Breast reconstruction a personal choice

NUH breast cancer surgeon, Dr Shaik Ahmad Buhari (right), and breast reconstruction plastic surgeon, Dr Ong Wei Chen with a breast implant.
PHOTO: Breast reconstruction a personal choice

We have all heard of how women can lose their breasts to diseases such as cancer. It has been depicted in news articles, movies and novels.

But one can hardly imagine what it would be like to live without a part of your body, especially one which carries so much symbolism.

To many women, the breasts are a visible symbol of their sexuality, more so than other parts of the body.

However, going for breast reconstruction is a highly personal decision. It would be important for the person to accept that the new breast is unlikely to look or feel exactly the same as before.

Once, when I was interviewing a breast cancer survivor in her late 40s at a mall, she pulled me into a private room at the back of a shop and asked: "Do you want to see?"

She was referring to her reconstructed left beast, which doctors built using tissues from her tummy.

I was, to say the least, fearful.

Perhaps I was afraid of how I would react. At that time, I had no idea what a surgically created breast would look like. What if it turned out to be a lumpy and limp piece of flesh with big stitches across?

In any case, she didn't wait for my answer. She went on to close the door and pulled off her blouse.

"Look," she said proudly in Mandarin. "Isn't it beautiful?"

She had a big smile and was not the least bit shy. "The doctors did such a good job," she continued. "I feel happy whenever I look at it."

It did look pretty natural, although one could tell it was not.

But that didn't matter. She had no intention of passing it off as the real stuff anyway. Surviving the cancer made her a stronger person and this was like a badge that she made it.

If anything, she was happy to tell others that the breast wasn't real.

This article was published on May 15 in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.

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