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Why I went ‘topless’ on social media after breast cancer surgery: ‘Seeing my scar in pictures reminds me that I am still me’

Life, for me and many other breast cancer survivors, falls into two categories: Before and after breast cancer. And eight months after breast cancer surgery where my left breast was removed, I can say that there are things I know now that I never could have imagined back then.

I didn’t know that my scar would form a jagged line across my left chest just above my heart – a neat, 5cm reminder of the fear I faced when I was first diagnosed and of the three-hour surgery I went through in January.

I didn’t know that the area around the surgery site would feel numb and tight for months. Or that, in my particular case, sensation would slowly return in pinpricks, prickles, and surprisingly ticklish sensations that would half-wake me during the night.

I didn’t know that the scar would change, going from deep reds and sunset purples to a softer pink. Or that you’d be able to visibly detect my heartbeat, a pulsing against the thin skin covering my chest.

Nor did I know that I would be moved to show that scar on social media and in doing so, I would join the body positivity movement which encourages people to love and accept their bodies, regardless of their shape, size, or physical imperfections.

When people ask why I took near-nude pictures of myself pre- and post-surgery at all, my answer is that I first wanted to document this journey through breast cancer – to remind myself of what life looked like before, and what it looks like after.

But in learning more about how women felt about their bodies post-surgery, and then going through it all myself, I began to see that cultivating and fostering body positivity is an important part of healing in the wake of breast cancer.

In a small study in 2016, titled Body Image of Women with Breast Cancer After Mastectomy – A Qualitative Study, published in the Journal of Breast Health, researchers noted that the loss of a breast through mastectomy will have multiple meanings and can trigger conflicting emotions.

Some women in the study reported being grateful to still be alive and saw this as more important than the loss of a breast. Other women understood the necessity of the surgery for their health, but after surgery, they experienced great sadness at the loss.

I hope that my pictures can help assuage the fears of those who desperately seek answers to what surgery and scars might look like. After all, I was there once, too. 

Second, my intent is to communicate that while all feelings are valid, there are women like myself who embrace their new bodies and find the journey interesting, and at times even exciting. This is especially since many breast cancer fighters feel as though they are going through a transformation in body and mind. I certainly did.

Physically, I had to come to terms with my altered body. The changes were undeniable, but they do not define me or my self-worth. That led to me feeling stronger and happier than ever.

As a yoga teacher, I am no stranger to the concept of such transformations. I have encountered and taught amputees, cancer survivors, those with heart disease and others facing incredible challenges.

From them, I learnt that a willingness to play the cards that life has dealt you challenges negative thought patterns. It cultivates strength and healing.

So while my scar is a reminder of my breast cancer experience, forever etched on my body and being, seeing my scar in pictures reminds me that I am still me and that cancer took none of my joy, or my innate ability to find and feel joy, away from me.

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