"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes." Psalm 119:71

Monday, May 10, 2010

Body Image and a New Identity

I just started reading Laura Shook's blog and I was very impressed by how candid she is about her rectal cancer. And I can't really write a blog about breast cancer without disclosing how it feels as a woman to lose the most defining aspect of a woman's body. So here goes...

Men, proceed with caution. :)

First, you can't really understand my own battle with mastectomy until you understand that I've hated this part of my body since fifth grade. By the time we watched "the video" about adolescent girls, it was way too late for me. I matured early in this area, and I matured...um, in a big way. By the time I was in junior high I felt I'd completely lost any sort of identity that was separate from my chest. We all know how boys this age are, so I was very aware of what they thought about me.

In fifth grade, I and another well-endowed girl had to deal with a boy who consistently lifted up our shirts or stuck his hands down them. This was a big deal to us. A big violation. But when we finally got the courage to request to speak to the school counselor together, she told us that this was a "behavioral situation that we should take to the principal." It wasn't behavioral to us. It wasn't just some kid breaking the rules. To us, it felt like molestation. But nothing ever came of it. It was the beginning of my hate for my chest.

In junior high, ironically a rather happy period of my life, I was told, "If you put a bag over your head, you'd be the perfect girl," and "The only reason you always have boyfriends is because of your breasts." It's amazing I didn't have huge self-esteem problems! As I grew and went to high school, I was aware enough to realize the dirty looks I got from grown women (including boyfriends' moms) whom, I can only guess, had a bad impression of me based solely on my body. People aren't always so discreet when it comes to staring. Maybe it was because I had a slimmer figure back then, but my chest was often (if not always) the first thing people looked at when I met them. The second look was usually a leer or a snarl (depending on the person's gender). I felt like no one saw passed my shirt size.

I may be over-exaggerating  or over-analyzing, but I have often wondered if I didn't have to try harder to stay away from temptation as a teen simply because boys identified me as "walking sex." (Have I terrified all the parents of girls, yet? Sorry, Emily! Go get James Dobson's "Bringing Up Girls" quick!)

Luckily as an adult, my post-baby body has widened in other areas making me seem more proportional all around. But I've never gotten over my disdain regarding my large chest, and one month ago I decided to finally make an appointment to get a reduction. (Oh, the irony.)

I have looked at dozens of pictures of mastectomies online. But all of the pictures I can find are either of women who've had complete mastectomies (not the right medical term) where even the skin is removed and they're left with less than they had as little girls, or pictures of mastectomies after reconstruction. Medical science is quite efficient these days and by the time most people go under the knife, they have their plastic surgeon along for the ride to leave them with at least some shape after the first surgery. But I had only twelve hours notice before my mastectomy and so we weren't able to do any reconstruction. I have yet to find a picture of a skin-sparing mastectomy without immediate reconstruction. Which is what I have.

I don't mean to be vulgar, but to know what I'm facing you have to understand that what I've been left with isn't exactly a hole or an absence. It's a deformity which took me 6 days to even be able to look at.

But here's the cool part- God has helped me to accept the "new me" in a matter of days when after more than 15 years I hadn't been able to accept myself the way He originally made me.

I don't miss the part of me that's been taken at all. (In fact, we've decided to remove the right side regardless of whether my genetic tests come back positive or not.) I love what it symbolizes- the start of a big, big fight! And, I'm thankful that my tumor was in a place where they could just go in and remove it surgically. Others aren't so lucky.

So even though I look like something from a horror show right now- stitches and healing wounds and all- I'm adjusting quite well. And today one of my cousins who is a hair stylist came over and cut my thick hair above the shoulder (I have limited mobility in my left arm and I'm hoping shorter will be easier to style) and thinned it A LOT (so that if/when it falls out from chemotherapy it won't have to fall out in big, thick chunks). I don't like to think of losing my eye brows or eyelashes. Hmm, wonder if they sell stick-on brows?

I am hoping that my hair loss and body damage will both just provide me with tangible reminders of how hard I'm fighting. Because my surgery is healing well and I'm hardly in any pain at all, sometimes I'm having a normal moment in the house with the kids and I think, "Wait a minute. I'm not sick. I feel fine!" But I can't say those things when I look in the mirror. I guess that reminder is good.

I didn't want to be identified by my chest size before and I surely don't want to be identified by my diagnosis now. But they're both a part of me and I do believe God knew what he was doing when he designed me. Sarah Ruth Lanier Domino. That's me.

As I began writing this post I got an email from my sister in law. She sent me an excerpt from a Billy Graham devotional book. I laughed when I read it! Haven't I been telling you that God is using all of you to get His point across to me? :) Read what God had to say to me today...

God is especially close to us when we are laying on a sickbed. God will make the bed soft and will freshen it with His presence and with His tender care. He makes the bed comfortable and wipes away our tears. He ministers to us with special tenderness at such a time and reveals His great love for us. Tell me why the gardener trims and prunes his rosebushes, sometimes cutting away productive branches, and I will tell you why God's people are afflicted. God's hand never slips. He never makes a mistake. His every move is for our own good and for our ultimate good. Oftentimes He must deform us and mutilate our own image. Deformity sometimes precedes conformity.

Prayer for the Day: When times of tribulation come, help me, dear Lord, to glory in them for Your sake.


  1. Incredible. Thank you, again, for your allowing us into your inner most thoughts as you walk this road with Jesus.

  2. That was an awesome read. I am about to go buy the book. :)
    And I have been grieving for you after your mastectomy and loved reading your perspective that at least your tumor was in a place it could be removed. Never thought of it that way.

  3. I need to buy that book about girls, too (= Prayers sent to surround you!!!

  4. I love reading your thoughts! Very good perspective on the surgery! Sorry we have been playing phone tag. Will call you this week, promise!

  5. Hey Sarah! Krystle and I will be praying and thinking of you guys! Love you ya'll !

  6. Sarah, you do not personally know me, but I have known your husband and in-laws for a very long time. I go to North Park. Your strength, optimism and faith is contagious! I will continue to pray for you, Terry and your adorable boys. Keep up the fight.
    Tammy Lucas McCutchen

  7. Great post Sarah. I'm sorry you had to go through the mastectomy but you are right, they were able to remove your tumor. I know it is easy for me to say, but breasts don't make you who you are. You are Sarah Ruth Lanier Domino, a child of the King. Nothing more, nothing less. You will be surprised at the reconstruction. My sister-in-law had it done and you would never know. But even if for some reason you weren't able to have that done, you still are beautiful because you are Sarah. The woman God made.


Your comments and emails keep me going. So keep 'em coming!