I have thought long and hard about this. Should I? Shouldn’t I? But I am now 2 years clear of cancer and I feel it would be a good way to celebrate that.
So here goes…
When I was first diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer 2 years ago (aged 47) I thought my number was up. Cancer had taken my Mum, my Sister, Aunts, an Uncle and my grandmother throughout my life. So for me cancer has never had a “happy ending”. In fact on my medical notes it states “negative experience of cancer”. I honestly believed there was no other type of experience.
Whilst I am overjoyed that I am 2 years clear, I have run through the whole gamut of human emotion. Guilt because I “survived”, elation because it didn’t “get me”, fear because I thought “it would”.
Through all this I had immense support, from my family and friends (old and new), medical staff and from a variety of charities. And it is the charities that have inspired this post.
When you first receive a diagnosis of cancer (here in the UK) you get bombarded with leaflets. All very helpful, about a miriad of relevant subjects but overwhelming nonetheless. A lot of them I glanced through and then put in a folder for future reading. It was simply too much information for me to take in.
This past couple of weeks I have been clearing out all my old paperwork. Letters for appointments, test results and the leaflets. On every one of those leaflets, whatever the charity, whether it be Macmillan or Cancer Research or Breast Cancer Aware they all have a section entitled “How Can I Help?”. Of course there is the obvious… Volunteering, donations and fund raising, I had great fun last year doing just that….
… but another thing they all encourage is to talk about your experience. To share what you went through in the hope it helps others.
At first I really didn’t want to hear anyone else’s experience, but a lot of people wanted to share them….
“Oh yes, my Great Aunt Hilda had that *tutting* shocking time she had”
“Yes you might feel OK now, but the more chemo you have you will feel worse. My sister in law had a horrible time”
“Yes, just make sure you buy a wig, lots of scarves and don’t forget to throw away all those low cut tops. Your figure won’t be the same.”
Well fuck that!
For all of my childhood and most of my adult life I had very long hair. I was worried about being bald and I felt the need to be in control so I cut it off before the chemo wiped it out. In fact when it started to fall out, and boy was it annoying having everything covered in hair, I leaned over the bath and plucked the rest from my head. Think chicken!
The only time I covered my head was if it was very cold outside (my chemo ran from August to December). Why should I hide the fact I had no hair? I was still me hair or no hair. And as hard as this might be to believe it was very liberating! I felt like I was saying “Hello World, this is me!”
Chemo stripped me of eyebrows, eye lashes, in fact all body hair. I was as bald as the day I was born! Oh and as the chemo progressed I lost the odd finger and toe nail along the way.
Pre cancer I thought I had a great cleavage. For me that sounds silly now. Why on earth I thought that was important I do not know. Maybe because it is a very female thing, solely feminine. Maybe it was “popular press” pressure. I just don’t know.
But what I learned throughout my “journey” was so many female breast cancer patients (men can also develop breast cancer) struggle with the “new look”. The chemo induced baldness and the radically changed chest shape. Whether that be because of a total mastectomy or a partial mastectomy (otherwise known as a lumpectomy).
I had a partial mastectomy.
This year for the first time since my surgery I have been wearing outfits (mostly a swimsuit) with no thought to my shape. And below is a picture of how my “new shape” looks in a low cut bathing suit. I hope that all that read this post understand why I am posting it. I suspect it will offend a few, but you need to know I don’t give a flying toss.
And if you really don’t understand I will try to explain after.
… To any ladies that might have recently walked into a doctors office and heard the words “I’m sorry to say you have breast cancer”, to any ladies that may have recently found a lump and are scared of the future…
You are going to be just fine.
I am not a psychic but I know one thing for sure about your future…. You will remain as beautiful as you are now. Whatever the treatment path YOU choose, you will remain as gorgeous as you are now.
You will hit days when you feel crap, days when it all feels too much. Please believe me, it will pass. You have more strength than you imagined. You have more beauty than you can see right now. In fact lady….
…. You rock!