Tigz Rice answers your questions about boudoir shoots
Have you ever thought about booking a boudoir shoot but felt a little overwhelmed? Or not known where to start?
We're delighted to introduce you to the wonderful Tigz Rice. We first connected with Tigz almost a year ago because we were so drawn to her empowering signature style which brings elements of vintage glamour and theatrical grandeur to the world of boudoir photography. Her images are equal parts gorgeous and empowering and we love everything about them!
Tigz has written an amazing guest blog for us today in which she answers all of your questions about what to expect when you book your boudoir shoot.
Without further ado, we'll let Tigz introduce herself!
"Hello, gorgeous! I'm Tigz Rice: Hertfordshire based boudoir photographer, lingerie addict and one of the biggest girl geeks you’ll ever meet. My career started in 2009 in the dazzling, extraordinary world of burlesque. A community where all bodies are celebrated for their strength and beauty, regardless of gender, shape, size and ethnicity. Becoming a member of the burlesque community showed me more than ever that beauty thrives in confidence, and since then I've been using my skills as a kick-ass photographer to help fearless women, femmes and non-binary badasses feel empowered, confident and unapologetically present in both their personal and professional adventures.
I'm so excited to be guest blogging on the Valiant Lingerie blog today, answering all of your burning boudoir questions and hopefully breaking down any barriers that are currently preventing you from booking your own shoot...
“I’ve never heard of boudoir photography! What is it?”
Boudoir photography is the art of celebrating your incredible body, creating sophisticated, timeless and beautiful images that honour your lived experience, preserving those memories for years to come. Everyone has a different reason for wanting to be photographed; whether you want to mark a life milestone, document a journey, reward a personal achievement or simply celebrate your fabulous self in all your glory, the goal is to make you feel empowered, confident, strong and sexy as hell.
“How can I find a photographer I feel comfortable with?”
The absolute best thing I can recommend here is to do a little online research...
- Do you see your body represented in their portfolio?
- Do you connect with their shooting style?
- How do you feel about their editing - do you love a highly airbrushed finish, or do you prefer the more natural look?
- Would you feel comfortable (emotionally) recreating the poses you see in their images?
- Do you resonate with their content and captions?
- How do they interact with comments left on their images?
- What are their clients saying about their boudoir experience?
If you respond positively to each of these points, reach out and connect with this photographer - you could always ask for a 1-2-1 call if you're still not 100% sure.
“Can I arrange to have a boudoir shoot at home or does it have to be in a studio?”
A boudoir shoot can take place in a location of your choosing - just check whether your boudoir photographer of choice offers a location service. Some clients opt to shoot in their home, others choose a fancy hotel and plan a full night out on the town afterwards with their hair and make up done looking super fancy. The choice is completely up to you!
“I normally feel really awkward in front of the camera.” / “I’m camera shy!” / “I’d be really nervous!! Is that normal?!”
That's COMPLETELY normal - and that's what I'm here for! You know that feeling you get when you’re all dressed up and polished to perfection for a night out? Well, add in an hour of me telling you how amazing and fabulous you are, and your self-confidence will skyrocket. Here's a little quote from Mona, who came to one of my shoot days in Gothenburg...
'I got very self conscious at first, being in front of [other] ladies in my underwear, but Tigz has wizard skills in making you relax and feel good about yourself. We did all kinds of [poses], in both lingerie and the dress and shot for about and hour. It was SO MUCH FUN!'
“What should I wear for a boudoir shoot?” / “How many lingerie sets should I bring?”
This is one of the most common questions I get asked – which isn’t too surprising as for many of us a boudoir shoot goes beyond the realms of our day to day wardrobe. The honest answer is you can dare to bare as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. Whether you’re rocking a floor-length vintage ballgown, your birthday suit, your favourite Valiant Lingerie set or anything in-between, you're going to look fabulous! I recommend bring two or three options with you on the day, just in case you're not feeling one of the looks in the moment.
“What else should I bring to my shoot?”
On top of the looks mentioned above, make sure to bring a pair of killer heels (or two), a comfy robe and some dazzling costume jewellery - which are all regular staples on a boudoir shoot - plus any sentimental props you might want to hold or place around you on the day. You can also find an entire packing checklist in my free Prepare for Your Boudoir Shoot PDF guide that you can find on the home page of my website.
