As we grew into womanhood, we may have cursed our breasts because they were too big or too small. But no matter their size, how would you feel if you suddenly realized these breasts were somehow defective? What if you ran your fingers along the curves of one breast and discovered a lump or two that wasn’t there before?
For Megan, this scenario prompted her to see a physician in June 2013 when she noticed a lump in her left breast. At the time, she was 35 years old, healthy, and never thought she would be waiting to hear results from a biopsy. Weeks later, Megan received the call many of us hope to never answer.
During the same month, she was quickly diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer, with one tumor in her left breast while twenty-one separate cancerous nodes were found nearby. As instructed, she quickly surrounded herself with a skilled team of oncology specialists and other healthcare experts to guide her through the treatment process.
Megan ultimately made the difficult choice to undergo a bi-lateral mastectomy. “You’re actually concave, it’s not just a flat surface,” Megan told us about the shape of her chest post surgery. In what became the craziest month of her life, Megan was suddenly living without the breasts she was born with.
She underwent nearly six months of treatment that caused her to lose every inch of hair on her body. She was no longer able to wear a ponytail or complain about shaving her legs. The cancer treatment did these things for her. Megan mentioned the times she would look at herself in the mirror and no longer recognize who she was. This disease had ravished her body and torn it apart in almost every way possible. She was weak, hairless, and now missing both breasts.
Megan spoke of “the great disconnect” she felt when looking at herself and how it propelled her to question whether she even wanted to have any reconstruction surgeries in the future. To willingly continue going under the knife is a fear shared by many women.
When we visited Megan recently, her hair was short but stylish and she looked like any other young, healthy woman sipping coffee. One would never know the pain and discomfort her body and soul have endured and will continue to fight. Megan’s story reminds us that despite how people look on the outside, you never know what scars are hidden beneath.She explained, “Everyone’s story is different and everyone has something a little different to share.” We couldn’t agree more.
However, Megan ultimately decided to undergo breast reconstruction surgery. She, like many women post treatment, thought she would feel more comfortable and whole if she were able to look down and see what she once saw under her clothes.
Reclaiming her chest
Despite going through this extremely trying and difficult time, she was excited to reclaim her breasts even if they were new. She found herself surprised by the curious comments and questions posed by numerous people like, “How big are you going to go?” Megan told us, “I’d be a rich woman if I had a dollar for every time someone said, ‘at least you get a boob job!’” To those unaware, it looked as if she were winning a consolation prize for going through cancer.
She gets why people weren’t able to realize the absurdity of their questions. “I didn’t know anything about reconstructive surgery before I had cancer so I understand.” But she admits to being disappointed when these misunderstandings came from friends and family.
The process women must undergo after cancer treatment is basically unknown to those not affected. For so long, the media has shown us how to approach and support cancer by way of marathons and yellow wristbands. Yet most women we speak with often feel these major media driven cancer campaigns are missing something larger, something more real. These mega campaigns promise to “end cancer” often urge if not order women to “get back to life.” But how?
How to help those who’ve overcome
More focus needs to be placed on helping women reevaluate their lives so they can begin again. Too little is said about the real lives of women who must continue living in these new bodies after a life altering experience such as cancer. In Megan’s case, she told us “you come out of cancer as an entirely different person.” Sadly, this reality is rarely expressed in our country’s conversation on cancer. Though a woman’s hair has grown back, her path to recovery is forever in progress.
Cancer is a big, old bitch
Having endured the long path through cancer treatment and reconstruction, she also finds her level of empathy to have been heightened. “You never know what someone else is going through,” she said. As a society, we need to be mindful of our sisters who are recovering from cancer. Though scarred and marred, these women are still living a life worth fighting for and the process to recovery will never be done.
To support women through their cancer treatment and recovery, we must allow space for growth, discussion, and even a little ranting because as Megan so perfectly stated, “cancer is a big, old bitch.”
Megan Walters was born and raised in Seattle and still calls it home today. She has worked in the house management world for the past 18 years for an incredible family that surrounds her with love, strength and happiness. Megan enjoys traveling the world, cooking and working in her garden.