|Photo by Nick Holmes Sept 2016|
Estimates are that as many as 40% of Americans will be diagnosed with and survive cancer.
Sadly, not everyone will beat cancer, breast, or otherwise. I lost a dear friend, Sherwin Davis, to pancreatic cancer just last month. #fuckingcancer
But for those of us who get cancer, and don't die of it, what then? Should we pretend we died? Live a life of fear and rehash our hurts? Grovel around like beggars at the Table of Life, expressing pathetic gratefulness for any crumbs that fall to us?
Well, as discussed as CatalystCon, and in agreement with Clarissa Pinkola Estes, surviving as a goal ain't good enough. The goal, always, should be to thrive.
This is why I call myself a surthriver. Because my life before cancer was awesome, my life during cancer treatment was awesome, and my life post-treatment (except for the Tamoxifen regimen, which sucks big fat hairy donkey balls), is awesome.
A big part of my journey has been learning to accept that my body has changed. A huge factor helping me do that has been the sexy surthrivers I've been learning from.
That Club Nobody Wants to Belong To
My friend Mina Harker might never have come into my life, except we both had cancer. Hers was cervical, and she is a BadAss, Stage 4, 5 year+ surthriver. She also had a double mastectomy because of the BRCA1 gene, and agreed to sit on my panel for CatalystCon to discuss the modifications required in her sex life because of her diagnosis and treatment.
She is awesome and über-sexy and I love her to pieces.
|If you look super closely, you might notice the scars.|
Mostly, you notice a gorgeous woman
And then there's my friend Jennifer Pratt, who can rock purple, silver, or turquoise hair, or a tiara. She is talented like that.
Jennifer has been battling leukemia and ovarian cancer. Because she'e an overachiever.
Jennifer hosted the best (technically, the only) pre-cancer surgery party I've ever attended. She is upbeat and funny and also writes a blog about her celiac disease, and I'm so happy we've met.
Augusta Fleming, Now treating her Stage 3B Hodgkins Lymphoma with cannabis in Colorado, after traditional chemotherapy last year offered a miserable time (months in the hospital at a time!) and no real progress. She's the mother of two little girls, a kick-ass photographer, and a true inspiration.
|Because she had to be hospitalized so much, there are evil medical bills.|
Her friends have set up a GoFundMe to help.
And then there's this radiant woman, Sex Educator Ericka Hart, whose proud, joyous photo from Afropunk3 went viral on social media. (Photos shared with her permission.)
You can follow Ericka on Instagram.
"Where were the dykes who had double mastectomies? I wanted to talk to a lesbian, to sit down and start from a common language, no matter how diverse. I wanted to share dyke insight, so to speak." - Audre Lorde
|Ericka at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.|
Body design by artist Laolu
Read this interview with her at Posture Magazine. Ericka continually blows me away and I am following her career with intense interest.
Showing Our Bodies When We Want To
One of the things Ericka and I and other breast cancer surthrivers have discussed, is that because we have to show our breasts (and often, other body parts) to so many different medical professionals: doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and more, it can be empowering to show our bodies when we want to. Even if that's to the whole world!
|You get to see my tits! And you get to see my tits! Everybody gets to see my tits!|
"Before" lumpectomy picture by Nick Holmes, June 2015
My arrangement with my favorite actor - slash - pretend cowboy - slash - poet (you should totally buy his book and get a lover to read you his deliciously sensuous poems, they're yummy!) - slash photographer, Nick Holmes, was to have him take a set of before-and-after photos. Nick made the "before" pictures easy and fun.
Getting to the "after" pictures was much more emotionally challenging for me. Even though I was so lucky, and I knew it, not having to have a mastectomy, or chemotherapy.
|About two weeks post surgery. I did not expect Laverne to swell up like that.|
Possibly the vigorous sex I had with three of my lovers was a contributing factor. #toomuchofagoodthing
As I got deeper into radiation treatment, Laverne and Shirley looked like they were staging an interpretative production of Snow White and Rose Red.
|Radiation reddened my breast, thickened the nipple,|
and caused the skin in my armpit to break down.
Nothing like having one of your lovers help you bandage up your 'pit as foreplay.
Eventually, the breast skin became (more) normal, though Laverne remains pinker than Shirley despite lymphatic massage. The nipple and areola are still thicker, and ridged. I've heard it may go back to normal in five years or so.
That was not what I wanted to hear. But that is part of this journey - learning and accepting that our bodies have changed. We have to find ways to love the skin we're currently in. Instead of waiting until we are: thin enough, muscular enough, some other "enough." We deserve to give ourselves love and compassion now. Whether we are breast cancer surthrivers, other cancer surthrivers, or just "regular" women and men, growing a little older every day.
So I decided to stop procrastinating, and booked my "after" session with Nick. These are some of my favorites.
The one good thing about having cancer, is, it helped me lose weight.
That's another thing I am struggling to accept, that chances are I can't lose weight (95% of people who deliberately lose weight, see it all come back, with dividends). That what I have to focus on is health: eating nutritious foods, getting regular exercise, drinking water, getting enough sleep. I'm not perfect at those things, but am working on 'em. Blogged about the weight quandary here.
I'm working on accepting that, at least for now, maybe forever, I have a big belly and thick thighs. Flabby batwing arms.
And to love my body anyway.
Because life is glorious!
|I love my eyes and my hair in this shot!|
I am very, very happy to be alive, to have this healthy, sensuous body that gives me so much pleasure. And sometimes I think the girls look pretty damn good!
|This photo is NOT by Nick Holmes, lol.|
If you haven't already, please consider signing up for my newsletter (right side of page, toward the top) so I can let you know about my progress with my Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n Roll, and a Tiara: How I Celebrated Kicking Cancer's Ass memoir, to be released in 2017.
Do you have stories about body image struggles?
Or taking back your power through boudoir or other photographs?