This October is my first Breast Cancer Awareness month since being diagnosed with breast cancer; and I am struck by how vacuous so much of it is. The #showyourstrap campaign which may have raised some money and awareness of the newly named Breast Cancer Now (the joint venture combining the two charities Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer); but it fails to spread awareness of the realities of breast cancer.
Because, for many women who have had a mastectomy, breast cancer is not best portrayed by a pink bra. Many women cannot have or do not want reconstruction; and of these thousands of women, wearing a bra is not always as simple as it was before. Plus, there are women like me who choose not to wear prostheses, so will never wear a bra again!
To this end the group Flat Friends has created two collages to spread an awareness of the ‘Breast Cancer Reality’. The first is of some of our ‘happy’ photos; the hope is that it demonstrates not only that breast cancer can affect anyone (so it is important to check yourself) but also our aim to lead happy and confident lives despite what cancer has taken from us.
My contribution to this is the photo of me which Breast Cancer Care’s magazine Vita used in issue 25 – out this month – about fashion after breast surgery.
Certainly, during the month between being diagnosed with Grade 3 invasive breast cancer in my right breast, and having my bilateral mastectomy (left breast removed at the same time for prophylactic and cosmetic reasons) I struggled to find images of mastectomies. Searching the internet for mastectomies generally just brings up images of reconstruction and/or tattoos – and Angelina Jolie (don’t get me started!).
So hopefully this image will spread far and wide so in the future women looking for post-surgery photos will have a good understanding of what their scars could look like. Information is power, and is important for both preparation and the healing process. I knew that I wanted to be flat and that I would not want reconstruction at a later date; and my breast cancer nurse told me that my surgeon had a technique for leaving scars which followed the contour of the ribs. But I largely had to imagine what this would look like. Luckily, my imagination didn’t really do it justice though, as my surgeon has created two completely flat, neat scars, which are not visible in lower neck tops and which are perfectly symmetrical. She also got all of the cancer! The majority of my chest is numb (unavoidable nerve damage when removing breast tissue), however small patches of sensation are starting to come back nine months later.
Below is a photo of my chest taken only six months after surgery; I took the original for the surgical information resource being created on the abcdiagnosis website.
Since writing this post some of the ladies from Flat Friends modelled for The Sun; you can read the full article here.
I have a Mastectomies board on pinterest containing images I have found online if you would like to see more.