“Should I get my hair and make-up done?”
There's nothing better than a full pamper session in my opinion, which is why all of my boudoir shoots (except the virtual ones) include professional hair and make up as standard. My resident stylists all have cruelty free (vegan where possible) styling kits and can work to your skin's individual care needs, as well as discussing any allergies you may have. That said, some clients prefer to visit their own tried and trusted stylists beforehand, or you might feel confident doing your own. Whichever option is right for you, make sure you give yourself a good pamper session before your moment in the spotlight. You deserve to feel amazing.
“I don’t think I’d know how to pose… should I practice before the shoot?”
A little body awareness does help, but is 100% non-essential for you to spend time perfecting your poses before a shoot. We’ll use a selection of my favourite boudoir poses as inspiration, though I’m always secretly working with your natural body movements and nuances in between poses to make the shoot unique to you. There’s something so powerful in body language that when you do something naturally that looks incredible, I’ll say ‘don't move!’ and we’ll shoot it! It will be the most fun mannequin challenge ever!
“I feel really self conscious about my scars”
I always like to think of scars as our body stories - they document our journey and how we ended up in this moment. Scars are perfect imperfections that make us unique individuals. If you need a little help connecting with your beautiful new reflection, I'm here to help guide that journey. Whether that involves proudly displaying your scars, or gently acknowledging their presence, we can work up to your comfort levels, wherever they may be.
“Could I bring someone for emotional support?”
Of course, you are very welcome to bring a personal cheerleader with you. For shoots with me, personal cheerleaders must be over 18 and we request that they are not someone you are romantically involved with to keep the energy in the room 100% focused on you. The only time we cannot accommodate chaperones is on makeover days, because there would be too many humans in the room!
“I’m worried I should lose weight before the shoot”
You absolutely do not need to lose/gain weight, tone up or drop a clothes size to take part in a boudoir shoot. You aren’t defined by any number; be that on the scales, in the labels of your clothes or how many years you’ve been in the world. You are perfect, right now, in this very moment. Life is too short to wait for perfection. You deserve good things right now.
“I don’t have a ‘model’ figure / I'm a curvy girl - is a boudoir shoot for me?”
Hell yes! Peachy butts, killer thighs, ample cleavage, soft tummies... I'm here for it all. I’ve photographed clients of all shapes and sizes and they all have felt fearless and incredibly beautiful, both in front of the camera as well as in their images after.
“I’ve just turned 60… am I too old for a boudoir shoot?”
You are NEVER too old for a boudoir shoot. I regularly photograph clients who are rocking their 50s and 60s - like Pupin De Vert, who said...
'It was an amazing experience which has allowed me to feel more and more comfortable in front of a camera. Seeing my 56 year old self portrayed like this reminds me that it’s important to see images of older women. Ageing is a privilege which not everyone gets to experience, but it can be a challenge…the ‘women police’ are out in force and like to tell you what is and isn’t ‘appropriate’, and you can feel disempowered, de-sexualised, invisible or judged – Burlesque, modelling and proudly wearing my grey hair have all help me to feel that there is no ‘right’ way to get older. I have learnt that for me, that this means you never stop learning, experiencing and pushing yourself to do new things.'
Currently, my oldest client (who has volunteered their age to me) is 67 and she was absolutely fabulous. Want to help me beat that?!
“Should I get a spray tan? It makes me feel more confident!”
Some photographers will allow spray tans, but I personally have a strict 'no spray tan' policy on all of my shoots because of the risk of staining soft furnishings. Even if you're the best exfoliator in the world and seek out the most experienced beautician, there's no guarantee you won't have streaks, creases, patches, darker areas of dry skin and/or orange/green (yes, green) tanning pigments picked up by the camera. Instead, I'd suggest treating yourself some shimmer body lotion to give your skin that dewy, sun-kissed glow and offer a touch of contouring.
“I suffer from fatigue so I’m worried about how long a session might take”
It is my mission to make boudoir shoots as inclusive and accessible an experience as possible. The shoot itself can be quite a physical process – pin up poses require some core strength – but I always aim to shoot within your comfort and energy levels and can offer suggestions for poses that require less spoons. Hair and make up is 90 minutes, followed by a 60-90 minute shoot depending on the session booked - which includes downtime to stretch or take a moment to yourself. Alternatively, if you know you want to recreate a specific set of poses, we can aim for those first and utilise any additional time after as your energy levels allow. If you have any condition/s that you think may impact your shoot experience, please mention at time of booking so I can do everything in my power to make your shoot a positive experience.
