Breast cancer lesson number 31: What you lose in dignity you gain in confidence

I lost my dignity somewhere between getting drawn on by a surgeon with a giant marker pen (in front of another surgeon and my parents) and having an unexpected internal scan at my first fertility appointment. That’s not to say that my amazing hospital doesn’t go to great lengths to protect it with their well-placed gowns and paper towels. But, when you’re picking out your clothes based on what gives people ‘easy access’ you know it’s pretty much gone – and the chances of recovering it are very slim (I appreciate that may make me sound a little bit like a loose woman. But, trust me, it’s all in a good cause!)

Surprising as it may be to hear, I don’t want it back. In its place, the hospital has inadvertently given me something so much more important: a massive dose of body confidence. That’s not to say that I have a burning desire to take my top off or wear more revealing clothes (I don’t think the world would ever be ready for that). But, by encouraging me to undress at pretty much every appointment (sometimes just out of pure curiosity and kindness), I have realised for the first time that I’m happy with my lot.

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It may sound strange coming from someone with a large scar down her hip (and four giant metal pins inside), a scar on her neck from a old birthmark, a walk that looks like it belongs on the comedy circuit, an amputated boob (and a new imitation one without a nipple currently), straw-like hair, a scar the length of my tummy and so-called ‘child-bearing’ hips. But, every time I look in the mirror now as I massage my modifications and wash my hair, I don’t see my flaws. I just see strength.

I know I’ll never be stopped in the street or take someone’s breathe away with just one look. I know that I’ll never be able to wear short skirts and look good in a pair of shorts. I also know that when fully clothed I am just another plain Jane on a commuter train. But, what makes me smile is that, beneath the pink cardigans and the navy dresses, I am a warrior. And, if you asked me to choose, I wouldn’t change a thing (beyond getting a serious illness in the first place of course). After all, if the world wanted us all to be beautiful, it wouldn’t have invented mascara! And, I love mascara!

Beauty isn’t about having good skin, it’s about being comfortable with what you have and accepting who you are. You’ll find there’s a cream for everything else.

So, I challenge you to stand in front of the mirror this weekend and smile. Smile at the good bits (I am positive you all have something about which you are particularly proud. For me, I have always liked my eyes and my shoulders). Then, most importantly, smile at the bits that make you who you are (the childhood scar you’d wouldn’t have had if you’d listened to your parents, the finger nail that just doesn’t grow the way you want, the knee that hurts, the big toe that you always bury in thick socks).

Smile because you’re you. I wouldn’t have you any other way!

NB: if you’d like to find out more about scarring and breast reconstruction (with DIEP), head to lesson number 21.

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