Saturday, May 10, 2014

Putting the "Bra" in Brave

Brave. What is your definition of BRAVE? Is it going out without makeup? Wearing white shoes before Memorial Day? 

People have said I am so brave. I don't really agree with that. I basically have done what anyone else in my position would have done. Throughout parts of it, I screamed, cried, or closed my eyes and knew it would be over at some point. I never really felt brave while going through it.  I just did it and if you think you couldn't handle what I went through, you could and you will if you have to.  I am not that special. It's just about survival.  If you are told your odds of recurrence will be lowered if you do everything in the protocol, then you do it. Don't fuck around with your life, just because you are scared of needles, going bald, or feeling sick for a few months, or longer!

OK, now that that is out of the way. I want to talk about real bravery.

Here is an example. This beautiful woman, Beth Whaanga had breast cancer. She posted this picture on Facebook to show the world, (or simply, her network of friends), what the body looks like after undergoing multiple surgeries and treatments to try and make it whole again. Her surgeries included a double mastectomy, TRAM flap reconstruction and a hysterectomy.

After she posted this picture, 103 people "unfriended" her. 

(By the way, she's had 4 kids! I personally thing she looks friggin amazing!)

Would you unfriend her?  Or would you just scroll down past it because it's too upsetting?

Because I am engrossed in the world of Breast Cancer, pictures like this neither bother nor shock me. They are a fact of my life.  However, there are some out there who just don't get it. They feel these pictures are too disturbing, unnecessary, and not helpful to anyone. I recall one person comparing a mastectomy picture to a car accident victim and why would anyone need to see that? Apples and oranges, my friends! On one recent thread about this very topic, a man said that decency has gone out the window. I think he views women like the above as slutty exhibitionists while nothing could be further from the truth.

The majority of people commenting on pictures like the one above, do get it and offer support and encouragement. They probably had breast cancer or had a family or friend with bc. If they have no connection to breast cancer, then it's easy for them to say that these pictures are not helpful. But I'm writing this blog today to explain why they are, in fact, helpful to everyone and not just the patients.

1. The general population has no idea what a mastectomy and reconstruction entails. Unless they have a close family member or friend who is willing to lift their shirt (like moi), they will believe that a woman goes in for surgery and comes out with new breasts. Having a mastectomy with recon is not comparable to someone who keeps their breasts and simply goes in for augmentation. There are often multiple surgeries and procedures involved and the end result may not even be good.  There is pain, numbness, swelling, inability to lift, stretch, drive. Some women endure numerous infections, causing major delays, more pain, and heartache. It not only messes with the physical self. It damages her spirit and her spark. Some women cannot even have recon due to so many complications. 

She may look OK on the outside, but underneath the clothing she is like a patched up quilt in the beginning. Nipples are gone, sensation in the skin is gone or if she's lucky, it returns here and there. And yes, she is still happy to be alive through it all. Please keep in mind that not everyone has complications and the recon process more often goes smoothly (I am in this category, thankfully!). I am not here to scare anyone who may be facing one of these surgeries. But the reality is, trying to look "normal" again is a work in progress, to say the least.

2. The newly diagnosed woman who is getting ready for a mastectomy needs to see these pictures. Speaking from experience, pictures like these helped me cope with the aftermath a lot better. It completely removed the mystery and fear. Thank you Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer for helping me! Your fearless posts have helped THOUSANDS of women. You are doing a great service to all of those scared women who don't think they can do this. God bless you!

3. At some point, everyone will know someone with breast cancer. Because it is such an epidemic, chances are more than "good" that you will have a friend, cousin, mother, daughter, sister, wife, aunt or co-worker with breast cancer. How do these pictures help you? Well, in my opinion, it helps you to help the patient. It gives you some insight as to what her body has endured and you may also handle her differently. By that I mean, understand why she may be depressed, withdrawn, cranky, angry, or sad. She has lost her previous self and she will never get it back no matter how good her surgeon is.  She may look and act fine on the outside but on the inside, she may be crumbling at times. She still looks forward though, trying hard not to dwell. She has a grateful heart and with time, she will get used to her new self because she is a warrior!

4. Lastly, these pictures are good come  "Pinktober": Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Sure, people can wear pink, go bra less, take selfies without makeup, buy products that claim they are donating a nickel from each sale to breast cancer, but do these things TRULY raise awareness about this disease? I think these "shocking and disturbing" photos are much more effective in getting the  message out there. They are raw, honest, and human. If we wish to raise funds to eradicate breast cancer, then we need to attach a face and a body to it; a body that has endured and continues to fight.

And to those who cannot handle looking at the "indecent" pictures, I encourage you to just scroll past them because clearly, you can't handle the truth about breast cancer and you know nothing of this battle.

But for those faced with this diagnosis? Look at the pictures before your surgery, even if it's difficult. Knowledge is power. Also, talk to women who have been through it, and message me if you want and I'll be happy to talk to you. No one should travel this road alone.  Thanks to Beth in the above picture, many women will be a little less frightened. For that, I thank her!