“Will the photos be edited? I’m very conscious of some stretch-marks" / “Will you edit out my scars?”
I want you to look like the very best version of you, so I aim to get as much right as possible in camera through epic lighting and then edit out temporary spots and blemishes, as well as any skin indentations from clothing. I will only retouch out scars and stretch marks if you specifically ask me to - and if you do want a little more retouching, my industry accreditations make me your go to woman for high end, realistic retouching. Just tell me your editing requirements before your shoot and we can work towards those.
“Who will see the photos? Will they be on social media?”
You can dare to bare as much or as little as you like in the knowledge that you are in complete control of your images. I always ask for written permission from you before any photos are published, however if you’d prefer to keep them for your eyes only, they can be our little secret!"
Thank you so much, Tigz, for answering all our questions.
If you’d like to see more of Tigz and her stunning boudoir photography - and possibly even book your own shoot - then you can find her on Instagram: @tigzrice or at www.tigzrice.com.
Tigz is also offering Valiant Lingerie readers exclusive access to three Virtual Boudoir Shoot Days, where you can book a Virtual Boudoir Shoot with Tigz for £145 (usually £195). The dates are April 15 2021, May 13th 2021 and June 10th 2021, simply email Tigz and quote VALIANTLINGERIE to book.
Today's guest blogger is wonderful Norrell who is a 34 year-old professional musical theatre actress currently living in Chicago, Illinois in the United States with her fiancé Joe and their cat, Chairman Meow. [Is this not the best cat name ever?!]
Norrell says that her biggest passions are singing, meditation, dancing, and snacking on hearts of palm.
Norrell was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma in 2016 at the age of 30 and she is now a passionate advocate for early detection -as she says, #dontwaitinvestigate.
You can find Norrell on Instagram @norelimoo.
Here's Norrell's story:
"Whoa. It's four years this November since my diagnosis... isn't it funny how much we hang on to numbers? These milestone markers. A pause and a breath in remembrance. I was 30 when I learned I had invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer. Stage 1. For me, this was both frightening and yet, powerful news. Let me explain.
I have a cousin who had Stage 3 breast cancer and she was diagnosed at the young age of 28. It scared the SHIT out of me, honestly; me being 23 years old at the time. She came out on the other side! I admired her power and motivated spirit to fight what too many women must fight in this world. My main take away? CHECK. YOUR. SELF. Fast-forward seven years later to 2016 and something just... isn't right. There's no pain, but there's definitely a lump. Hmmmmmm.
I am a fairly optimistic and balanced person, or at least I like to believe I am; to constantly keep going with whatever the flow may throw. I am a Pisces, after all. I didn't want to make a big deal out of this if there wasn't any need, so I just “kept an eye on it” for two months before I even mentioned it to my fiancé, Joe.
Sooo this lump, huh? Still here? Cool cool cool. Mind you, I was an uninsured actor/musical theatre performer (like so many in my field) and had many gigs that year. I was also working two restaurant jobs, performing in a musical, and singing in a couple of bands. I've always had the tendency to run myself until empty. I also had my very first car accident that year... something was UP and I could FEEL it.
That August, we lost our dear neighbor to gallbladder cancer. 42 years old . He left behind his two little girls and loving wife. It made me ponder my own situation. I had no healthcare and the costs were already starting to pile up in my head if, in fact, the unknown was to be confirmed. The not knowing was eating me alive. “Knowledge is POWER”, I thought. With more knowledge, I get to keep the control and do what is absolutely necessary for me to stay alive.
Little by little I went through the routine tests (breast exam, mammogram, and biopsy) to learn of my diagnosis in November of 2016. *Deep inhale, deep exhale.* What a year! But, let me tell you about my ride-or-die partner, Joe. He made phone calls for four days to get me insured by January 2017. He set appointment dates for me when I just didn't have the energy to makes those calls myself. He took point. Something he has always done, but this level of love was something I never could dream I would find in a partner. He's a spectacular human and loves me to no end. Talk about lucky.
