Looking back.

Hey there. This blog post is a bit hard for me to post but one I feel passionate about and one I feel needs to go live. It is about cancer, recovery and ‘going flat’. Last year, on June 21, I had bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. And as you might imagine, my thoughts, feelings and memories are swirling around me this week and it is time to let them go.

My treatment protocol dictated that I have neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the tumor and get cleaner margins), surgery and radiation. In some ways neoadjuvant therapy is a blessing because it gives you time to think through your options. And by options I mean, needing a mastectomy and deciding what type of reconstruction or lack thereof . Surgery is often the first thing women (and men-men get breast cancer too) have to go through after finding a lump- and at that point everything is happening so fast that it can be daunting to make a decision that is right for you. So I had some time to think and to decide what would work best for me.

I chose against reconstructing my body for so many reasons, the number of surgeries, failure rates, and the fact that there is no sensation and that reconstructed breasts are reported to ‘look good in clothing’.  Luckily I found photographs of another woman whose body I could relate to and who made it seem as though this would be a choice I could wrap my head around (they are beautiful photos). 

One year ago today, I still had my breasts. I miss them, I grieve the loss of my breasts. Do I regret my decision? No. Is it an adjustment? Yes. 

Why am I telling you all this? First and foremost, because I bet there is a woman out there who is making this same decision, and I want her to know she is not alone, this does not suck, we are a tribe. Beside which, this decision is just as valid as wanting to reconstruct, no matter the societal pressures related to femininity, breasts, appearance and gender. In facing this anniversary, this change to my body, I want to acknowledge the particulars and to release my body past.

Tomorrow my new body will be one year old. Welcome! I live in a world of firsts right now, first anniversary after surgery, the next treatment related anniversary will be one full year out from my last radiation (August 25) and boy are these welcome. It feels good to move away from active treatment, to put time between me and the immense pressure of active treatment. Thank goodness. Glad that’s over. 

I like being flat. I like owning my choice, my body. I am amazed at how resilient the human form is and I prefer to stay centered in this new place. This new landscape. This new me. So let’s celebrate!

Tomorrow I will choose the winners of my book, Dreaming from the Journal Page related to this post (I have been remiss in doing so and tomorrow seems a good day to give stuff away).

Phew. Thanks for reading this far.

And hey! I gave my mother her Jelly Roll quilt this weekend, looks great, huh? Very beachy.


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Comments

  1. Jeannie says:

    I thought of your surgery last week. I wondered how you would mark this time. I thought of all the worry we all had at the thought of loosing our Melly Sunshine. I celebrate with you and virtually embrace your new body. I guess this gives new meaning to air kisses, because I am sending them your way. I celebrate having you in my life. I love the photo with Arrow looking at you. Your Mom’s quilt looks beautiful (as does her living room. It is a brave woman to own a white couch and a black cat!) Send love to you, Your Man, Arrow, and your family. The photos were a first for me when you shared them, but I have thought about that woman in some form everyday since. I hope she knows how beautiful she is. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoox

    • Melanie says:

      Did you think I would let go, Jeannie? I have stuff to make and things to say! I know what you mean though. The Arrow is always asking what I am up to!

      • I have “lost” friends and family to cancer, both literally and figuratively. We all react to changes and stress in different ways. Sadly, some people remove themselves from society. I don’t know why and I hope I never do. To embrace who we are in this moment is the biggest gift we can give ourselves and you not only gave yourself that gift, you shared it with the world. (The way Arrow’s ears are up and attentive just made me all soft inside.) xoxo

  2. Lets cellebrate the day tomorrow 😀 I hope you Get lots of years with Your family and your creativity work. Love Your blog 🙂 Have a Nice sommer. In Norway we have not so high temperature, but we still have hope 🙂
    Have a Nice day tomorrow! Hugs from Nora

  3. I’ll be celebrating with you tomorrow – from far away – but sending big hugs ♥

  4. Melanie what a thoughtful and beautiful post.

    Congratulations and “happy birthday” to you! 🙂

    I too am a cancer survivor – 16 or 17 years now (I’ve lost track); and though I didn’t have to make a choice about whether or not to keep my breasts, I was given one of those “put your affairs in order” speeches, and there were a lot of choices to make and refuse – but I here I stand, healthy and happy and ALIVE.

    Welcome. If you’re lucky, that “new me” feeling lasts (mine still does).

    And yes, your jelly roll quilt is beautiful. 🙂

    • Melanie says:

      Oh Kit! So good to hear you are unable to remember just how long ago your battle was. I look forward to that.

  5. Thanks for sharing this: you’re a source of inspiration and strength to everyone who’s in, or who’s going to be in, your situation. I admire your courage and wisdom. I saw a woman on television recently, who’s suffering from breast cancer, and in the middle of the interview she just said that she’s going to take off her wig now, because it’s hot, itchy and uncomfortable. And she looked beautiful without it. The world needs women like you and her, who are brave enough to face your fears, step forward and show the rest of us that the outside is only a wrapper that will get its rips and dents and wrinkles, but that what you have inside is what really matters. Tomorrow, the 21st of June, is the summer solstice: that’s a good day, full of cosmic energy. Be sure to tap it. Love and hugs, and woohoo!, to you Melly. ♥

    • Melanie says:

      I never bought a wig, to heck with that! Geez. I never wanted to pretend that all was well, that I was, as before. Yeah, a wig can give some protection and momentary relief from being ‘that person with cancer’, but. I heard about the itchy, hot, (even twirly-because they have nothing to pin to) yuck and said, ‘no thanks’. This solstice is a birthday indeed, I do feel the goodness, thanks Annika.

  6. I bought your book not too long ago and was struck by the fact that you wrote it while fighting this battle. I’m so relieved to know you came out on top.

