When Kendal first reach out to me a year ago about her idea to start documenting I honestly didnt know why. I was very up front and told her that the story was mostly done. I had had my double mastectomy, chemo was done and while I was still mostly bald hair was definitely making a come back. While I still had a couple surgeries ahead I was already feeling the pressure to get back to normal. The rush to put cancer behind me. I really thought I had nothing to say and she wouldn’t have much to document. These last few months have very much proved otherwise. 16 months since I lost my breast (has it really been that long?) Over a year since chemo and things are…different. They haven’t gone back to before. In some ways things are much better and in others I still struggle… a lot actually. Cancer will never be in my past but ingrained into the very fabric of who I am and I’m excited to share that and more. The more because I am so much more than cancer, so so much.
I take them in the Womens change room when I could use the family one or even the disability rooms.
I get changed with them in the middle of the room instead of behind the privacy curtains.
I’ll be honest though, this is hard. It’s one thing to take off my leg at cancer camp or when I am speaking to aroom full of middle schoolers. It’s one thing to show my reconstructed breast to other women going through it or through a photographers lens. In a locker room where the people around me don’t know me or my story and have to come up with their own narrative is a lot more scary.
I have no idea what they think when I take off my prosthetic to drain the water and change my wet stump sock into a dry one. Do they wonder if I was born like this? Do they think it’s gross or weird?
I have no idea if they look at my “breast” and wonder why I would get fake boobs. Or what thoughts they have about my “boob job”
It takes some deep breaths, some telling myself I am safe, some telling myself that what they wonder or think doesn’t matter. But Igo through this process each and every time I go to the pool, each and every time I get changed in a room of strangers.
I know I am making a choice to do that.
My choice in changing in a room full of strangers is intentional.
It is intentional.
Me dressing and undressing right in the open where other women can see me. I do it because I want to show my girls they don’t have to hide their bodies. I do it because I want them to grow up knowing what body positivity looks like.
I am making that choice for me, to build my own confidence. To hope that one day I won’t wonderlet alone care what others think about me. I hope to raise strong and powerful girls who can say “if my mom can love her body scars, amputations and all then so can I”
Today though the hard was harder than usual. Today a mom was nursing her baby. My girls are not shy and they engaged in a conversation with her. Soon it was talk about boobies. K made an observation “you have boobies.” The women looked at her and said “all mommies have boobies.” I could feel my heart in my throat. I wanted to cry because no, not all mommies have boobies. E piped up “my mom doesn’t, she had hers cut off” The women looked at me confused and half naked in a pool change room I told a small part of my story. Without preparation. Without wanting to.
It will come up again. My children will make conversation and it will come up that mommy had cancer. It will come up that mommy had her boobies cut off. That mommy has a robot leg. They will hear their mom tell her story and one day they might now how hard that is sometimes and in knowing how hard it is I hope they see my strength. I hope they know I could have hidden but I chose not to. I hope it gives them the strength not to hide either.
I’ve been to a few burlesque shows. I have loved the glitz, glamour and art of seduction. I’ve always sat in the audience happy with my view from my seat.
Something happened last year though. A shift. A friend asked me to come to the local burlesque show with her. I was still recovering from my double mastectomy and about to start chemo and honestly I was on the fence because I didn’t know how I would feel. The night came and I just wasn’t ready to be out and about. I didn’t want to have people tell me I looked good or ask how my surgery had gone (I live in a small town, going out means being ready to see a lot of people you know)
A few months later my best friend asked me if I wanted to go see Dita Von Teese with her. You can read about that here. It’s what led me from being unable to even go to a show to being on stage a couple weeks ago.
As I practised my solo (honestly who the fuck does a solo their first time doing burlesque) I was so nervous. So many thought went through my head. “Why am I doing this. What if I mess up? What if I throw up” The first time I did my routine in front of all the other dances my heart was beating so loud I couldn’t hear the music. My timing was WAY off, I messed up, but I heard our leader say “keep going!” so I did, I kept going and it was ok. The world didn’t collapse and no one told me I was horrible. I came home that night and practiced over and over. I listened to my song on repeat. The next time we had rehearsal I was better, and the next time after that even better. With each practice my confidence grew, my heart was beating less. I could actually hear the music.