I was overwhelmed by the amount of support, both emotional and monetary, that poured out from family and friends in my home state of Pennsylvania as well as my theatre fam in Denver, CO. A GoFundMe was started by my now sister-in-law and The Denver Actors Fund had raised over $4,000 to help with medical bills. Having so many people in my corner made my fight less scary.
Once 2017 hit, it was ON and I was in attack mode. The ninth of January, I went in for my first ever MRI. When the test results came back they had determined that another lump had been growing. I now have two tumors growing inside of me. I was shocked, but not shaken. We still had work to do and I had a laser focus on the situation.
Genetic testing followed and we learned even more... my cancer was not hereditary. A “gene of insignificant variance” my doctors called it. The doctors recommended a good-old-fashioned lumpectomy: remove the tumors, salvage the nipple, deal with a deformed “breasticle”. I was not convinced... I needed to do more research and I needed to talk to more women.
That was the key. I talked to mothers, daughters, friends, breast cancer survivors and I asked “What would you do in my position? What do you wish you had done differently?”.
I remember speaking with an Aunt about my grandmother's breast cancer journey. She got her diagnosis towards the end of her life and opted for the lumpectomy, but the cancer returned. I didn't want to hear the word cancer again. I wanted to be FINISHED with this life-altering event. I started to pivot my decision towards a bilateral mastectomy. My man put it very simply. “Your breasts are trying to kill you.” He was absolutely right.
We continued our discussions with my doctors and one month later from the date of my MRI, I went in for my surgery to remove everything; nipple and all with reconstruction surgery on the horizon. Pathology reports came back and we learned that a THIRD mass was beginning to grow. Boy, did I feel good about my decision to cut it all out. Something we were not ready to hear from my oncologist was radiation and chemotherapy. I was pissed.
I didn't understand how I could only be Stage 1, had the mastectomy, and still have to go through nearly 14 rounds of chemo treatment. After more tests were completed on my tumors and finding the most amazing oncology team at Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, we were told I would only have to do 4 rounds of chemo and no radiation. What a relief!
My body handled chemotherapy well with little side effects. Queasy at times, hot flashes, and the loss of my upper singing register for a spell. I had been previously cast in another musical and went into rehearsal three weeks after my initial surgery. I needed theatre to get me through this real-life drama I was living and I was so grateful for that opportunity.
And of course, the hair loss. Honestly, I felt like a badass for the majority of the time. I learned how to wrap luxurious headscarves around my perfectly round dome or just rock the bald. There were stares and it got me down at times, but I kept smiling and shining my light! Once chemo was complete, I got a new pair of boobs! Chemotherapy had been the only thing on my brain that I had almost forgotten about my implant surgery. I had been at this for 6 months and I was exhausted by July. That recovery was definitely the hardest thing of all. Life after cancer now consists of a ten-year regimen of Tamoxifen, routine check-ups, and checking for lumps STILL.
I did something just for me a couple years post-op, too, that is my most spiritual life event to date. Back when I decided to remove my nipple the thought of a tattoo came to mind. I didn't want a nipple tattoo, though. I wanted something fun; just plain badass. Scars are beautiful and I was ok with mine... I just needed a different way to honor what I had gone through. I searched the web for mastectomy tattoos. I wanted to do something either simple and elegant or humorous. The idea I was able to brew up with my close friend and tattoo artist, George Munoz, was both.
The idea that made me smile and laugh the most was when I recalled the first Austin Powers movie. I always enjoyed the scene where the fembots came out to the tune of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”.. all blonde. All in silver lame. No one could resist their charm! And then all of sudden, a gun barrel shoots out from the bra and starts firing at their target. BAD. ASS. My tat is a combo of the gun barrels (smoke still rising from one), peonies, and a mandala formed by intricate dot work.
The reason this day was so spectacular is that I was able to get this 11 hour tattoo in front of thousands at a tattoo convention. Not only was it special for me, but it was also the very first mastectomy tattoo that my good friend, George, was creating. Both of our significant others were there to support and witness. It was magical. I was able to talk with complete strangers and a lot of women about my journey. In turn, they were sharing their story with me. Tattoos mean so much to individuals because more times than not, there's a meaningful story behind it. By sharing my experience in public, I was able to give other breast cancer survivors the confidence and nudge to get their own “badge of honor”.
