Today I have decided to share with you something big that happened this week; to share what is truly on my heart. Sharing such a personal experience on such a public forum may make some uncomfortable, but I hope that the discomfort of some will be made up for in the lives of those who need this message.
For those who have read my manuscript, you have come to know me pretty well. You know my weaknesses and my hopes and the strength I have found through Jesus Christ and my gratitude for the amazing power of Virtue. This post will have more meaning to those who have read Daughters of Virtue: The Price and The Promise.
I don’t need plastic surgery. I thought I did, but I don’t. Neither do you.
This Monday I sat in the office of a plastic surgeon.
This is no small step for me. Last time I set foot in a plastic surgeon’s office was in about 2009. I left the office that day feeling like nothing could be done for me. Feeling like the cancer was abusing me again; making decisions for me; controlling me. (I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24. We had two little boys then. I was treated with surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a clinical trial drug called Herceptin.) From what I learned that day, there was no good option for me for reconstruction after breast cancer. (Risk of capsular contracture due to the radiated tissue, complications with future cancer screening, etc. None of the options at the time seemed like a good choice for me.) I had lived with the results of my partial mastectomy for 5 years by then. During those years I bore my daughter and nursed her for nearly a year and then we welcomed our third son and I nursed him for nearly another year, both were nourished from just one lactating breast. I had given my body freely to the needs of my infants. I was reminded a hundred times a day of the cancer’s effects on my body with the incredible asymmetry that occurred, especially while nursing. After my youngest was weaned for a few months I decided to explore reconstructive surgery. Going to the surgeon’s office was a big step then, a big disappointing step.
There is a procedure called a fat graft. Through liposuction fat is removed from other parts of the body and then it is used to fill the cavity left by the surgeries and helps to reshape the deformity. This was an option available in 2009 but the “keep rate” of the fat transferred could be only around 50%. I had had a port surgically placed in my body, through which I would receive my chemotherapy treatments. I felt like a cyborg with that small round metal port under my skin just below my left collarbone. I had it removed as soon as it was no longer required for my treatment.
With the potential for my radiated scar tissue to encapsulate an implant, the potential for follow up maintenance surgeries and my aversion to medically unnecessary objects in my body, the option of implants lost its appeal. The fat transfer was the most intriguing option, but I was not pleased with the percentages and the varying potential results.
So, prayerfully, I approached the plastic surgeon’s office again. This time, though, I had a plan.
A few months ago I heard of a new twist to the fat grafting procedure. Rather than simply piping harvested fat into the breast they add the step of harvesting my own stem cells and mixing them with the fat before they inject it. The stem cells help build a supportive blood supply that allows the transferred fat to thrive better in the new location and the keep rate is closer to 80%.
When I heard of this a few months ago I adamantly rejected it. I had only just had the epiphany of Sacred Scars and had just finally begun to truly grieve for the losses I incurred with the cancer. There will be a post about grief in the coming weeks. I’ve got more to say on that point. Just know that accepting my body was a wonderful, new, liberating blessing in my life and entertaining the temptation to get a boob job was insulting to my brand new progress.
After a few months my peace has continued and I have enjoyed some major healing; coming to a more sound place. I have landed in a place where my happiness does not hinge on my body’s curves. In this place, and with a real life option, I also no longer feel offended by the idea of the blessing of reconstruction. As a coping mechanism, to be okay with the deformity I was bound to, I talked myself into despising the idea of the surgery I could not have.
Now, with this new procedure in existence, I began extensively studying and I allowed myself to hope. I learned that this Stem-cell Fat Graft option’s availability is VERY limited. The office in L.A. where it was performed on Suzanne Somers was the first in the US and they have only been doing it for a couple years under a clinical trial, as it is not standard of care in the US. I also learned that it would cost me thousands and thousands of dollars.
While at the doctor’s office for a sprained rib I received a few weeks ago (while sparring at my Karate Dojo) I also asked for a referral to talk to a plastic surgeon. A few weeks later the appointment was made and that is what brings us to Monday of this week.
