“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.

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12 thoughts on ““Feel Good About You”

  • Juliet FitzPatrick

    I love this piece. So heatrfelt and poignant. I also love your tatoos and the meaning behind them. You really are beautiful woman.

  • Caroline harper

    Beautifully written, Sarah. I love the back story to your tattoos. I support any woman’s right to cover her scar if that is what she needs to do to make herself feel better about it, but I personally have never had any negative feelings about mine from the moment the dressings came off. In fact I quite like the cute little ‘Y’ shape where my mastectomy scar meets the previous lumpectomy one. Like you, I wish the researchers/editors of these articles would find more than one view/experience to promote. And I really don’t like the constant linking of self esteem or completeness to aesthetics. Self worth should come from within! x

    • B3ttyBl0g Post author

      Thank you so much Caroline. As you say, it’s important that people hear as many views as possible. We all feel differently, we are all unique but we are all beautiful x

  • Alex Seaford

    Just stumbled upon your bog, and absolutely loving it. I too had stage 3but opted for single mastectomy and Diep flap reconstruction. I sometimes wish I had had the double, as my cancer was Her2+ I have no issue with my scars, I feel they are markers for my journey; but I did have a tattoo simply as a way of marking the journey I had been on… Not on my scars, but a back piece naked by a close fried who is a great tattooist. It marked finishing Tamoxifen and the next step on the treatment journey. I wrote about it here. http://magpiemutterings.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/etched-on-skin.html

  • claire broughton

    What a fab article. They are beautifully neat mastectomy scars by the way too, what a good surgeon! I am now 3 months out from having both implants removed after I developed an infection in one side and can honestly say it’s the best I’ve felt since pre my initial double MX in January. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to go flat from the start – and that’s the conversation that needs to happen more – but the difference between implants and flat is worlds apart in a good way. I think the problem is a lot of the time this is not just a conversation about how you will feel without breasts – it’s tied up with feelings about mortality if you’ve received a BC DX at the same time – or calculating risk etc – and the temptation to just swap out real for fake and ‘stay the same’ is huge. The thing is, it’s not the same – there’s a lot of risk, a lot of permanent change and often permanent pain, and that should be explained at the start – but often if you’re under 40 I think the medical profession maybe feel you’re giving up on life if you choose not to reconstruct. I feel the opposite however – like am more defiant in pursuit of my continued life – and quality thereof – by choosing to go flat. Keep up the good work, more people like you spreading the message!

    • B3ttyBl0g Post author

      I think you’re correct about age playing a part in the perceptions of healthcare professionals. We need to change the conversation so it is about what the patient needs and wants, rather than what procedure HCPs think you should have. I’m sure that now Flat Friends UK has charity status this will be taken on board by more and more breast care teams in the future x

  • Penny

    I had bilateral mastectomy in February 2017 I had large breasts and my surgeon agreed on balance issue which I’m very grateful for I was due to have chemotherapy but after seeing oncologist second time found out I had 75% chance of being here in ten years with surgery and radiotherapy and chemotherapy only added 4% so I decided against it I am halfway through my radiotherapy and have started hormone therapy I’m 57 everybody has a different story and I’m very happy with my choices my scars are quite lumpy and one side has some flesh left but I’m happy I’m the only person who sees it everyday my husband and daughters have seen it and are all very supportive I’m very lucky to have them . Flat friends is a fantastic thing hopefully you will be here a long time to help us make these decisions thank you so much