“Feel Good About You” 12

This morning at 7:30am (26 July 2016) @BCCare tweeted this:

“Your body is beautiful before, during and after breast cancer treatment – we’re here to help you feel good about you ow.ly/fMNU302vuGm” (Breast Cancer Care, Twitter, 26 July 2016)

At 10:08 Breast Cancer Care’s magazine @ Vita_mag tweeted this about an article in their latest edition:

“‘I hated looking at my scar.’ Kerry talks about getting a tattoo after her mastectomy bit.ly/29JjKW5”

The full article, available here, tells one woman’s story about having a mastectomy without reconstruction, and having a flower tattooed over her scar. Kerry says “I hated looking at my scar, I hated being flat on one side.” She describes the reasons why she didn’t have reconstruction, then says “I didn’t feel ‘whole’ or ‘complete’ being left like this. I needed something positive.” (Breast Cance Care, Vita magazine, 29 June 2016).

I am not here to say that she shouldn’t feel this way, or that Breast Cancer Care shouldn’t have published this article. But I strongly believe that if we are to empower women and support them to feel positive about their bodies after breast cancer treatment and fell good about themselves then the conversation needs to change. 

So here is my story of why I had a mastectomy tattoo:

I had grade 3 invasive cancer in my right breast. I could have had a lumpectomy but it would not have left a lot of breast. I chose to have a mastectomy instead, and I also decided to have my healthy left breast removed at the same time so that I could be completely flat. My surgeon eventually accepted that I knew my own mind and performed a beautiful, symmetrical bilateral mastectomy. 

I am lucky in that I have always felt comfortable with my new chest. My then-boyfriend was incredibly supportive of my decision. I also have the type of personality that I am happy going against the grain. So the idea held by society that women need breasts, and the idea held by healthcare professionals that reconstruction is the gold standard of surgical treatment didn’t hold any store with me. I know that I am valuable human being regardless of my outward appearance. So losing my breasts did not leave me feeling incomplete.

My body is not less beautiful because I have had a mastectomy.

My body is not less beautiful because I have scars.

My body is the vessel for my soul. My body did not need reconstruction for me to a happy, contented soul.

I am whole. I am complete.

I do have low days since breast cancer. I still suffer from the effects of Chemo Brain (my onc says this does not exist!), my ankle joints have been damaged by chemo so I have had to give up running, I have a vitamin D deficiency caused by the Tamoxifen and am still mildly anaemic despite completing chemo a year ago – both of which mean I tire easily. However, my mastectomy scars have never affected my self esteem. If anything I am proud of them. Yes, I love my mastectomy scars!

Six months after finishing chemo I had a small tattoo on the wrist of my chemo arm to remind me to focus on being happy in the moment and not worrying what others think I should have done with my life or what I should be doing, the ‘those who wander are not always lost’ theory. 

I also used this as an opportunity to find someone I trusted to tattoo my chest (hint: Mike at Black Galleon in Norfolk is a brilliant artist and a gentleman too). 

I had plans to turn my two scars into boughs of flowers. A year after my mastectomy though I had changed my mind, my scars were tattoos in their own right. They told a story, so I decided not to cover them up and to add to them instead.

I had a field of daisies in honour of my beloved Nan tattooed across my shoulders, and whilst researching images for this I came across a poem by James Montgomery, ‘The Daisy, On Finding One in Bloom on Christmas Day’. The last lines are: 

The rose has but a summer reign, 

The daisy never dies.

For me, the poem is about flowering in difficult circumstances and the ability to flower after you have been cut.

So here is my mastectomy tattoo which celebrates life after mastectomy…

Having a mastectomy is a major operation. It leaves significant scars. It changes your body shape and your appearance-  whether you have reconstruction or not. 

Women who have had, or are facing, surgery should be provided with balanced advice and support if they are to be effectively supported during and after treatment. This means hearing different sides to a story: we need to hear from those who struggle to come to terms with their scars, from those who love living flat, from those who love their scars, and from those who had reconstruction. We need to make sure all voices and opinions are heard.

My mastectomy scars are a sign of what I had to do to survive a little longer. And that is why I love them, and that is why I had a mastectomy tattoo.