I am seen by military doctors at military installations. I am the wife of an Army Chaplain. I have only had good experiences with my military doctors but there is a running joke about how bad military medical services can be. I didn’t know any doctors in the Plastics clinic. I had no idea what to expect for my appointment. I just knew what I wanted.
So I’m sitting there in the exam room in my lovely hospital drape and in walks my doctor. He doesn’t seem much older than me. He asks me what I have come to discuss. I tell him my cancer history and my hope for as much symmetry as possible. After he brings a chaperone into the room I show him my scars.
He seems almost relieved and says that he believes that I could be very pleased with a simple augmentation with implants. I tell him softly and clearly that I don’t want anything foreign in my body and that if I could have exactly what I want, I would get a fat transfer with stem cells. “Is that possible?”
He asks me what I would do if the fat graft with stem cells is not an option. Would I still want a basic fat graft? I reply that I would be willing to wait a few more years until the stem cell procedure becomes more available. He steps out to speak with another doctor. When he comes back in I am relieved to hear that his colleague has been working on putting together a clinical trial for exactly my situation. It won’t be ready for a few months, but he believes that I would be a great candidate for this protocol.
Hallelujah!!! I love it when it looks like I’m going to get exactly what I am hoping for!
As if this wonderful opportunity wasn’t blessing enough for my timid heart – I learned, at the end of my consultation, that my doctor and I share the same faith background. I believe that many coincidences are actually a message from heaven. The message I received through this is that my Heavenly Father knows exactly where I am, and he makes his involvement in my life known by orchestrating these choice encounters. I felt like my Heavenly Father was telling me, “I am okay with this direction for you.”
I came home with a happy heart, so different from my disappointed hopes at my first plastic surgeon consultation. I felt known, I felt peace, and then I felt something that surprised me more. The day after my meeting with the surgeon I looked in the mirror. I saw myself with the same scars I’ve had for nearly nine years and I actually thought, “You know, I really don’t ‘need’ that surgery.” I have ached for symmetry for years. I was a coveter and I thought I would be complete if only I had my womanhood, my breasts, back.
I will continue to consider this stem cell fat graft option. It would just be a happy gift to receive after such a long road to inner wholeness. It was a wonderful realization, though, that I am okay without the surgery. Had I undergone reconstructive surgery years ago my hopes for wholeness would have been disappointed, because there were many hidden self doubts that would not have been healed by surgically fixing my outside.
In all these years I have never been in a position where I had a viable option; the options to choose and to not choose. I have resented my lack of choices and felt stuck – but that extra time forced me to face the real demons inside.
What a wonderful gift I received this week. The gift of choice.
I’ve spent the last several years in a monumental inner battle: gratitude for my life vs. disgust with my body, embarrassment vs. a husband’s true love, deformity vs. keeping up with the magazines. I really hated the humbled state I was compelled to live in. There were no Band-Aids for me. This week I am grateful for the inner healing I have received through finishing the proverbial fight. Though I felt beaten – in this round gratitude won, love conquered and magazines have lost much of their power.
For those of you who hurt inside and hope your insecurities will go away with surgery, I say they might – for a while. Friends have shared with me, though, that years after cosmetic surgery they are still plagued by the same insecurities they were trying to escape.
Bigger symmetrical breasts won’t heal your soul. I suggest that seeking out healthy relationships, healthy food and activity, a stronger connection to God and a focus on virtue and service are good beginnings to inner healing.
We don’t need plastic surgery. We need inner healing. If you need someone to say it, I will, “You have permission to look like you’ve lived the life you have lived. You have permission to take care of your inner struggles at the expense of keeping up appearances. You have permission to change and heal from the inside out.”
For me reconstruction would be an outside celebration of my inner victories. I wouldn’t have chosen it this way for myself, but I reverence the principle I learned. This is an underappreciated cause.
I share my story with you, hoping I am not alone in my struggles. If I am not alone in these struggles, maybe by sharing my experiences, you can find hope that the Lord’s way of healing us is real. I hope my story brings you hope in your struggles.
Perhaps you and I can find healing before we opt to go under the knife. Then, in a place far from desperation, we can see clearly to choose . . . or not to choose. We’ll slow society’s run to cosmetic surgery and we’ll call it the “inside out plan.”