Friday, 11 September 2015

Blog update

Times they are a'changin. For a long time now, I've been spending more time developing writing workshops and widening my interests and as a result, the poor old Oncoplastic Fruit blog has been left in limbo. I'm still working on the breast cancer book - it is my life's work - but I think it's right that I bring this blog to a close. I've created a new blog, one with a few samples of my writing work beyond the book. You can find me at:

Cheers! xxx

Friday, 26 September 2014

Away with the Fairies...

More than a year has passed since my last post. I can't quite believe it. It feels like I have been time travelling. A lot has happened in the last twelve months. Our family swapped Cornwall's seagulls for Australian cockatoos and kookaburras as we spent several months living and working in Canberra. Before that, I was on a six-month course exploring a business idea around workshops in writing for health. I'd also been volunteering with dementia patients and breast cancer survivors and trying to understand the arts and health connection. For the last few months, I've been working as a ghostwriter, helping others write their memoirs. I've been worrying about everybody else's story, and I haven't had time to carry on with my own. I've moved a long, long way from my Mermaids book, my memoir and history of breast cancer surgery. I've allowed time on my own book to perish as I turned to other things.   

In the process of facing up to this reality, I received a present from a writer and painter friend in Ireland. This was in return for connecting her with the Haven, a marvellous charity for women coping with breast cancer. It's a mark of how special the Haven is that Susan wanted to say thanks. She has come back from her own experience with vim and vigour. She sent me a small painting of the shee, which she explained like this: "It is about the survival of the power of femaleness. The shee (fairies) are a throwback to when women were equals of gods and had the power to bless the land and endow it with fruitfulness. Newer philosophies tried to suppress this exuberance - unsuccessfully - and like the shee in the picture we have a great tendency to bounce back, even if it takes a couple of thousand years." I've put this picture in front of me as I type. I've decided that's me in the middle, surrounded by mischievous fairies, doing everything they can to stop me from writing (they just made my computer crash as I wrote the last sentence; honest, they did). But even if it takes me a couple of thousand years, and quest-like tests of endurance, I'm going to finish my book. It's time to bounce back.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Amazonian Project: Life after Breasts

Photographer Eileen Long came to my house a couple of weeks ago to take photos of me for the Amazonian Project. Up until now, the photos have all been group shots - like this one in Cornwall Today, which covered the Amazonian Project in the March 2013 issue:

I am not a woman "battling with breast cancer" as suggested by the headline. This sounds very heroic and I'm uncomfortable with that on a personal level. Most of the other women have had to endure not only surgery but also chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hard core medical regimens. A few of them have metastatic disease, which takes them to another level of courage entirely. I took part in this project to acknowledge that my self esteem took a knock, that my surgery was at one point disfiguring and I was afraid about what my (very early) disease would mean for me, but at no point did I have to "fight" cancer in the same way as many of these women. I want to point that out because I'm front and centre in this picture - an accident of the informal nature of the shoot.

The Amazonian Project is all about helping others accept their bodies after breast cancer surgery of any kind. There is no doubt that our sense of self and our feelings about beauty suffer. But as organiser Hannah Whale puts it, there is "life after breasts". She says "when women with breast cancer go online and look at pictures of those who have undergone a mastectomy, they see dehumanising chest shots that look clinical, surgical and cold...we wanted to highlight the other side and just show these woman as human beings and the beautiful, courageous people they are." Hannah and Eileen are putting together a book for patients to reassure them that losing a breast doesn't mean losing one's beauty or femininity.

When Eileen sent me the photographs she took of me, I was surprised by their rawness, their truth-telling. Partly it's because I just don't examine my scars very often now, and where my back's concerned, I just can't see it. I was struck by the image of my back because I can see clearly where my back muscle has been scooped out. The scar is long; it crosses my back from right to left in an uncompromising arc. My new body's not perfect, but I realise I like it this way. I'm proud of the story my body tells, and I hope so much this gives some comfort to other women.

To finish up our session, Eileen kindly took some photos of me for my own use, with my own props - symbols of the things that helped me get through. My books and research into the history of surgery. My bone china mug with the Royal College of Surgeons emblem. The silver bracelet that my sisters and my mum bought for me. (They bought one for my sister Lesley, who found that she had breast cancer when I was recovering from my surgery.) Its engraving says it all. Simply: "Too Many Women".

Photos by Eileen Long