair. I was crushed. I was absolutely surprised. I didn’t want to think about what would happen.

K: OK. We won’t talk about that part anymore. What about when you found out I had to have a mastectomy?
G: I guess that was inevitable.

K: Did it make you sad?
G: Absolutely. Your breast is a part of you.

K: What about thinking about how I would look or whether I would be sexy or whether you would still be attracted to me?
G: I love you and I care for your body. It’s a part of you. It’s one of many aspects of you that makes you who you are and losing a piece of that is sad. But it’s just one tiny facet. I was worried your reconstruction would fail and you would go through all kinds of extra procedures and infections and they’d have to pull the whole thing out and start from scratch. I kind of didn’t want you to do the reconstruction. It seemed like a waste of time and energy.

K: Would you have thought it was weird if I had just one breast?
G: I think it’s weird that you have cancer. I don’t think that anything else matters in comparison to that.

K: OK, so I did decide to do the reconstruction and I looked at it right away and it seemed ok to me. I wasn’t sad and I didn’t have body dismorphia. What do you think about it?
G: I was worried about a big surgical seam in a part of your body that’s under pressure from an inflatable bag. But now that it’s healed and the necrotic flesh has been removed (!!) I don’t usually think of you as having only one breast.

K: What about the lack of nipple and the scar?
G: The lack of a nipple is sad. It’s like having a toe or finger cut off. It’s a sensitive area and you don’t have it. The scar is just like your merit badge for being a cancer survivor.

K: How do you think I look when I’m naked?
G: I think you’re gorgeous and you have an amazing body and I barely notice the fake boob. You know when they have those pictures of people they want to keep anonymous so they blur their faces? The fake boob is like a blur over that part of your body.

K: Do you think it affects our sex life?
G: No.

K: It must be different touching that though.
G: That breast has been kind of hands off for years since I gave you that mastitis so I don’t know. But it does feel cold relative to the rest of your warm body. That’s a little strange. I mean in the winter will it freeze?

K: I think you’re going to get shit for saying that. Anyway, it’s almost October, and we’re all going to be inundated with obnoxious crap about boobs and tatas and second base and cancer. Does me having a mastectomy change any of your feelings about that stuff?
G: No. It has always pissed me off. It trivializes and belittles a really serious problem. We don’t have a rescue the willies month for prostate cancer. For men’s problems, we take it seriously. For women, I guess we figure you should just suffer anyway because medicine was designed to help men. Old white men in fact.It’s you having to do chemo again that really makes me just (long pause)…furious. I think it’s wrong that so much money and research has been devoted to new chemotherapies to prolong life a little bit as opposed to more work to determine if chemo is even necessary.

K: Well they are working on that, and there is information for that for estrogen positive cancer.
G: I know. I’m talking about you. I’m talking about triple negative breast cancer.

K: They have studied TNBC and chemo is supposedly highly effective for us.
G: I wouldn’t call an extra 5 to 7% chance of it helping highly effective.

K: Well, it’s only that effective for me because my chance of recurrence is already low. And obviously I did everything and my cancer came back anyway. So are you saying that you don’t think I should do chemo?
G: I wish you didn’t have to and we’ll never know whether it worked or not.

K: If I’m still here in 10 years maybe it worked I guess.
G: Or maybe it wasn’t necessary.

K: Do you think I’ll be here in 10 years?
G: I don’t know. But I intend to make the most of the time we have together (crying).

K: Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry. Anything else you want to say?
G: I love you no matter what.

K: Any last words about the mastectomy?
G: I hope you never have to use the implant as an emergency hydration survival tool during the zombie apocalypse.

K: OK we’re done here. Can you go help the kids with their bath?
G: Yeah ok. I didn’t want to do this interview but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I wish it wasn’t necessary to talk about any of this. I wish you didn’t have to do it.

K: Me too, babe. Me too.


  1. You have an awesome husband and I hope that he has more than 10 more years with you. After my BRCA2 diagnosis, my recent preventive hysterectomy and toying with the idea of having a preventive mastectomy I have realized that I am so glad to have a husband through all of this. It sure helps.

  2. How wrong is it that I peed myself from laughter over the frozen boobie comment? I'm such a bad person sometimes. Wonderful post and perspective.

    1. the thing is, now I'm wondering about that myself.

  3. I had this whole other comment going, referencing my agreement with what Melisa said, but then I thought "I'm going to catch some real shit for this one" so I decided to start over and do something less controversial. Which is somewhat out of character for me. But who cares?

  4. Terrific Katy!! I think my husbands responses would have been extremely similar. And the Foob is cold! And in the winter its still cold! LOL! Great Job! Love your blog!

  5. A stunningly honest post. It's a delicate topic obviously due to the personal nature. I admire your husband's candor and your willingness to share as well. Thank you.

  6. So sweet! Still loves you, still thinks your sexy, and helps with the kids' baths. He's a keeper.
    Elizabeth J.

  7. Save the willies! He is so right! I have said similar things in past Octobers.

  8. Okay, this made me cry:
    G: I think it’s weird that you have cancer. I don’t think that anything else matters in comparison to that.

    And this just made me love him more:
    G: I hope you never have to use the implant as an emergency hydration survival tool during the zombie apocalypse.

    ...Also. The engineer in me is pretty confident that your implant will not freeze in the winter time (1) due to the conductive heat from your adjacent chest tissue, or (2) unless you expose it directly to the Chicago winter windchill... which I wouldn't entirely put past you but am guessing you won't.

  9. Katy, what a great DH you have! I agree with the comment above... he's a keeper! ;-)

    I think his answer here is brilliant:
    K: Would you have thought it was weird if I had just one breast?
    G: I think it’s weird that you have cancer.


  10. I heart this entire post ... First of all, G wins Pinktober for 2013. As a single woman, I've always been curious about the male perspective (especially since anyone I meet now is blissfully unaware that I've been through this ... until of course, "the big reveal"). I've shied away from dating at times just not wanting to deal with it all, but when the topic has come up in casual convo (even amongst friends), men (and women!) are completely clueless and I cringe that they think it's "just a boob job". They have no idea there is numbness, no sensitivity, or 'working parts'. I laughed out loud when G admitted that the implant feels cold!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for validating that! I am officially adding that to my list after 'numbness' because I think transparency is important and will lessen the freak show factor. ; ) So I have to ask ... does G have a brother or cute divorced friends? ; ) ; ) Hugs to you both!

    1. Well he does have one half brother he has never met, but I'm not exactly sure that's what you're looking! Here's to cold and numb body parts that are at least not actively trying to kill us.

  11. I love the blog, but I don't understand your dislike for the breast cancer stuff in October. I am a cancer survivor and love the stuff. More women schedule mammograms this time of the year because it is so in their face. If one person gets their first mammogram because of my tshirt, then it was worth it. Early detection and knowledge is the key. I also love my new boobs. I tell people they look like Barbie boobs. You are right though about it being weird having no feeling. I am just over 5 years and I am getting some feeling back.

  12. dear katy and gabe,

    I loved this interview - what a great idea, not just for a man's perspective, but from YOUR man's perspective. thank you both for such good questions, katy, and for the whole gamut of emotions you were so candid, funny, sober, and loving with, gabe. what you two have is certifyingly treasurable.

    much love and light to you both,

    Karen, TC