It's amazing what news like cancer can do to really shift your perspective. Our time on this Earth is never promised. This quite daunting news was in reality a life course in how important slowing down and taking pause to listen to your body can be. It made me reevaluate the ways in which I show up for others, and more importantly, myself, every day. It really was an experience of reacting and turning inward like never before.
I had some rad chemo conversations with myself! I found clarity in my meditation practice. I danced by myself A LOT like I did when I was a kid; making up dances in the dining room. Cancer cracked me open in ways that I can't explain. To anyone who may take a similar journey, my hope for you is that you take this shitty news and turn it into the biggest torch; the brightest light that has always lied within you."
Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Norrell. We feel so honoured to share your story.
We have been enormously fortunate to feature some fabulous writers here on Valiant Lingerie's blog and today is no different.
Today's guest blog was written by wonderful Lindsey who wrote her first book, "The Little Things: a breast cancer memoir", last year while undergoing treatment for stage two breast cancer.
Lindsey Kennedy lives on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia with her husband John and two children Layla (13) and Lennox (10). She is a public speaker, civil celebrant, teacher and describes herself as a cancer kicker! Lindsey is the founder of #CheckYourselfTuesday, a catchphrase that many of her social media followers use to check their breasts shape and size looking for changes. She believes that our hands can be one of the best tools for early detection and wants to get both men and women to know their breast/pectoral area as well as their armpits and necks.
You can find Lindsey on Facebook: Lindsey Kennedy and on Instagram @lindseykennedylives
Her book is available on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle version.
Here's Lindsey's story:
"In 2004, my younger brother, Sean, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at nineteen years of age. While it devastated our family, he fought the battle of his life and won. Ten years later saw the breast cancer diagnosis of my only sister, Roisin Pelan, who was pregnant at the time with her first child. It came back as incurable Stage 3C early 2018. She called me urging me too, to get checked… it saved my life.
There is something to be said about lived experiences. I am a daughter, sister, mother and wife who, in 2018, had to muster all my positive thinking and strong mindset to battle a breast cancer battle. My debut book "The Little Things: a breast cancer memoir" was written during my recovery from a stage two diagnosis that took a little over two years to win. With the support of my family and friends, I found silver linings, pushed away negative thoughts and took control, when at times, control seemed lost. This book was not written to be self-indulgent, nor to seek attention, but to offer insight and awareness in and around the subject of breast cancer. After my own diagnosis and not finding the book I wanted, I felt compelled to write one.
I wrote this book to encourage and promote healthy, vital conversation in and around the topic of breast cancer. We are so lucky these days even younger women are open to this form of conversation. Years ago, many would consider this narrative as taboo or indeed, dirty. I’m here to get women to become more breast aware and check themselves regularly. In the end, my book, vitally, signifies hope rather than despondency.
I believe that having a good doctor is vital. Many people admit to me that they don’t change doctors, even if they don’t necessarily like them, or get the outcome they want, or if they disagree with what they suggest because "He has been my family doctor for years", or "They’ll do, I don’t go to the doctors often anyway". Loyalty is admirable, but not at the expense of your future health. It is really important to feel respected and understood by your G.P. You also need to be able to say the embarrassing (to some) words such as breasts, nipples and vagina, even if it means squirming in your seat. If this is not the case, my advice would be – you NEED to change doctors.
My doctor actioned diagnostic testing which revealed, unfortunately, that I was positive for cancer. The four centimetre mass was estrogen and progesterone positive, which meant that the estrogen and progesterone in my body were feeding the growth of the tumour. Damn, I got it just for being a woman! The invasive, ductal, stage two, grade one carcinoma had been hibernating in my right breast. Cancer just invited itself in, set up camp and wreaked havoc… that is, until it was caught.
Life’s rose-coloured glasses had splintered. Hearing the diagnosis was the start of my thinking that life just might not be the bed of roses I thought it was. Cancer was about to change the course of my life but I whispered to it; "Cancer, you picked the wrong lady!"
I endured, like many, a lumpectomy and had three sentinel nodes removed (only cancer in one), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a breast reduction, and a double mastectomy with D.I.E.P (using tissue form my stomach). Like that was not enough, a nasty, rare bacteria – only found in five countries in the world, decided to make me its host and started to "rot" away my chest and stomach leaving me looking rather like a patchwork quilt under my shirt and double figures when talking surgeries. Further to that, I had to have a skin graft and then start the journey of re-re-construction. I’m all healed now but am left with scars and stories to match.
