By Kelly Iverson
Oct 24, 2018 @ 5:00 pm
Photo by Alex Klemovich

I tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation — the one that brings your lifetime risk of getting breast cancer up to 87 percent — in January 2018. Breast cancer had viciously robbed my aunt of both her breasts and nipples, and my father’s mother died in her 40s from the disease. And so, at 25, I decided to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. This preventative surgery would decrease my risk of cancer, yes — but it would also leave me without my natural breasts and my ability to feel much (if any) sensation. Still, I made the decision to do it — but not before I found someone to touch my real breasts one last time.

Have you ever swiped right on Tinder with the intention of finding someone to simply fondle your breasts? That’s exactly where I found myself a few weeks before my surgery, hoping to encounter a man who would share the joy of my au naturel lady lumps with me one final time. I swiped through face after face, trying to imagine who could get the job done and understand that I had zero intention of dating. Guy after guy flashed onto my screen, some with their arms around a few friends, some holding dead animal carcasses, and some topless in front of a full-length mirror.

Eventually, I found a nice pharmacist. I explained the situation to him and what I was wanting. He was on board.

We met at a restaurant, but since my intentions were so clear, we skipped out on dessert and headed to his place. I relished in this final act more than he’ll ever know. I etched the feeling of every last caress into my memory, all the while hoping my partner for the night wouldn’t realize my eyes were filled with tears.

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Eventually, I was able to compose myself, but the experience made me realize something: my confidence sat somewhere between my neck and abdomen, and I’d never really acknowledged it. While I’d taken issue with other parts of my body, my breasts were one thing I always truly cherished — and soon, they would be gone.

The morning of July 6, 2018 was the final time my real breasts and I were ever together. The surgery took six hours, and what I was left with were silicone implants, my own nipples (thankfully) and scars. My breasts now felt like foreign objects, and I was unsure about them in every aspect. I couldn’t touch them without getting goosebumps or feeling queasy. The silicone implants didn’t bounce or sway naturally. It felt as though something had been attached to my body that didn’t belong and took the place of the one (two) things that I thought made me beautiful. I only saw the unsightly crevices on my breasts where the implant was visible through my thin skin that rose and fell like a dramatic pitch change. I saw how dry my nipples were from a lack of adequate blood circulation. I saw the tiny, outside corner of an otherwise long, crooked, and pink scar that hugged my underboob.

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Photo by Alex Klemovich

I was uncomfortable while naked and alone, and I couldn’t begin to fathom what it would be like to be in the company of anyone else. It wasn’t for lack of trying, either. When I fully recovered, I visited Tinder again, but my confidence was gone. I unenthusiastically moved my pointer finger over faces — each time I saw a man whose profile tickled my fancy in the slightest, I would glance down and remind myself that I was no longer good enough to meet him IRL. With every swipe, my mastectomy fogged my perspective, and I couldn’t see what I used to when I looked at these potential suitors — a one-night stand, a dinner date, maybe even a mediocre boyfriend.

But because of my mastectomy, I hesitated on all of it. My real breasts had been synonymous with my sexuality, my confidence. I no longer had them, so I no longer had any of it.

Things started changing on the day of one of my best friend’s wedding. Like most brides, she was exuding happiness, and it was infectious. It had been a while since I had smiled without forcing myself to, yet there I was, lips turned up without the help of too much alcohol or a half milligram of Klonopin. I suppose love, even being a third party observer to it, can do that to a person, no matter how unhappy they are.

RELATED: Hyperrealistic Nipple Tattoos Are Changing the Game for Some Breast Cancer Survivors

That night, I met someone. I should’ve disliked him. He was blonde, a hunter, a bad dancer, but he was also witty and charming. He seemed eager to go home with me even after I informed him that he could look but not touch my breasts because of my recent double mastectomy. Throughout the evening, I reminded him of my surgery. I didn’t want him to think I had tricked him into bed once he saw what my breasts really looked like without the bridesmaid dress on. He didn’t seem bothered, and I started to think that maybe he didn’t know what a mastectomy was. Eventually, though, we got an Uber.

I’d imagined what sex would be like post-mastectomy many of times during my recovery. I thought that the only logical response to my new breasts would be horror followed by rejection, and I mentally prepared for this sad possibility on the ride home. Luckily, this was not the case.

For the first time in a long time, on a freakin’ blow-up mattress in Kansas, I forgot about my double mastectomy. I forgot that a surgeon had scraped away all my breast tissue and had left a blubbery implant in its place. I forgot how fearful I was to be naked with another person, and most importantly, I forgot how much I loathed my new body.

There was just me, him, gaudy shag carpet, and loads of incredible sex.

That night, I discovered a sliver of body integrity that I had managed to maintain even after the double mastectomy. I also made the delightful realization that I could enjoy having sex with or without my real breasts by focusing on parts of myself that do have sensation. I discovered that a hand running from my upper spine to my inner thigh could feel wonderful; I found confidence in my kiss and realized that my lips are as sensitive if not more than my nipples. My breasts were not the star of the show — or even a primary storyline. For once, they weren’t what I focused on. That night made me realize was that I’d been so hungry for a sign of acceptance of my new body from a stranger — but what my body needed was for me to accept it, fake boobs and all.