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.
It’s funny as much as I can recall the day I was diagnosed with bone cancer after the words were out there it’s suddenly a blur.
I mean I can see the sunshine of that day. I can see my mom with my baby sister on her hip. I can remember walking home from school. I can even remember how I felt. So light, carefree and excited.
After my mom told me I had cancer she cried and then I cried. My dad walked in the house and looked at me and said “Sorry Daughter”
I can’t tell you what happened after that though. What did we have for dinner? Did we even have dinner that night? Where was my little brother? What did we talk about? Who else did we tell? The more I try to remember the darker it gets. I do know later that night I felt it was important that I tell my 2 best friends. I felt pretty calm and called one friend, she didn’t answer. Then I called the other. The second I heard her voice I started sobbing. This wasn’t crying because everyone around me was crying. These were my first real tears over the fact that I had cancer. It hit me hard and I couldn’t get the words out. Thankfully my mom was right there and she took the phone, I have no idea what she said or how the conversation went, all I could do was cry.
The next few days went in the same blurred fashion. We were thrown information at us faster than it could be processed. We met with oncologist and surgeons. I had bloodwork and endless scans and x-rays. We learned words we had never heard before. Plans were made, things went so fast. It was learned that I probably had Osteosarcoma (surgery would confirm that) and that my tumour was big, approximately the size of a softball. I was lucky it hadn’t spread anywhere else and very lucky that with how unstable the tumour had made my bones that I hadn’t broken my leg. To ensure I didn’t break leg before I started treatment I was either in a wheelchair or on crutches. In the blink of an eye I went from the girl that dances and jumps around to being so careful and cautious. I remember the days being so long and coming home and just sleeping. I wanted to escape so bad.
Escape though would not come. Instead I went to what would end up being my last day of 8th grade. On the one day I didn’t have to be at the hospital I wanted to be at school. I wanted to be the one to tell my peers what was happening. We gathered in the library and I told everyone I had cancer. It was the first time I had said it out loud and I didn’t cry. Everyone asked questions and I answered what I could. As badly as I wanted to spend the rest of the day with my friends, unfortunately between the rain that day and my crutches I fell and the fear that I would get hurt outweighed me getting one last day as a normal teenager. I went home, I napped and I truly became a cancer patient.
Next would be putting the plans into action. Surgery, chemo, more surgery and more chemo. It would be a long year.
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.
The first time I remember my knee hurting was the summer of 1997.
I was 13 and would turn on Spice Girls or No Doubt and dance around my backyard. I figured my knee hurt because I was NOT a dancer. I was a clumsy kid having fun during summer break. It got to the point though where the pain changed. I went from thinking maybe I hurt myself, to maybe growing pains, to something is wrong. One day when the pain hit harder than usual I asked my mom to take me to the DR. We went to the ER where I begged for an X-Ray and was told instead to buy some new shoes. I was blown off and treated like an over dramatic teen.
The weeks passed. I started grade 8, my mom gave birth to my baby sister, I turned 14 and my leg was hurting more and more. It got to the point where rumours started at school that I was a hypochondriac and I was just looking for attention. The bullying was horrible.
Then it happened, one day while playing basketball I was pushed. My knee slammed onto the gym floor and started swelling. The swelling wouldn’t go down. Finally a DR took me seriously and I was told I would need 6 weeks of physio. 6 weeks of almost daily physio and al that happened was the pain got worse and my knee got bigger. I took a break for a Christmas and to visit family. One night I woke crying in pain, I begged for my mom to do something, anything. I cried “please just cut it (my leg) off” we came home and went back to the Doctor. An x-ray and Ultrasound were ordered. When the day came and I had to leave school early for the appointment I was excited! I was so happy, finally I was being taken seriously. Finally we were going to find out what was wrong. Finally I would be able to prove I wasn’t an attention seeking hypochondriac.
The next day January 22, 1998. I was blissfully unaware what was happening at home and that soon my world would come crashing down. Instead I enjoyed the unusual sunshine, hung out with friends, got excited for the upcoming school dance and walked home.
I knew something was wrong when I noticed my mom was waiting for me, she saw me walking up to the house and opened the door with my baby sister on her hip. She told me to put my backpack away and to sit down. I started racking my brain for what was going on. Was I in trouble? What had I done? My mom started crying as I sat down ” Analyn, you have bone cancer.”