Spring Cleaning

Cancer must be quite a teacher.  Everywhere I turn, I see articles that say “Cancer taught me …” or “I learned from cancer…” or “If not for cancer, then I…” and I feel that on some level I should be grateful.

(I’m not.  I still want it to be June 15 all over again.)

But I will admit that it has changed my life in one important way.  How, you ask?  Well, it’s a lot easier to clean out my closets.   

For instance, when I found a stash of bras today, I threw them out.  Large size t-shirts?  Gone.  Cute tops with revealing necklines that I was just starting to dare to wear?  Outta here, baby.  All those would reveal now are scars or prostheses.  And I’m not too sure about the prosthesis.  What’s that all about, anyway?  I’m supposed to lug around two lumps of plastic on my chest so that no one feels uncomfortable with the fact that I don’t have breasts anymore?

I had cancer, baby.  It … um … left a mark.

I admit I’ve been struggling with this.  As spring turns into summer, the hoodies are packed away, and the radiation cream-stained shirts are tossed, I’m looking at my closet differently.  Which clothes compliment the new me?  The new, slightly daring, slightly wild haircut that I got last week?  The need for the focus to be on my face, collars pulling attention up, up, and away from my chest?  My mommy-comfort clothes (the cardigans, the hoodies, the cords) don’t seem quite right anymore, but I’m not daring enough yet to match my look to my spiky hair. 

It all gets overwhelming sometimes, and then it seems so trivial once again.

I am happy to be here.  I am.  But I do still squirm when I try on a tank top that reveals the lumps under my arms that appeared after my mastectomy. I sigh longingly at the new swimsuits, knowing that it will never be easy to get a good fit again.  (And I laugh, because I always thought it was so hard to find a good swimsuit; I didn’t appreciate the fact then that I had two breasts, no lumps, and no scars to hide.)  I shiver in the dressing room as I remove my shirt, as if a stray breeze is chilling my bare chest, and am surprised to catch a glimpse of my scars as I turn away from the mirror. 

I am not ashamed of my scars.  I am proud of them, for they are the scars of a warrior.

I just wish I knew what to wear to the pool!

28 Responses to Spring Cleaning

  1. Its not trivial to try and feel good about yourself. I wish I knew what to say to help…

    But I am interested in seeing the spiky new haircut!

  2. Dawn says:

    My old standby – a tshirt LOL

  3. Kristin says:

    Apparently, I have “genetic markers.” Frankly, I’d rather have Crayola, but my doctor’s mentioned bilateral mastectomy. I find it difficult to comprehend a jump from where I am to nothing. I also find it difficult to believe that a doctor would reconstruct my current DDD or even that I’d want it, but we know what we know.

    Even still, with or without them, I appreciate the difficulty in finding a suit that fits.

  4. Ally says:

    Not to be too demanding here… but I’d love to see a photo of your new haircut! It sounds sassy!

  5. Susan,

    It must be a rollercoaster for you at times.

    The need to look feminine. The need to not have people stare. The need to be the same you, that has changed from the inside out, and the need to go on with your life like you have a million years instead of what-if’s or how long’s.

    I so admire your courage and strength … and I know you have your moments. Many women are learning from you, and your are touching more than you’ll ever know.

    But what would I do? I think I would do my best to look like the Susan before the cancer came, even if it meant wearing the prosthesis.

    Reason being: do it for your kiddo’s … because down the road when they’re more socialized, other kids are cruel with the things they say, and they, your boys, have more important things to learn about … like the love of a wonderful Mother, instead of kids that say hurtful things about their Mother.

    I hope you don’t take this wrong … you’re in my prayers, and you’re still a mighty warrior!


  6. ladybugxing says:

    Firstly – I want to see your new hair cut. You are so brave to get spikey hair!!

    Secondly – When you find a good suit, you need to share. I’m still wearing the one I bought when my kids were your kids ages… I’m still not sure it was a good one… LOL!

    Thirdly – you have more fashion sense in your little finger than I have in my whole body. Whatever you choose will be terrific!


  7. Karen says:

    A smile! And in these sun smart times a bikini bottom with a cute t-shirt or rash vest would not look out of place.
    Like the sound of the hair cut.

  8. Liz says:

    I’ve been a reader for a while and am amazed at your courage & strength….each time I think about commenting, words fail me & I can’t capture how moved I am by your day-to-day journey.

