How breast cancer made me love my boobs
I’ve always joked about my boobs—how I wished they were still young and perky, and “facing the sun again.” I rarely went braless and avoided strapless tops. But my breast cancer diagnosis earlier this year completely changed my relationship with my breasts.
I started getting mammograms the year I turned 40. After my mammogram this February, at age 42, I got a phone call from the Women’s Imaging Center at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. They said there was something that didn’t look right. I needed an order from my doctor for a digital mammogram, and I needed to schedule it as soon as possible.
A week later, I was back. This time they were able to read my results right away. I needed a biopsy immediately, they said.
I had no lump. I had no tenderness, discharge or soreness. I had no family history of breast cancer. I was only 42! I thought it was a mistake.
But it wasn’t. I had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). Stage 0. Grade 3.
The first thing my breast surgeon, Dr. Rosalinda Alvarado, said to me was that, while I might die of something else in the future, I wasn’t going to die from this, now. Then she told me my options. They included various forms of mastectomy—with and without reconstruction—lumpectomy, radiation, five to 10 years of hormone suppressive therapy and more.
The more I thought about my options, the more I leaned toward mastectomy and immediate reconstruction.
Ultimately, surgery did not scare me. What did? The thought of my own boobs being ticking time bombs of disease that could come back and kill me. Plus, I still wanted to have breasts, to look like myself in clothes, to feel womanly.
Dr. Alvarado gave me the name of a plastic surgeon, Dr. Lawrence Iteld, to speak to about reconstruction. One of the first things he said to me was that I had severe ptosis of my breasts. I thought, great—the cute doctor just confirmed to me what I had been joking to my friends about for years: I had saggy boobs! Awesome!
I had my mastectomy and reconstruction in early May, with an amazing medical team of nurses, doctors and staff at Illinois Masonic behind me.
After my surgery, I took painkillers only for the first few days, and then switched to Advil. I was out to dinner with friends eight days later. Thank you, breast cancer, for showing me that I am way tougher than I thought I was!
Yes, the drains were irritating. But not being able to shower for two weeks was a good excuse to get my hair washed and blown out. The tissue expanders were uncomfortable, but not painful.
I soon learned I could make my boobs move individually of each other, due to my newly reshaped pectoral area. It’s a great party trick and I think I’ll learn to choreograph them!
I had the tissue expanders replaced in late August and went to a concert four days later. It felt great to be outside, swaying to the music and knowing I was healthy.
I tried to look on the bright side of everything, because I knew when it was all over, I would have two healthy, nice-looking boobs. I trusted my medical team. I had the support of family, my closest friends and loved ones. I thank them profusely for being so supportive, wonderful and helpful.
When I turned 43 a few weeks ago, I realized that, 30 years after my first pair of breasts appeared, I have gone though another puberty and have a new set. And the best part? They are permanently perky!
Ultimately, I love this new set of boobs. I feel like I earned them.
To learn more about breast health, please visit Stories of the Girls.
About the Author
Alisa Gaylon is a college professor, chef and former restaurant owner, as well as a licensed attorney in Illinois. In addition to being a foodie and a craft beer aficionado, Alisa is a passionate dog lover with three Shiba Inus and is the co-founder and director of a 501c3 that raises funds for Shiba Inu rescue across the U.S.