Monday, December 8, 2014

The Phantom Boob

When I was in school, I read all about Phantom Limbs for a psychology class or two.  People who have had limbs or appendages amputated still feel as those those body parts are still attached to them somehow.  There's a neurological basis to the experience. Even if the mind clearly understands that the limb is no longer there, even if the person can simply look down and see that the limb is gone, they still report feeling the same sensations as though the appendage is still there.  I remember thinking, how interesting, that the mind worked in such ways.  And then I turned the page and read the next chapter of my textbook.

What can I say?  I was in college.  That's what college kids do.  Everything in college is interesting, but only on the surface, like watching the circles flowing away from the rock that you throw into a pond.  You're exposed to everything, and it's only later, when you start to apply what you've learned, that things start to make sense, and you see below the surfaces.

When I first learned that I was going to have to have a mastectomy, I cried.  I wasn't crying about losing my breast.  I was crying about having to have yet another surgery.   I was, and still am, ambivalent about my boobs.  Always have been.  I think most women are.  Some days I liked them, such as when they filled out an outfit just so and made me look awesome. Some days they made me feel downright sexy.  And my breasts were a very big help when I had my son, boosting his immunity and helping him grow. 

But most days my boobs just annoyed me.  Bras didn't fit right some days, so I was constantly adjusting my "accoutrements".   The fact that my nipples sometimes ended up in opposite directions occasionally made me look as though Mad Eye Moody from Harry Potter was on my chest.  The ache in the middle of my back from the weight of D cups.  The minor aches and pains my breasts experienced once or twice each month weren't great, either. Most days my opinion of my breasts was a simple "meh".

My left breast is gone now.  I look down at my chest, and it's not there.  Instead there is a neat row of stitches, with strips of tape covering them.  There's some flap of skin, that will be used for breast reconstruction at some point, and below that is the drain tube, where lymphatic fluid and blood is still draining.  But that breast is gone, severed from my body and sliced into microscopic pieces for examination, along with five of my lymph nodes.  Intellectually, I know that.  And yet, I feel as though it is there.

I have a phantom boob.

If I am not looking directly at it, I feel the same as I did before the surgery.  When I cross my arms under my boob(s), I have the sensation that there are still two there, not one.   I still have that ache between my shoulder blades at the end of the day, even though the weight has been halved.   I still have the hormonally random aches and pains.  And bras still don't fit right, and they won't, until I get a prosthesis or a box of tissue stuffed in there.  However, my boob is not there, no matter what my brain thinks.  My left breast had cancer in it, and it had to go.

I didn't expect to have a phantom boob. It's ridiculous, really. I could completely understand the body missing a hand, or a foot, or an eye.  Those are extremely useful appendages, completing a multitude of tasks during our lifetime. It is completely logical that the brain would want those particular appendages.  But missing a breast?  When you think about it, a boob is not really useful for much beyond feeding babies, or those weird fetishes that you read about on certain parts of the internet.  *cough*  Why would my brain have fond feelings for a breast?

A phantom boob?

Maybe I should start looking for a curandero to exorcise this particular ghost.  Perhaps they might perform a ceremony involving protection from the evil eye, chanting and rolling an egg over me.  Maybe there'd be sage burning. I don't know how these sorts of things work.  I am not sure how I would even bring up the topic.  Perhaps I should hold a seance'?  Who would I invite to the table to hold hands and call up the spirit of my lost boob?  I'd probably get laughed out of the room.

Nobody takes phantom boobs seriously these days.


  1. Those plastic scouring pads used for dish washing make good bra stuffers. Oh man, I am glad you are past the surgery part. Looking forward to you getting good news and this being part of your history. Take care kid.

  2. What a gift to us, to hear you being so funny. Rock on, Tina!!

  3. I will take your phantom boob seriously, come to your seance AND maybe we can burn ill fitting bras?

  4. I've disliked my breasts ever since I couldn't feed my son. I've resented the inconvenience of their size especially since they are so useless. So I understand what you're saying about your attitude to your breasts pre-surgery, but I can't claim to know how you're feeling now. Thanks for sharing your story. Like the others, it's reassuring to see you keeping your humor. I hope you can hold on to that.

  5. Haha, you imply that sometime in the dim distant past someone, somewhere DID take phantom boobs seriously?!?!?! But I bet I'm not the only one who'd like to hear the story of that seance :D


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