    But I can offer a suggestion for pool wear…look into getting a “rashguard” — those are the lightweight t-shirts that surfers wear over their swimsuits. I have never surfed in my life but I love them because I spend a lot of time in the sun and they offer good sun protection but since they are meant to be worn in the water they are not too bulky & dry fast. And, I like the extra coverage they offer when my kids are crawling all over me at the water park pulling at the top of my swimsuit!

    If you google “rashguard”, you will probably find a lot of possibilities. Roxy sells ones specifically for women that are cute & hip!

  9. I want to see the new hair, as well.

    I think that Lands End has a series of suits designed for women who have had mastectomies. I don’t know if the suits make the assumption of a prosthesis, as I’ve never paged through them. But I do love a Lands End swim suit – their skirted suits help me turn a beach day into an adventure with my kids, not a day where I’m worried about my bum falling out my suit while they run around.

  10. Hi, Susan–

    Mrs. Chicken’s Sister is right– Land’s End has some fabulous swim suits, and I wear them myself! They allow you to purchase two separate pieces– the top and bottom of your choice– in all different sizes and styles, with as much coverage as you want. There are skirts and shorts, as well as t-shirts and tanks, along with all the other styles!! Take a peek online– I can’t believe I now just order my bathing suits over the internet, after all those years of hiding in a store dressing room… I have them send me a whole bunch of them, and send back the ones I don’t care for. Land’s End? Is Awesome.

    I also love the idea of a “rash-guard”– there are many different options for that type of garment. Many of them are designed to protect you from sunburn, so there would be a great benefit to wearing one!

    What stands out for me in this post is your proud statement, “I HAD Cancer!”, and talk of the haircut (which I need to see!! I got a funky spiky haircut yesterday, myself, in time for Gardening Season…) You have come such a long way in the past year– you never cease to astound me with your courage and strength!!

    You know you’re beautiful, no matter what you choose to wear. I can imagine it’s frustrating, figuring out what to wear on your “new” body, as the seasons change. Start with your gorgeous smile, and then go with whatever feels most comfortable for YOU.

    You have nothing to hide, Sweetie!!

    Sending you much love, as always–

    xoxo CGF

  11. PunditMom says:

    What to wear to the pool? I say, whatever you damn please! 😉

  12. Roads says:

    You paint this so well. The joy of living, tinged with the faint regret of your new summer profile.

    Yet any man knows that the heart of the woman beats far deeper than that.

    Life. Take life. Just take life, every time.

  13. Damselfly says:

    Yeah, it’s hard enough for a woman to find the right thing to wear to the pool …!

  14. NYfriend says:

    Since UV protective clothing is now the “in” thing – perhaps that route could help you? I don’t think my shoulders have seen the daylight in years! I wear a shirt made of solarveil at the beach. It might be a bit scratchy for your tender skin, but it’s a loose fabric so you can wear whatever under it easily. (Oh yeah, you have a sling made of it!) And then it doesn’t have to be skin tight.

    Would love a pic of your new haircut 🙂

  15. Sarah S. says:

    I am with the rash gard idea. The have lots that are cut combinations. The might have some in the Landsend section at Sears. If not you could order.
    Don’t worry to much about the prosthetics. If they feel funny just don’t wear them. There are a lot of padded bras out there that might work too.

  16. K says:

    A local magazine here in Wisconsin just profiled a woman who’d had a mastectomy (with no reconstruction) who contacted Lands End directly. My understanding is that they made her a special swimsuit. Couldn’t hurt to ask them?

    As an aside, I’m a “not even A-cup” myself, and I’ve had good luck with Lands End small tops.

    Enjoy the pool.

  17. hotfessional says:

    How about one of those shelf-bra tankini suits? Maybe you could take the shelf-bra out?

    And please, let us see the cute new haircut. I’m trying to figure out what to do with mine when it comes back in.

  18. mummycha says:

    I’d bet that right now millions of women are wondering about what to wear to the pool (including me)!
    There is something I like and fits my “not-even A-cup” figure: high-neck tanks, which are intermediate between a wide-coverage T-shirt and an “open” swim-bra. A rapid google search shows that Land’s End and Amazon have cute models of that kind to offer….
    Wishing you a good time at the swimming-pool!

  19. twithhoney says:

    As for what to wear to the pool maybe you could try competition swim wear. A Speedo one-piece is supposed to squish everything flat. With the short hair I bet that most people would think ‘swimmer’, at least at the first glance. Think it would work?

  20. Amelie says:

    Tank-top style, maybe? The UV-protection-look suggestion sounds good as well, and maybe your radiation-damaged skin would appreciate that, too.
    And about your attitude on cancer leaving a mark — you rock, Whymommy.

