Random Thoughts on Baring the Scars

I’ve been brooding on this topic for many months, just have not had time or energy to reach conclusions so I can write about it. The issue of whether or not those of us with scars from breast surgery should post photos of said scars on the internet pops up from time to time. Sometimes it is in the form of Facebook users objecting to the pics, or there is discussion about the “arty-farty” photo exhibits of women baring their chests or whole bodies after mastectomy—and whether this is a whole new level of objectifying “boobies”.

I’ve been contemplating and re-evaluating my decision to post my own picture recently, in light of all this discussion. I’ve wondered if I’ve objectified myself—certainly some of the comments I’ve received have been strange, but mostly I ignore it.

I’m still not prepared today to delve into my thoughts and feelings surrounding the objectification, the idea that this rash of photos of women baring their scarred breasts may be supplanting the image I hate: the bald, smiling, pink feather boa-wearing warrior woman—and I indict myself for my contribution to that. I’m still sorting out my thoughts and feelings on it.

But I was pulled into mulling it over today when I saw some disturbing comments on I Had Cancer’s Facebook posting of Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer’s photo of her bare chest, her scars. Most of the comments run the usual way—you go girl, badass, warrior, strong, beautiful, all that. But every so often one of those upsetting (to me) comments popped up. Someone said it was sad, a few others—weird. And the worst: a suggestion the image would scare women out of getting mammograms.

I strive to be compassionate, to have empathy, to always try to see things from others’ point of view. But this is one area in which I utterly fail in understanding another POV. These scars some of us chose to show—this is what happened to us, and what happens, and will happen to many, many women. It is a result of having breast cancer. Denying it, or wanting it to go away, just seems insane to me. Not looking at these images, wishing them away, will not stop the march of breast cancer, and the results of treatment.

I’ve mentioned in MANY posts my dislike of the warrior/battle language in cancer. I cannot help but notice the irony that for all the battle language that exists, I don’t think people actually know what it means. If a person has to “battle” cancer, a person must understand all the outcomes, the casualties, if you will. Does a general devise a battle plan without knowing and understanding the terrain and landscape into which soldiers are being sent? No, all possible aspects are considered: landscapes, dangers, projected life loss, captures…and I don’t know what all, I’ve never been a soldier. So why not know what is involved in the “battle” of breast cancer? I get that not everyone objecting to the pictures engages in warrior language, but I’ve seen a few comments from self-proclaimed warriors who do not seem to want to know anything other than happy, perky, pinky, positive stuff, because the “downer” facts make the battle harder. I just cannot understand this. That will always be a failing of mine, and I am sorry for my lack of empathy here. But I just will never be able to understand that mindset.

When I faced my surgery, I was still an internet idiot about social media in regards to cancer communities (I used the internet for work and hated using the computer in what little downtime I had, so no blogging back then). I only saw a few medical, informational pictures of what my result might look like. I had to deal with the emotional fall out on my own. I had no examples of the sort of “realness” Ann Marie’s photo, or my photo, provide. When I decided to get a decorative tattoo, rather than a reconstructed nipple with tattoo coloring, I had no idea there was this whole movement, like P.Ink, that did that kind of thing. I discovered it as I began researching ideas for my own tattoo.

And I felt so MUCH better once I found these websites, social media outlets, these pictures of reality.

While I still grapple with the objectification issue, the idea that topless scar pictures are being absorbed and used in the Pink propaganda, I cling to the notion—for now—that all these pictures are good. People who don’t want to see what happens to a breast when it gets cancer, well, look away. Keep your heads in the sand, that won’t change the reality of what really happens to breasts when a person gets breast cancer. My picture remains here for now, for the woman who is going through what I went through then—who needs an idea, an example of what her reality will be.

This post is where I am on this subject today. I will revisit it again, later.

This is not sexy. This is an example of what breast cancer can do.
This is not sexy. This is an example of what breast cancer can do.
This is what I can do, fuck cancer.
This is what I can do, fuck cancer.
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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

16 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Baring the Scars”

  1. dear CC,

    I completely agree about the post mastectomy photos and the comments people make that show little empathy or compassion. and the fear thing – really? scaring women away from having mammograms? I love that you posted the photo of your breast and your comment – “this is what I can do, fuck cancer.” your breasts are beautiful, and the tattoo is fabulous, so YOU! – but I am just so sorry you had to go through the horror and pain of being dx’d with, then suffering through such dreadful treatment for breast cancer.

    and your point about battle language is well taken. if people insist on fighting a battle with breast cancer, shouldn’t they know what they are up against? excellent post – thought provoking, sensitive, and honest.

    much love,

    Karen OOXXOO

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    1. Thanks Karen. I was really worried I was coming off insensitive, given how hard it is for me to understand how some folks do not want to know all they can about what they will face in “battle”. For me, I felt so blindsided and sucker punched, it was like I knew NOTHING about the realities of breast cancer and it was a lot of info to absorb along just coming to terms with having cancer at all. So, that is why I want to tell as much about my reality as possible–because I just don’t think enough reality is out there.

