Touching You

I took Edwina to a local shop selling items for the post-mastectomy woman today. I’d been to Touching You many times since moving to Birmingham, mostly prior to my second diagnosis of breast cancer in 2004 which led to another mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

The moment I walked into the shop, I felt ill at ease. The hats and head wraps took me back to the days of a chemo-induced bald head (or perhaps worse, a head of patchy hair that fell more some days than others with windy days creating the most anxiety). The displays promoting breast prostheses, mastectomy bras, sleeves for lymphedema (a condition causing the arms to swell that sometimes follows a mastectomy and removal of the lymph nodes), and specialty clothing–swimsuits, nightgowns, and a host of other items for the post-surgery woman–reminded me of the many years I’d moved through life in discomfort.

While a body refashioned through reconstructive surgery still brings plenty of physical strain, nothing compares to those days when I had to stuff a heavy breast substitute into a stiff bra every morning. Despite manufacturers’ claims that modern breast forms feel “light” and “natural,” I can attest to the contrary. In addition to the added weight, the shift in balance when a woman loses one of her breasts causes back and shoulder pain and can make getting a good night’s sleep close to impossible.

Almost an hour after retreating to the fitting room with a bra specialist, Edwina emerged beaming from ear to ear. Turns out, Medicare (at least) has become more generous in recent years, covering six bras and a new prosthesis every 12 months. Back when I relied on Blue Cross Blue Shield, the limit was two bras and one prosthesis every other year. I recall telling the insurance rep who gave me the rundown on the schedule of coverage that I’d bet it was a man who came up with this particular benefit. We had a good laugh after sharing our mutual disgust.

As we headed for home, Edwina told me that she was going to start saving up for a special “whatever-you-call-them-things-you-stick-in-your-bra” the sales rep had shown her in the back room.

“It’s a dark brown one, Miss Ryan,” she explained. “I want one of them, but it costs more.”

I couldn’t help wondering why a prosthesis that might better match the color of Edwina’s skin, and that might make her feel slightly more like her old self, had to be more expensive.

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