Two years ago, I had the first of two surgeries that would remove my breasts and reconstruct new ones; my mom and sister both died of breast cancer, and our family history and information I had from my doctors and surgeons made this the best choice for me. It was few months before Angelina Jolie wrote her eloquent story for the NYT about her own decision, and I can’t tell you how important it was to read that as my own appointments were being set.
It’s been a long two years. I wrote this after the first surgery, after purposely not saying much going in. I didn’t even tell my sons until a couple of days in advance, because I knew they’d worry and I didn’t want them to. I was doing this to prevent worry, not start it. If you’re new to these pages, I write a column called Motherlode for the Hamilton Spectator and I share a lot with my readers. Don’t worry about clicking on the links; you’ll probably get a laugh or two. I usually keep it light. In a follow up a few weeks later, I had my first truly terrifying moment in all of this, and wrote the next column.
I’d made the right call, but I’d underestimated how much it would take out of me. When you’re a freelance writer, you can’t miss deadlines or you don’t get paid. You also can’t be unreliable or you’ll be out of a gig, fast. I tried to cover all my bases by writing ahead of deadline and treating a mastectomy like a vacation. Propped up in bed pretending nothing hurt while binge watching Friday Night Lights. I’ve had worse experiences. The second surgery six months later was a little easier, and I hauled myself to an awards banquet 24 hours later to receive a major writing award. I don’t remember much of that night, only that good friends took care of me and my paper was kind enough to run a pic from the previous year. I never change my hairstyle and all my clothes are black. I made it easy for them.
My spectacular surgeons had saved my life. Our medical system gave me the option. My family is, as always, amazing. I have friends who would go to the ends of the earth for me, or at least to Shoppers to refill prescriptions and get me jellybeans. I am lucky. Incredibly lucky. And yet, when my plastic surgeon started talking about nipples, the options made me consider whether I should be bothered. The one that intrigued me? Tattooing. I have no tattoos; at 52, I’m a little old school. Kyla Gutsche and I started an email conversation, and I finally plunked myself in front of her. I had avoided looking at myself in the mirror for a year; I needed Kyla. After our first session I went home and cried.
I’ve been documenting the past couple of years with Danny Bailey, an extraordinary photographer and amazing friend.Danny Bailey We weren’t sure what we were going to do with the pics and footage we scrabbled together as we went along, but we both knew we’d never be able to go back. Last week we did our ‘after’ pics; that tattooing process was finally complete. My trainer, Adam Higson, let us use his fabulous gym and with some amazing friends we had a blast. I’d mentioned to Dan that I needed some pics that hid my face, not because I was ashamed, but because I wanted them to represent every woman. It’s so difficult to know what lies ahead when you go down this road, and the options come at you fast and furious, if at all. It’s a maze; I just wanted women to know what was possible.
Kyla posted an amazing pic from the session on her Facebook account; her colleague was holding an event at the Royal Ontario Museum a few nights ago called Why We Ink, full of some stunning pics of tattoos for survivors and those who love them. She asked Kyla if she could include my pic. Of course she could! That’s the whole point!
Facebook suspended Kyla’s account. Her business page. She works with cancer survivors and burn victims. She has a pHd in medical illustration. They made her remove the pic she’d posted of me. This image is inappropriate it seems, yet I’m surrounded by the most sexualized images possible around the clock. Something is wrong here. FB hasn’t made me take my post down, yet. But I had so many people share it, it was an overwhelming experience. It’s like they were daring FB. My friends and colleagues rock.
Here’s a ten minute from that night.
And the last five minutes of the :