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  2. You’ve hit on one of the many reasons I declined reconstruction. This is what cancer did and the informed choice I made is to live joyously without any remaining breast tissue. It’s my ‘fuck you, cancer.’ And if someone is uncomfortable with my living breastlessly, it’s not my problem.

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    1. Oh man, and there are some folks out there, other breast cancer survivors who cannot fathom a choice like yours–I had the misfortune to run into that a few times on the interwebs. You know, the usual stuff like, why wouldn’t you want to feel beautiful–like recon is the ONLY way! Weird.
      But the discomfort seems worse when people see it in pictures, I assume because breasts are usually covered. Except, to me they are not. I get so frustrated when I see those pink ribbon ads, with an actress/model topless or nude, with strategically placed limbs. In those moments, seeing those ads, that is when I am most inclined to show my picture, to show reality. Those ads are NOT giving real info that is so needed.

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  3. I was so upset, dismayed, misled by my plastic surgeon that when I saw my reconstruction one month after ward, I …. I was devastated. I posted my pictures because I had wished that I knew that not all breast reconstruction turns out good. C’mon, the plastic surgeons are not going to put up pictures of their failures! So, I put my ugly reconstruction on my blog and I don’t care who sees it because it’s the fuc**ng reality of one of the possible, ugly results of breast cancer.

    I do have an appointment, next month, with a well-renowned plastic surgeon who my Oncologist told me is the absolute BEST – he is so good, he only takes “special” reconstruction cases. I had to wait a month for him to look at my pictures.

    My reconstruction is so damn bad, I wouldn’t even get any kind of tattoos, they are that ugly and here’s my link to prove it. So, if anyone is offended by what breast cancer can do to a woman’s body, they’d better wake up because no one plans to get breast cancer or end up looking like this…

    And here’s what I wrote about my disappointment: http://cancerisnotpink.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/one-month-post-exchange-surgery/

    Sorry if I’m talking too much, but, this subject is a very sore one with me. People can be so damn ignorant. We’re not looking for sympathy, we’re looking to help women by giving them knowledge.

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    1. You aren’t talking too much! Thank you for sharing your pic and link here. Pictures and info MUST be shared to combat that “breast cancer = boob job” mentality. One of the reasons I opted out of recon was because I knew the long horizontal scar would still be present — tho’ I am quite aware my scar is barely visible (I’ve since learned my surgeon is locally considered talented at minimal scarring). Sigh, this is our reality, not free boob job.

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      1. Yeah. All of my relatives who went through this told me how happy they were with their new boobs. It must make a difference if you are located in a MAJOR BIG CITY like Chicago!

        Nobody told me these “boobs” would be like squished sausage pancakes – lumpy! Ugly! Seriously, if I had known that this was how they were going to look, I’d have said “No thanks!”

        These results were certainly not worth all the pain and aggravation of reconstruction. I just wish that I had seen a picture like mine so that I could have printed it and taken it to my stupid plastic surgeon and asked her, “What are the chances of my reconstruction looking like this?”

        I do NOT feel that I was told the truth from my plastic surgeon. Even with the catastrophe I ended up with, she thought that a pair of nipples would make it all look so much better. She is just a liar and a very untalented plastic surgeon.

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    2. Good luck to you, Swoosie. Here’s where a picture can help all of us. Plastic surgeons are largely perfectionists (the ones I know… the ones I’ve used… the one I live with). Yours seemed to stop at “good enough” and the unfairness of that is criminal. I would never, ever bare my scars. But if it could help many, many people (or just one) like yours certainly has, I might.

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      1. I’m not ashamed of my scars, they remind me of how much my life is worth and it’s worth more than anything visual. That is the point of bearing the scars, to honestly portray that many reconstructions can go bad. Plastic surgeons are not going to post failures on their websites and women need to know that this type of outcome is very possible. I wish I had known what a failed breast reconstruction looked like before I went in for my surgery.

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  4. Ute, I thank you so very much for your rather candid discussion here on breast cancer. You are a well thought-out type of writer that usually leaves me thinking so hard about your chosen topic and this is no different! I for one appreciate the varying thoughts you have on the subject. I feel there is no need to justify what you feel for they are your feelings and that alone makes them valid and worthy! I appreciate your candor. Thank you for always sharing from a place of truth and honesty! Love YOU girl!!

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    1. Ha ha, sometimes I thing my thoughts vary too much–when I cannot make up my mind, like with this topic. But thank you , nonetheless. I do strive for candor–I spent a lot of time not being candid–never again.

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