I now realise that nothing could have stopped me from getting cancer, no matter how many vegetables I ate, no matter how much sugar I cut out, no matter how many squats or lunges I managed, no matter what I did. It did not respect me as a person. I also came to the stark realisation that without intervention, my own body would have killed me. What the hell was my flesh and blood doing working against me? In the end, I've learned that maybe everything I went through was trying to build me, not break me."
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, Lindsey. We're looking forward to reading your memoir!
We're really excited about today's wonderful guest blogger. Lucy is a very talented tattoo artist and she specialises in tattoos for women who have been affected by breast cancer.
We'll let Lucy introduce herself:
"Hi everyone. I'm Lucy Thompson. I'm a 30 year old single mama and a paramedical tattoo artist specialising in 3D and decorative tattoos for breast cancer survivors. I created a charity – the Nipple Innovation Project – to offer free 3D nipple tattoos and to raise the standards of restorative tattoo options following mastectomy surgery and to educate. I want to empower people with the restorative tattooing I offer and raise awareness and educate people on the importance of finding a suitably trained practitioner to seek this service from."
You can find Lucy on Instagram @lucy_nipple and you can learn more about the Nipple Innovation Project at @nippleinnovationproject and at on the website.
Lucy has written today about the story behind her passion of restorative tattooing and what inspired her to create the Nipple Innovation Project.
Take it away, Lucy!
"I have been tattooing since 2014 after I spent years and years trying to get an apprenticeship in a very male dominated industry. I’m also a single mum to an 11 year old boy, I come from a family of farmers and artists – a vast contrast in professions ;)
I have grown up admiring my grandparent’s artwork; they’re self-taught painters. I recall spending hours and hours sat with them being taught new painting and drawing skills.
Drawing and painting have always been my go-to activities throughout my life. When I left school I knew I wanted to do something creative but never knew what. When I got my first tattoo (which was underage at the age of 16), I remember being absolutely fascinated by the process and the artwork. It piqued my interest and sparked something in me which empowered me to seek training to become a tattoo artist!
Once I'd completed my apprenticeship it was obvious I had a natural flair for the arts which inspired me to open my own studio. By this point I had acquired lots of tattoos myself and I knew how much more confident and empowered I felt in my skin for the tattoos I'd had done. I wanted to help other people feel this good!!
I went on to open my own studio and I was asked by a couple of people to cover up some self harm scars on their bodies. They told me that other tattoo artists had said they couldn’t help them because the scars were too bad. This surprised me because I felt if anything people who have scars, a tattoo is possibly more important to them as scars can be a reminder of a past trauma, a constant reminder of a time in their life that they wanted to forget.
This set me off and inspired me to further my knowledge on scar tissue. It was at this time I decided to start the scar cover up project. I gave away one free tattoo a month to someone who couldn’t afford a cover up but so desperately needed one, I was in a position to be able to help heal others with beautiful artwork and I wanted to do what I could to make a difference.
A year or so into the scar cover up project I was approached by a client who asked me to do a nipple tattoo. This was the first ever time I’d heard of a ‘nipple tattoo’ and I had to do some research! They told me how they had had one done at the hospital and it had faded away.. I was shocked – the hospital?! Tattooing?! This prompted me to do some research and was quite shocked by what I found; hospital tattoos being done by medical professionals with minimal tattoo experience, the tattoos looked nothing like nipples and faded nearly every single time. I also found that a few semi-permanent nipple tattoos were being offered by semi-permanent make-up artists, these also faded away. I didn’t understand this at all. Why would anyone want a nipple that faded away?!
I knew my auntie had had breast cancer when I was younger, I asked my mum if she knew if my auntie had a hospital tattoo and she explained she didn’t know, she told me how it was a very difficult and challenging time for my auntie and she never openly spoke about it at the time or even since her mastectomy. It had been ten years at the time. I plucked up the courage to broach the subject with my auntie and she was very closed off, she told me her hospital tattoo experience was horrible and it had faded away, she doesn’t ever look at it and that was that.