One night after I had practiced in front of my partner he has asked me why I was doing this. My first response was that I’m doing it for other women. That I wanted women in the audience to go “if she can love her body with one leg and reconstructed breast than I can love my body too” Since then I’ve thought a lot about why I’ve entered this world of burlesque and here are my so many reasons why.
I do it because I don’t just want to find beauty in normal, I want to find beauty in all bodies period.
I do it because I’m told over and over again that disabled people are less worthy and I’m tired of it.
I do it as a fuck you to all the men who told me they would date me “if only you had 2 legs” and anyone else who has shown my pity because I only have one leg.
I do it because I love my body.
I do it because I love to dance.
I do it because I needed to take ownership of that this new body is in fact mine and mine alone.
I do it because I LOVE seeing people with disabilities challenging peoples perceptions of what we can and can not do.
I got on stage and I was addicted. The music, the lights, the audience. I went into another world. I got off stage after and it was all I could do not to burst into tears from the rush of emotions. I did it and trust me I’ll do it again.
Introducing…..Ms Eileen Wright 😉
All photos credited to Kendal Blacker Birth and Photography. Please do not edit or alter in anyway.
October used to be my favourite month of the year. All in one month there are my 2 most favourite holidays (thanksgiving and Halloween) and my birthday! There is something to celebrate almost every weekend.
This year I’ll admit was it was hard. In between the fun and celebrations, in the moments of every day living I was constantly assaulted with the pain of my trauma. There was pink fucking everywhere. I tried to escape for a weekend and went on a trip with my partner. I got on the plane only to be served drinks on napkins with pink ribbons, to walk in an airport COVERED in banners of pink ribbons. I tried hard not to jump to conclusions and every time I saw something else promoting pink and support of breast cancer I would research. How are they helping? How are they bringing awareness. Not ONE product made reference to self exams or mammograms and a large majority supported charities where less than 10% actually goes to research. Each time I checked and each time I realized how much money companies make off this disease my heart dropped.
I found myself taking a lot of deep breaths. This month I got angry, and I got sad. My family was affected because I was affected. I lost my patience more and I struggled HARD. I struggled so hard to take care of myself and I feel like I failed over and over, I would work through one trigger only to go out in the world and have my face shoved into the next.
Can you imagine going through a trauma and having that trauma shoved in your face for one whole month. Where you can’t even go to the grocery store for bananas without seeing a sticker that represents your trauma. Or go to the bathroom without seeing how yet anther company PROFITS from your trauma. Can you imagine the anxiety, triggers and PTSD you would have to deal with because in “support” of you people are actually causing MORE harm.
Knowing people profit off a disease that kills thousands of women a year makes me sick. Knowing that people are willing to put countless women through the experience of relieving their trauma so they can feel good makes me want to cry.
For the first time I in my life I’m happy to be saying good bye to October. I’m happy that this month I will take less deep breaths and that I will feel more present for myself and my children. Because breast cancer awareness should be about helping women with this shitty disease, not harming them more.
I used to walk around my house naked. blinds up, windows open. I didn’t care. When other were busy covering up I was letting it all hang out.
I don’t do that anymore. Ever since my last surgery I have to be in a sports bra almost 24/7 for the next few months. It’s been an adjustment. Going from someone that takes my bra off the second I can, finding them the next day under the couch and in the corner of the living room to always having it on my body. Being naked so much meant I often caught glimpses of my nakedness in the mirrors or reflection of widows. It means I had an intimate knowledge of my body and what it looked like and how it moved.
Breast cancer and my surgeries have taken the once intimate knowledge I held. The other day I was in my closet where the only full length mirror in my house exits and I got naked and I looked. I turned, I made myself look at each part of my body individually and then pulled back and looked at it as a whole. I don’t know why but it felt so important to look at myself and really see. It no longer felt like mine, and I so badly need it to feel like mine. It’s taken me months to really look at how my new breast have settled. To really see the dimples in my implants. To look at the new stretch marks created by steroids from chemo.
A few months ago I went to a Dita Von Teese show. My best friend and I bought tickets months before and it ended up that the show was a mere 2 weeks after my exchange surgery to swap my tissue expanders to implants. I sat there loving all the beautiful and natural bodies, but there was a part of me chocking back silent tears. This was a celebration of the various body types, all the ways to show that normal bodies are beautiful bodies. It’s an important message for sure, but it’s one I feel very left out of.
