By John Leifer
Despite five decades of effort by feminists, our society continues to bombard women with the message that their femininity and sexual attractiveness are directly tied to their bust-line. So it comes as no surprise that the loss of a woman’s breasts through mastectomy can challenge not only her sense of attractiveness, but her very identity.
That loss is often intensified by worry about how men will respond to her. If a woman feels disfigured and de-feminized, surely her less-than-sensitive husband or lover must feel so in spades—or so the myth goes.
Such concerns are understandable, but they are generally unfounded. A tough exterior does not render a man insensible. Granted, there are men who struggle to accept changes in their wives’ appearance, but they are in the minority. The majority, I would argue, see the immutable beauty of the women they love, a beauty enhanced by admiration for the courage their wives or partners have shown in the face of a potentially devastating disease.
As a writer, I’ve seen the stark contrast between a woman’s beliefs about her attractiveness following surgery versus her husband’s perceptions. I’ve watched the tears well up in the eyes of husbands as they talked about the intense love they feel for their wives, and I’ve heard the gentle sobs of relief as a husband’s tears washed away the fears that had brought great anguish to his wife.
My experience is not limited to observing and recounting the experiences of others. I accompanied my wife on her journey through breast cancer – a journey fraught with uncertainty, anxiety, pain, and ultimately transcendence. Today, my wife is more beautiful than ever. It’s a beauty that can bewitch me with a mere smile.
Blogger and breast cancer survivor Dori Hartley writes: “The reality of a woman’s post-mastectomy body – and the way it makes her feel – is a very delicate topic for a woman – and for her partner for that matter.” Though it may be delicate, it must be discussed in a way that fosters honest disclosure, empathy, and trust.
If you and/or your partner are struggling with these issues, it may be a good time to get a bit of help. Having a counselor facilitate your discussions can go a long way to creating shared understanding and maintaining a healthy relationship.
Mastectomies do result in loss…but not of a woman’s beauty. For those who love them, that will always shine through with undiminished radiance.
Also available by John Leifer:
After You Hear It’s Cancer: A Guide to Navigating the Difficult Journey Ahead now available in the Cancer Care Store.