  21. Denise says:

    I find it altogether curious that throughout this journey, although you have never feared to bare your soul when it comes to your feelings about losing your breasts, and how this affects how you feel about your children, or yourself, you daren’t touch on your feelings when it comes to the psychological trauma this surgery has on a marriage.

    Personally speaking, I feel this is the great taboo in all of this breast cancer talk. I think they should have specialists in this area.

    I am having surgery in June, so I am qualified to speak on the subject. I am psychologically terrified about the effect this will have on my relationship with my husband. Don’t get me wrong, I have a terrific relationship with my partner, but, let’s face the facts, Paul McCartney married an amputee, but she still had a normal set of boobs.

  22. SjP says:

    See how you can help fight breast cancer by joining the Sister Study. For information follow the links found in the most recent post on this topic found at Sojourner’s Place.

    Much obliged. SjP

  23. Don’t tease me chick! Show me this cool new hair cut!!!

  24. ~JJ! says:

    Wanting to feel your best is never too much to ask.

    You deserve to feel good about yourself.

    Especially after your “war”…

    You are so keyed into helping women in this area. I am just waiting for you to design a bathing suit for just such an occasion!!!!

    I’d endorse it 100%

  25. Carin says:

    Susan I just finished reading the article on “Health” magazine, a great detailed story. It grabbed my full attention because I was able to understand the pain you were going through when you first were diagnosed with IBC. This is also how I came to this website you created. I wish you the best of luck and God Bless you. Remember keep that hope you have for your life because no one can’t take that away from you. When the going gets tough just think about the child and husband you have to keep you moving forward.

  26. I think you look beautiful in the picture above with your child. Absolutely, 100 %, beautiful. I have cut my hair shorter in anticipation for chemo. I haven’t cropped it yet. I still have is shoulder length, I am too chicken to go all the way myself. LOL something about that is funny to me. These days I find myself laughing at the most inappropriate things. Does that happen to you? Its like you laugh or you cry or both. I do not have breast cancer. They haven’t given mine a name yet. I feel like a mother who doesn’t know what to name her child. My cancer is out of remission and has metastasized to my left hip bone and bladder. I am also on a nebulizer. So evidently, there is not many places it it is not. I am still in the early phases again. I love the radiation marks, makes you feel like you belong to a secret society. 😉
    I had cervical cancer 10 years ago, went through all the procedures, biopsies, Cone, LEEP, crytokryptoniteoneal burn your a$$ with vinegar concoction. ( okay, so I made the big word up because I forgot the name of the procedure, and I am a nurse. LOL (again) but basically the dr. uses vinegar on a q-tip and swabs inside the vaginal wall during a PAP and if he gets a reaction with another chemical-hello. cancer clusters. I remember I had 33. None of these procedures removed all my cancer. It was invasive, as it turned out. At 26 years old, two daughters at home under 2 years old, I had a hysterectomy. I remember thinking during the psych part of the intake, the lady asked me if I was aware that I would not be able to have children after this procedure (as if I were 12) and didn’t understand getting my period made me susceptible to getting pregnant. Yes, Mrs. Rude and Mean, I still remember you and how you made me feel. I had not until that moment begin to think about not having kids again. I was utterly thrilled for the ones I had. I wanted to live for them. The only thing that ran through my mind was what if something happened to my husband. (he was 14 years older than me) Would I be able to? Would I want to? So many questions. I filled out the questionnaire for it to be tossed to the side and prodded to my room to wait more. I still thought about that question. My husband and I agreed that our two girls were enough for us, we just wanted me to be well and live. That was in 1997. My husband passed away in 2002.
    Sorry I turned this into a post..LOL I am just so glad I found you and know that I will pray for you every day. Even though our cancers are different, we share the same cruel partners in crime. I hope to keep in contact with you, if you don’t mind. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who’s been there instead of someone trying to be nice. Not to offend anyone, but I hope you know what I mean. You have my email. Have a great weekend holiday.
    Chrissy @ SpoiledMom

  27. whymommy says:

    Chrissy, I totally know what you mean. Thanks for coming and for sharing your story. It’s a hard road, and I’m sorry that you have to walk it again. Come back anytime.

  28. whymommy says:

    P.S. My internet connection has been down for a few days, but there is a picture coming. Thanks for all the great suggestions! Jessica@APISS also sent me a list of links, and I went shopping. Yesterday I went out in my rashguard, and I felt so FREE. No worries about anything hanging out, falling out, or being exposed. Kind of like going out in a maternity suit when you’re pregnant … for the first time ever, you don’t suck in your belly, right? Freeing.

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