    Your story speaks to me on so many levels! Though I’ve not had to fight breast cancer, I’ve always fought body issues and seem to be perpetually trying to fit my body into the mold the public seems to expect/mandate. It’s wonderful to think of beauty in ways that don’t fit that model. Thank you for your courage and for sharing it with us!!

    Congrats on your birthday – wishing you many, many more!!

    P.S. I LOVE your book!!!!

    • Melanie says:

      Oh. Kelley. I know. Life as a female in our society can be tough. If they don’t stretch the image of models to make them taller, blemish free, perfect, then some ignoramus shouts that, ‘you look like a man!’ (it happened) Or we judge one another on being too fat, not wearing the latest label, blech. And heck, it ain’t easy to be male here either, I can’t tell you the last time I saw my husband cry (I love to see it, even if it breaks my heart). I don’t know if I have ever seem my brother cry in adulthood. It’s all a false story that we perpetuate, think is true. It hurts!

      You can be part of the tribe even without joining the ‘cancer club’ (I hope that never happens)! I welcome you in!

  7. Beautiful post, thanks so much for sharing yourself so intimately. I totally honor your choice to rebel against society’s expectation that women have breasts. They’re more trouble than they’re worth for numerous reasons.

    You are beautiful and completely authentic, and you are bearing the torch for so many women. Congrats on your birthday!

    • Melanie says:

      Connie? They really are more trouble than they are worth. I can honestly say that now! 🙂

    • Connie, this made me laugh out loud! I realized when I was twelve that I didn’t like them. I couldn’t swing the baseball bat well anymore, and golf? forget about it!

  8. Beautifully expressed sentiments, my strong sweet daughter! And I love my jelly roll – thanks for posting. Do you recall my telling you about the photo of D and my feet from June 21, 2011? I will send it to you. Lots of love.

    • Melanie says:

      Thank you, Mom. Thank you for being there, not that you would have been anywhere else.

  9. Miss Melly, I want to tell you how very glad I am you are here! And you are a constant inspiration, first creatively, but now also you are an inspiration for all of us to be true to ourselves, and not let the world tell us who we are and what we should do. Thank you so much for all you have shared with us, and do DO enjoy every minute of your life! May it be long, happy, healthy and full of love!
    Hugs,
    Judy

    • Melanie says:

      Judy, knowing our connection. The fact that I helped you think bigger while using dye. Knowing the love and camaraderie in creating, your comment brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  10. Kathy kenney says:

    What a classy, brave and honest post. Good for you for making the choice that is right for you.

    • Melanie says:

      Thank you Kathy. I repeated the words classy, brave and honest to myself when I read your comment.

  11. Colorific says:

    Thanks so much for posting. I never would have though about that. What strong, gorgeous women you both are! Seeing the images, I can see how liberating it could be once you get in the right frame of mind. I have not been through this except through friends. It gives me a different perspective on my own breasts. We all need to make a shift and adjust our perspective to appreciate what we have and who we are. Thanks for the shift! You just keep getting more and more awesome!!

  12. LOVE the photo of you. You look very happy. Happy Anniversary!!! What wonderful things to celebrate. Congratulations. I love the link you posted about the woman who wanted/needed to go swimming topless to help soothe her pain. So very interesting.

    LOVE the jelly roll quilt! I bet your mom absolutely loves it.

  13. Hi Melanie,
    First I want to say what a long time fan of your work I am. “Inspired to Quilt” was the book that really gave me permission to push my art in new directions. Your post so hits home. I’m a survivor. I had a left masectomy a little over a year ago. I chose not to reconstruct or camouflage. I found a brand of unstructured sport bras that I dye in all my favorite colors. I wear them with tanks and form fitting Ts and my asymmetry is who I am. I like my body…maybe better than I ever did. Many are curious about the decison to not reconstruct. Society tries to direct us to conform in so many ways when the only thing that matters is that we support each other and provide a safe place where we can be who we truly are.

    Breast cancer took my breast but it left me with a strength and a fearlesness that I’m not sure I would have ever realized. I’m taking risks with my art. I’m building a website. I’ve committed to ride 25 miles and raise $1200.00 in Pelatonia 12 for cancer research. I made that commitment, not owning a bike or having been on one for 35 years. This week I rode 21 miles total.

    Tonight I celebrate your year and my own. I celebrate every one of us. Everyday is a good one.

  14. As you have done battle with, and rid your body of, cancer I have been in awe of you. I’m so happy that you are looking over your shoulder, dusting off your hands, and still moving forward. I look at your beautiful book and I see what is poured into it over that time; it makes your book even more wonderful.

  15. Melanie thank you for sharing your journey. I really believe there is strength in numbers and knowing we are not alone in our journey. You are one of the bravest women I know, it’s hard to share such personal things with our close loved ones, let alone the world. I admire your heart.

    When I was a young teen my mom and dad told my brothers and I that my mother had to have surgery to remove her breasts. She had, had breast tumors when she was younger and then had reconstruction surgery. Well her implants had leaked due to being kicked by a patient when she was working as an emergency room nurse. The implant leak made her very ill and they had to come out. She chose not to replace them. Now being an older woman and a mother I can’t imagine how she felt. And I remember after the surgery when she came home my youngest brother who was still a little boy cried and ran away from her. He couldn’t understand why it had to happen. I wish then I would have had a woman I admired to talk to about this. I was thankful at least that my mom and I talked about it, so we didn’t just pretend it wasn’t happening. My mom is a warrior of a woman and she taught me that the very least we can do is share our lives with other women to encourage them to keep going even when things are tough.

    Thank you for being the kind of woman who will stand in that gap and say hey this stuff is hard and yeah it sucks, but together we can do life together! Your story is a very important one, keep telling it with all the braveness and beauty that you have. <3