I quite liked my boobs, no scrap that I actually really liked them. Now one stares at me all wide eyed with an amazed look (the one with the nipple) and the other seems to be winking at me. There is a long scar that runs from the centre of my chest right round to under my armpit. I am thankful my surgeon showed respect and had talent and did a beautiful job with the scar.
I’m getting used to second glances when out and about and thankfully most of the time no one seems to notice. I’ve become quite the expert at wearing free flowing fashion, draping, pleating and flattering fabrics and using necklaces and scarves to disguise my flat side or draw attention away. At the moment I wear my lopsidedness with pride; like a badge of honour. It tells the story of my fight, my fight for my life.
Look and judge, gasp if you must but remember the boob that once gave my mister pleasure, nourished my babies and gave me my femininity has been removed to give me a chance at living. The bloody thing tried to kill me!
Ciao to my bung boob and hello Polly Pocket! Polly is the name I’ve given to my soft prosthesis because it sits inside a secret pocket of my mastectomy bra. My friend Christie loves the name and on a visit brings me a special present…a real Polly Pocket doll! I laughed so hard when she gave it to me; its friends like this that you need to surround yourself with when going through treatment. Cancer is sad, difficult and scary but there is always a silver lining and you just have to laugh.
Not everyone around me can find humour or even a smile. Think about this…if a doctor told you that you needed a limb amputated to save your life you would do it in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t you? To save my life I had to have my breast removed, I did it in a heartbeat… and I also face having my other breast removed.
I remember a day where I walked carefree with my mister down the street of a busy shopping precinct; we stood at the traffic lights and watched as a teenage girl blatantly stared at my chest. She looked away several times but I could see the moment she realised I had only one breast because a look of alarm and disgust spread across her face.
She whispered to her friends and they all copped a look too, a part of me wanted to slap her and tell her to be grateful for her perky, youthful breasts. Another part of me wanted to tell her to take a good look sista…this is what breast cancer looks like sweetie.
Instead I put my hand inside my misters and crossed the road with my head hung low feeling sad and embarrassed. My Mister never mentioned it at the time but 2 years later he recounts that day to me…and many other times that people stared too long.
Here’s the thing, cancer isn’t always invisible. I was bald and fat and moved slow and I had one boob. When my kids came out to the shops with us they walked few steps behind like most teenagers do, but it meant they got to see strangers whip their heads around to cop a second look of their bald, boobless mum. Eventually they baulked at wanting to come out with me, it’s sad but I don’t blame them.
Our society places so much emphasis on body image and sexuality that when a woman faces disfiguring surgery and a loss of her womanhood she can end up feeling ashamed and embarrassed. If society was more open and accepting of what breast cancer really looks like then women would not need to hide or be embarrassed. Women wouldn’t feel the need to shun social activities or wear layers of unflattering clothing to hide their altered body. If we lifted the veil on breast cancer then maybe people wouldn’t feel the need to stare, whisper and judge.
Instead they would recognize a woman’s strength and courage and applaud her for doing such a damn fine job at fighting for her life.
I would love it if big business stood up and made a stand for the one in eight Australian women ( 1 in 8!) who will face breast cancer. I want to see more products for these women front and centre of advertising campaigns and in store. I want to see entire clothing collections to help these women feel beautiful and how about while we are at it they advertise the bras needed by a woman who’s had a mastectomy front and centre instead of hiding them at the back of the store.
They could make skincare products that are readily available and clearly labelled to ease a woman through treatment instead of women having to do internet research and rely on recommendation. Wouldn’t it be awesome to visit a department store and have product readily available with someone knowledgeable to guide me?
Life is bloody hard enough while going through the minefield of doctors’ visits, surgeries, family heartbreak and ongoing treatment. Having to research and source items to help with recuperation and boost flagging self-esteem and body image is hard work; it’s tiring, confusing and costly. I want women to be able to go about the business of living while going through breast cancer treatment instead of feeling conscious and embarrassed.
I remember a lady telling me she felt comfortable to go hairless, that was until her husband took her to a busy beachside area, it was her first time roadtesting her new look and she was feeling fierce as she strolled around with her husband as the seaside breeze caressing her beautiful bald head. But after a few minutes she noticed the stares, the shocked expressions and before she knew it she crumbled and tears were rolling down her face as she begged her husband to get her the hell outa there.
I was sad when she relayed this story to me, I felt pain in my chest as her words flowed because no woman should have to feel like this. Some women are strong and moments like these will roll off them, but even if you are normally strong sometimes cancer is just too much to freakin bear and you may find yourself feeling flat or vulnerable. It’s in these times that events like a trip to the beach can leave a woman feeling devastated.
ENOUGH, let’s stand up and accept these amazing women for who they are…a woman just like you or me who is facing something that none of us wants to face, she’s facing the fight of her life; for her life. Let’s allow these women do it with dignity, with their heads held high.
Til next time,
for support check out BCNA– Breast cancer network Australia