Waiting For My Fix by Suzanne Zuppello

I wear my independence as a badge of honor and it was ripped from my chest along with my breasts. But when my parents brought me back to my apartment four weeks after my mastectomy, I was paralyzed by how lonely I felt...

          Every day since my mastectomy, I wake up hoping to feel some connection with my new chest. Perhaps it has something to do with my nerves being severed and that has literally cut the tie between my chest and my brain. While I know a true physical connection may never come, given the limited sensation I have, I worry that I’ll never have an emotional connection toward my new breasts.

I guess this lack of connection is the end of a very long and emotional process. When I woke up after my mastectomy, I immediately tugged at my hospital gown and surveyed the results. 

For the first time since puberty, my chest was completely flat. It was like an out of body experience.

I knew the chest I was looking at was my own--my tattoos were still in their same place and my torso remained attached to my neck and waist. But there was no neurological connection between my mind and chest. 

As the haze of painkillers and anesthesia wore off in the days that followed and I was allowed to take a shower for the first time in days, I began to process that this body, in its entirety, was my own. I slowly toweled myself off in front of a mirror, examining my wrinkled, stretched out skin that covered my chest, and began seeing spots. When I came to, I was lying on the tiled floor in a cold sweat. My mom helped me up, finished drying me off, and got me into bed. 

For those first few weeks, it felt like I was reliving my childhood. My mom prepared all of my meals, bathed and dressed me, and set an alarm to give make sure I medication on time. I wasn’t left alone in our house for more than an hour--enough time for my mom to restock my favorite foods from the grocery store. And at that, it took her a full two weeks from my surgery to leave me with just my father. In those moments, my lack of independence was unnerving.

I wear my independence as a badge of honor and it was ripped from my chest along with my breasts. But when my parents brought me back to my apartment four weeks after my mastectomy, I was paralyzed by how lonely I felt.

After helping me unpack my things and making sure everything I needed access to was within arm’s reach, my parents got ready to leave and suddenly I was overcome with sadness. For the first time in years, I wasn’t ready to be alone. I still couldn’t do what once came easily, like open my windows or lift a pot. But more than that, having company kept me from diving into the depths of the internet, reading tragic BRCA stories or sitting alone with my own worst fears. Friends stopped by intermittently with groceries, meals, and conversation. But for the most part, I was alone on my couch for days at a time, with only take-out and Netflix to keep me company.

However, this too passed. My feelings of helplessness subsided as I regained strength and was cleared to move freely in my new body. Over the next few months, I relearned what it felt like to stretch my arms above my head, lug a heavy bag across the city all day, and feel water running down my bare body in the shower. Everything felt different, but not bad. I felt fine and to me this didn’t feel right.

Most of the time when people undergo a major surgery, it’s in response to illness or injury—it’s a fix. My mastectomy was a fix in it’s own right but nothing felt wrong before it. I was healthy, but still needed fixing. This dueling conversation affected how I connected with my chest—healthy breasts replaced by healthy fake breasts.

And so, I think that’s the state I’ve been in since last October: I’ve been waiting to feel fixed. Instead, I just feel... the same. Sure, bra shopping has prompted a few tears and my exercise routine feels strange. But neither of those things were ever particularly pleasant. I think, in some ways, the need to feel fixed will always linger. But I’ve accepted that it may never come because nothing was ever really broken.

WAITING FOR MY FIX first appeared in Issue 3: New Normal, July 2016

Suzanne Zuppello

Freelance writer. Diagnosed BRCA1+ at age 27. Prophylactic double mastectomy. (No breast cancer to date.)

Suzanne is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Her writing focuses on health, wellness, and current events. After testing positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, Suzanne began writing about her experience leading up to and after her double mastectomy and reconstruction in hopes to offer some comfort and community to other young women who find themselves in a similar situation.