I looked down at my fake breast stuffed in my corset, seeing every simple hardness and imperfection. I sat there watching and wondering where the scars were. Where the disabilities were. Where the mastectomy breast were. My body is not in the range of “normal.” While every one is shouting the beauty of stretch marks and cellulite (which lets be honest we ALL have) I wanted to know where were the voices shouting the beauty of disability? The beauty in sheer survival etched in skin. Where were the breast that didn’t bounce because that beautiful softness had been forcefully replaces with hardened implants. Where were the women who can’t dance so gracefully because they are in wheelchairs or amputees? If something happened to anyone of these women in the same way it had happened to me, if parts of them had been slowly cut off and replaced by artificialness would they still be happily shouting about loving their bodies?
It opened my eyes once again, that if I want to see the beauty in these things I have to be the one to put it out there.
I have been asked to be in the local burlesque show coming up. I said yes almost immediately and felt that maybe it would be healing for me because it’s so close to the one year anniversary of my double mastectomy . Today though as I was driving and thinking about it, I burst into tears. Going up on that stage is me reclaiming my body as my own. It’s saying fuck normal. It’s saying there are many ways to be confident and secure and beautiful. Hopefully soon it will get me back to walking around naked, blind open, windows open for all to see.
It’s something almost all cancer patients hear when we finish treatment, “are you glad you’re done?”
There’s this idea that once the chemo is over, once the last surgery performed ,that we can just go back to how things were before being diagnosed. That life returns to the same simplicity and normalacy. The truth though is not so simple. I am changed, trauma changes people and there’s no getting around the fact that cancer is trauma. It’s trauma on the physical as well as the mental and emotional. Most of my time spent in treatment was spent almost hyper focused on the now. Getting through this day, this hour, this minute. Getting though this pain. Getting through this constant fatigue and chemo brain. There are times when I was so overwhelmed with pushing though that I would have to stop and ask myself “what do I need to get just through right now?” It makes it hard to process what’s really happening to you when all your energy is spent getting through just one moment at a time.
Sometimes I could trick myself into believing life would just go back. Daydream about life after chemo. Sometime even now in the day to day of life I can pretend my life is a lot like anyone else’s. That is until my shoe falls off my prosthetic foot, or until someone makes a comment on how my hair is coming in. It’s strange to go from putting away laundry to feeling like the air has been sucked out of you because it jumps into your head ” HEY! YOU’RE THE ONE THAT HAD CANCER, IT WASN’T SOMEONE ELSE.”
The thing is the fist time I had cancer for the most part things did go back to normal. I really did become a typical teen, a typical woman, a typical mom. Enough time started to pass that check ups became social affairs to catch up with my favourite Doctors and the anxiety of cancer coming back was gone. This time though, there’s is no going back to “before”. I know too much. I know there are no guarantees. I know there is no cured. I will always be at higher risk for reoccurrence, both because of my BRCA 1 mutation and my history with cancer. I’m forcing myself as well this time to really processing what I’ve been through, instead of shoving it away and pretending it’s a chapter I can close instead of a theme of my life story. Processing is hard, it has many ups and downs. There are days where I am so fucking grateful I get to live this life. Day’s where I look around and am in love with just watching my children play, or snuggling into my own bed. Those days I feel like cancer was a weird gift. Then there are days where I wake up soaked in blood because even though I’m in menopause the hormone treatment isn’t quiet working. Days when I want to cry because my children try to whisper secrets in my ear and I can’t hear them because chemo has taken all my high pitch hearing. Those days I seem to focus on what cancer has taken. The funny thing is the grateful for cancer and angry at cancer feelings can come and go as quick as you can turn a light on and change when I least expect it.
I went for my follow up appointment a few days ago and while everything is clear for now I got in my car and just wanted to sob. I brought my kids with me and my oldest asked why we were there, what was the Dr going to do, what was she looking for, what would happen if she found something. When she left he asked “did she find any lumps or bumps?” and look almost relieved but also like he didn’t quiet believe me when I told him “no new lumps or bumps!”
There was talk at that appointment of not if but when I get cancer again. There was talk of more surgery due to side effects from my treatment. There was talk of my follow up schedule (every 3-4 months for the next 2 years). There was talk of which scans, bloodwork and referrals come next. There was no talk of done. There will never be talk of done.