Not The Only One – Helen: Single mindedness
Single mindedness

For 51 long and happy years I had been blissfully unaware of words like reconstruction, prostheses, softies and foobs. Until, that is, that old devil called breast cancer came along in March this year, opened its nasty little gaping jaws and bit me on the bum. Then, all of a sudden, I was catapulted into a world of strange and terrifying terminology, machines, drugs and procedures. As well as some rather wonderful people. But in amongst all of this uncertainty one certainty began to emerge: If I had to have a mastectomy I would not reconstruct.

Now, to be fair, anyone who sees me these days could be forgiven for not even noticing that I’ve only got one boob, as the other one is a bit of a nano-boob anyway, and also my dress sense leaves a lot to be desired – think boots, combat trousers and hoodies – all of which hide a multitude of ills. So although ‘getting away with it’ was not the only reason for my decision, it has definitely helped with the painful reality of becoming a newly-birthed breast cancer babe.

The other thing which played a major part in my decision-making process was the weeks of feeling like a shocking voyeur as I furtively scrolled through Google images of post-mastectomy bodies and discovered the unutterable beauty of the human form – with or without boobs. Ladies, be in no doubt: You’re gorgeous, and your proud presentation of your scars is a blessing to those of us who are following on behind you.

Also, to be honest, I quite fancied one of those tattoos…

So by the time I was groggily recovering in my hospital bed from a single mastectomy at the end of April the poor Breast Cancer Nurse was pretty much onto a loser when she started trying to stuff a…how shall I put it?…‘aspirational’ softie into my bra. The only time I have ever had one that big was whilst breast-feeding – and that one came with added cabbage leaves. Thanks, but if you don’t mind I’ll pass.

If I’m honest I did have a go at shoving its smaller and more appropriately-sized sibling into my bra a few days later but still decided that it wasn’t for me. At this point I started trying to hunt down one-sided bras and quickly realized that there is no such animal. Apparently, according to the bra industry we are supposed to have two breasts – no more, no less – and to expect otherwise is an abomination against man and God. Apparently.

Which begs the questions: Who is making the rules about what our bodies should look like? And when are they going to get real???

I finally settled on sports bras as the way forward, thanks to help from the lovely people of Flat Friends UK, and am now very confident with my shape and will point out my flat side and explain to whoever is willing to listen that one of my boobs is missing, although there are a few shopkeepers in my neck of the woods who would probably rather I didn’t.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer is no picnic, and I am incredibly aware that my experience to date has been a walk in the park compared to others, but knowing that there was an option to remain flat and to not feel ashamed of my new body has radically changed that experience for me from one of fear and shame into one of transformation and liberation.

It sounds ridiculous to say that I am more confident now than I was before I was diagnosed but, weirdly, it’s true. I think there’s something about going to hell and back inside our minds that can open up a level of self-acceptance and courage that we didn’t know was there; that enables and empowers us to face the future head-on. And knowing that there are those who are silently (or not so silently) rejoicing and grieving alongside us encourages us all to take the next step.

I may have made some poor decisions in my time (I’ve definitely made some poor decisions in my time) but the decision to embrace life as a uniboober has definitely not been one of them.

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