Cancer Took My Breasts

Cancer Took My Breasts Bethany Sell, Photo by Roy Ferrer

& Gave Me Self-Acceptance

by Bethany Sell

Three months ago, I awoke from a double mastectomy feeling like my chest was sutured so tightly it might collapse my lungs. I had chosen to remain flat after removing my cancer-riddled breasts, and I knew I would never look the same again.

As a woman, it’s a lot to process, losing your breasts to cancer. For several weeks, I was unable to move my arms. When I finally tried, I was scared when I saw what looked like tight tendons pulling across my armpits where the doctor had removed 11 lymph nodes. I found out later, this is called “cording,” and it could be resolved over a few months’ time with stretching and massage.

As a woman, it’s a lot to process, losing your breasts to cancer.

I’m an impatient person. There were moments during my recovery when I thought I’d never be able to dance or do yoga again. I felt like recovery would take forever. But I couldn’t allow those thoughts to linger, because I was determined to use all my brainwaves to visualize myself healing.

So, every night as I lay in bed, I worked on the cording under my arms with gentle stretching and massage, and
I visualized myself raising my arms, lifting weights, and doing pullups at the gym. Every day, I found that, bit by bit, there was always a tiny sliver of progress to be excited about. I focused all my attention on these tiny wins. My impatience and my worries would just have to take a back seat.

I made goals that seemed impossible and set deadlines for myself that were way ahead of the average recovery times. On my list, I wrote:

  • Biking by November
  • Jogging by December
  • Arms above my head by January
  • Full range of motion by February
  • Yoga and weights by March
Bethany Sell before (left) and after (right) her surgery and healing

To my complete astonishment, my daily efforts of focusing on my progress and ignoring that voice of worry in my head, stacked up to fully realizing every single one of those goals in November and December. I am amazed at the power of visualization and intention, and the body’s amazingly powerful mechanisms toward healing. Looking back at how quickly I was able to recover, it feels like we really do have super-healing powers like X-Men’s Wolverine (only a little more patience is required).

Today, my scars have healed up nicely, and I proudly accept my decision to remain flat-chested. When cancer took my chest from me, I had to let go of all the things I wanted to change about myself and fully accept myself as I am, because I knew there was no going back. Self-acceptance was the only option.


When we begin to love and accept ourselves, we see our faults as part of our intrinsic perfection. We see that everything in the universe is in the process of becoming. I am thankful for the opportunity cancer has given me to fully accept myself exactly as I am while always striving to become even stronger. I am thankful that it transformed me into someone who can own my scars and fearlessly share this message of resilience and hope.

Bethany Sell is a breast cancer survivor living in Cedar Lake, IN.

A Word of Caution: Before beginning any exercise program, speak with your physician. Your doctor may identify specific medical concerns or precautions. Everyone recovers at a different pace.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2021.

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