It has been five and a half years since my breast cancer diagnosis. Little did I understand the impact and changes that would occur within my person and my life because of this. In many ways, it has made me into a better person, fortified my beliefs, made me stronger and more confident. It has also challenged me to my core, stirring uncomfortable emotions that can be difficult to reconcile.
There are the physical changes to my person, my breastlessness. But there is also the side effects of the ongoing drug treatment, depression and anxiety that do not abate. As I have stepped away from acute treatment, and begun to resume life with cancer as one aspect in the over all picture of who Melanie Testa is, I learn to manage these ‘side effects’. Even if I wish I didn’t need to experience them.
My choices related to breast cancer have an effect in my primary relationship too.
In the last few years, I have embraced my overarching goal to help create space for women like myself, who choose not to reconstruct by participating in awareness raising campaigns and photo shoots. I did it because I believe that visual representation for all body types is important.
And I have done this while my Man, beautiful person that he is, has floundered to understand and grasp his place in this story. To grasp -his loss- of my breasts. Breast cancer and the effects of treatment are long lasting and far reaching, you see.
Last September, I traveled and met up with 13 other breastless women, people, all seeking to participate in a photoshoot highlighting the diverse beauty and sexuality that we continue to possess, no matter the bodily changes breast cancer has forced upon us. I allowed myself to be the sexy, beautiful person that I am, while striving to take back my own sexual prowess after breast cancer treatment.
We had individual portraits taken, small group photos, and we took to the streets of Berlin, smoke machines, photographers and video cameras in tow, as we made a scene. We dressed as gang members, we didn’t smile, we embodied our toughest persona. We were and are a gang!
It was empowering and exciting, to say the least. I balled my eyes out, it was such a huge experience. I met awesome people too. We got some gorgeous photos out of it. Me, in nothing but thigh high leather boots. Never in my life would I have thought I would do anything the like.
So, as we are diagnosed at a younger age, sex and sexuality-post breast cancer treatment, is becoming a necessary field to explore. Our mates and partners need a pathway into this discussion too. They need visuals. Visibility is key in every respect. For the survivor-of course, for our partners and mates, for all of us, really.
Historically speaking, our sickness has been kept secret, prothesis and reconstruction replace our loss, wigs cover our bald heads until our hair grows back, we move on quietly. This is an acceptable way to go about it, of course.
But thankfully, in recent years, we have begun to break down this barrier of silence by embracing our changed bodies as simply, the vessels that they are. Intrinsically beautiful. We are questioning and removing the ‘binds’ that stop us from talking about our changed bodies, while we adamantly refuse to be ‘quiet and move on’, because cancer is serious, and we need to find a cure.
And we become good friends as we reach deeply into the wealth of our very person, the beauty of who we really are, while a camera catches it all. Thank you good people, thank you for being my flat friends. Thank you for helping me find my sexy.
This is perfektUNperfekt, photography by Esther Haase.
P.S. I named this post provocatively, using the slang ‘Taco Shot’ because I don’t seem to shy away from full body nudity. You may remember my Grace portrait. 🙂
One more thing, the larger picture to the above body-positive-post-cancer-treatment essay? Stage four needs more attention. Our stage four sisters and brothers need our help in turning the tide from ‘pink profiteering’ (Komen) to funding research that saves lives.
Check out METAvivor, if you want to donate to breast cancer research.