Today I stood in front of my full-length mirror for a long time looking at my scars. There's the one on my knee from when I fell over a wonky paving-stone doing the polka on my way to Brownies, the scar from the emergency caesarian that delivered my poor premature baby, the scar on my back where Mr A took the muscle for my breast reconstruction, and finally, several pink sinewy lines circling the place where my areola used to be. Indelible records of significant events in my life. Marks that make me uniquely me.
Now I have to come to terms with a new vision of myself. I feel lucky that I have never had an enviable chest; I used to hide my body away as a teenager. I felt uncomfortable in low-cut tops and never wore them. I've never been proud of my chest in the way that I am about my ability to get on with people, or the fact that I have a reasonably well-functioning brain. I think I might be having a harder time now if they were my favourite body part - you know, like some people say they have good legs, a great bum, or nice boobs. But I still feel the loss. Keenly.
At the Hunterian museum in London last week, I had that loss in mind when I came across a small but poignant exhibit about cancer surgery. There was a photograph of an artwork by Wendy Jobber, a textile artist who had a mastectomy as well as chemotherapy. She used her creativity and humour as a way of coming to terms with what happened to her - she described the process of making the textile as "cathartic". While she was recovering from her surgery she began sketching up ideas, and then while she was going through chemo, she began to stitch it. The picture is a mosaic of lots of different chests, some big, some small, some lop-sided and some with breasts missing. I don't know Wendy, but I like to imagine the comfort she gained through her sewing, and the particular kind of pleasure she must have felt as she made other patients and staff "look and smile". When I looked in the mirror this morning, I could have cried. But then I thought about Wendy's textile, and I felt so much better. I felt acknowledged.