My maternal grandmother was killed by cancer when I was 7 years old. One of the fuzzy memories I have of her sickness was playing in the back of her car and finding a some sort of prosthetic breast among the jumble of stuff in the back seat. I asked about it, and the subject was quickly changed.
That was the 1970s. Cancer was a word one never said in anything but hushed tones. It was a death sentence, and almost seemed to hold the stigma that infectious diseases have. Perhaps that’s why I have such a conflicted relationship with cancer campaigns, particularly in October.
This campaign is one of the good ones. Breast Cancer Care UK is not one asking for money for “the cure”, or even for prevention. It is simply a support network for every person facing a breast cancer diagnosis.
This campaign features three women and tells the stories of how they have overcome challenges to their self-esteem and body image following mastectomies. It isn’t “sexy” or even necessarily heroic. It is simply, beautifully, human.
Here are their stories (from the campaign site):
“My son found a lump in my breast when he was just three years old. He kept coming to me and putting his head on my right breast and stroking it. I kept thinking, ‘What are you doing?’ I had a look at my breast, thinking maybe it was something pre-menstrual. I was fit and healthy, no history of breast cancer. I was floored when I was given a breast cancer diagnosis.
That was six years ago. Now I’m comfortable in my skin. My scars, skin changes and belly fat are all part of me. This is the me that I have now, and it’s ok to be me, the way that I am. It’s been up and down, but I am so grateful that I’m still here, slightly different, slightly scarred, bruised and battered, but I’m here and I’m me, and for me that’s the big thing.”
“A year ago I went for my routine breast screening. Since I turned 50 I’ve had three or four mammograms, including a recall, and I thought nothing of it. But this time I was diagnosed with breast cancer – I had a mastectomy and chemotherapy and I’m still taking Herceptin.
I was particularly upset to lose my hair when my chemotherapy started. I’m in a lucky position that I’ve got a very supportive family – three grown up children and a husband. When my hair began to fall out in clumps, one of my sons agreed to cut it off with his clippers
My lowest point was when my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out. But my hair is starting to come back now and each month I feel better. When I’ve gone into work, colleagues have said, ‘You’re looking really good.’ That helps with my body confidence.”
“I had my first mastectomy nine years ago. Everyone asked if I’d have a breast reconstruction at the same time but the breast cancer had been aggressive and the follow-up chemotherapy was urgent. Afterwards I chose not to have the reconstruction as I just wanted to get on and live.The campaign features contributed stories from a number of other women as well, along with an invitation to share. Please do.
I wore a prosthesis for seven years but after my secondary breast cancer diagnosis I got fed up of being “uneven” and clothes not fitting. The weight of the prosthesis was also causing me pain, as the top of my back is the part that’s most damaged by the cancer, and there are damaged vertebrae where the bra strap was.
I elected to have my right breast removed eighteen months ago. Time is more precious to me now and I love not having to wear a bra and being able to wear low cut tops again. Getting my femininity back is hard but with scarves and cleverly structured tops people don’t notice I have no breasts. I’ve gone on to have my left mastectomy scar tattooed. I thought, ‘Why am I still looking at these scars every day, a constant reminder about the breasts I have lost?’ Instead I want a tattoo there, a ‘tittoo’ of an image that means so much to me so every day I smile in the mirror instead.
Being feminine is about the essence of who you are and highlighting that. It’s so much more than just a pair of boobs and we have to make the most of who we are and what we have.”