It saddened me to hear this coming from my auntie, a brave survivor of breast cancer, a ten year warrior! For her to not want to talk about her victory of being ten years cancer free or to be able to even look at her body, truly pained me. I couldn’t understand it. Why were these incredible people having such important tattoos done that faded away?
This set me off on some internet searching. There HAD to be someone out there doing permanent nipple tattoos. I couldn’t find anyone in the UK so I took to Instagram and found a collective called the Areola Restorative Tattoo. They were a USA based collective of professional artists who specialised in realistic tattoos that had a 3D effect and more importantly were PERMANENT!! There and then I sent a message asking to know more. I spoke to Stacie-Rae who advised me to buy her book and when I received it in the post a few weeks later I read it from back to front that same day! I knew I had found my calling.
At that point I knew I had to do this training, more than anything. A class was being held in Texas, USA, and I couldn’t explain it but I just knew I had to be on that class.
With the support of my family I signed up and made travel arrangements, no going back! The training was in a beautiful cabin house in Texas and it was life changing, it truly was.
On the third day I did my first ever nipple tattoo for a lovely lady whose surgeon had told her due to her unilateral mastectomy she couldn’t have a tattoo that would match her opposite side. She was obviously devastated and so desperately wanted to feel ‘normal’ or ‘whole again’. No pressure then!
I managed to not only create her a new tattoo but we got a pretty good match to her natural whilst creating some visual balance at the same time. She was elated as was I! She was over the moon, she cried, I cried, it was a truly beautiful and life changing moment. I remember leaving the room shortly after to call my mum in tears, I was absolutely overwhelmed by pride, joy and happiness all at the same time. Just incredible.
I was lucky enough to be able to help my auntie with her permanent nipple tattoo. She was reluctant at first, she asked lots of questions and I showed and talked her through the process. She even spoke to a client of mine before deciding to trust me with this important part of her life that she had kind of almost put behind her and moved on from. I won’t go into too much detail but I can say it was one of the most special, memorable and intimate times of my life. It was such an honour to be able to help my auntie. I got to see her confidence grow in ways neither of us realised were possible. She even told me she had been speaking to some friends about how much it had helped her self esteem, this coming from the lady who wouldn’t even discuss her breast cancer experience before, is simply too incredible to put into words.
I knew I wanted to help other people feel empowered and feel that same feeling myself again, it was so special. I was excited to return to the UK and build on my experience! I offered out the next 20 tattoos for free and once I had built up my experience and portfolio I started to charge for my services. I found this a difficult thing to do as some of my clients couldn’t afford the tattoo, whilst it was reasonably priced for the difficulty, speciality and skill that went into creating it. I found clients couldn’t claim on their insurance either as I was just a tattoo artist. I was torn by wanting to be able to help everyone that needed this service but needing to take a wage too. This got me thinking, if only there was a pot of money to be able to pay for this challenging and specialist work so NO ONE had to miss out…
I had an idea of starting a charitable organisation that could pay for the tattoos, I called it The Nipple Innovation Project. The idea behind N.I.P was to provide funding to people who needed it. I didn’t feel money should be an issue when seeking this restorative and healing art work, I knew how important and life changing this work was and I wanted to be able to offer this out to anyone and everyone who needed a new nipple tattoo. Since we started in 2018 we have grown to a team of 6 verified artists throughout the UK and southern Ireland.
We now have an online directory on our website which you can easily navigate to find your nearest practitioner. Whilst I have people travel from all over to get tattooed by me – its not always practical for everyone so my goal is to grow this directory so we have a fully trained artist in every city throughout the UK. We became a registered charity in March 2020.
The long term goal is for us to be recognised by the NHS as a trusted service to be able to alleviate the pressure and costs to the NHS by undertaking this work whilst being funded by the Nipple Innovation Project and offering the service free of charge to everyone who needs it. This would free up surgeons and nurses time where it is often needed elsewhere, not spent tattooing. There was a huge waiting list for this service pre-covid I dread to think what it is now. Unfortunately the physical and mental importance of having this work done is massively underestimated by many medical professionals. The impact a failed nipple tattoo can have on someone’s self-esteem or mental health is really quite scary, we plan to change this. Its 2020: it's time to get it right the first time, every time.
This specialist service could then be left to experienced, dedicated and specialist artists who dedicate their time and career to perfecting this particular service. This work is extremely challenging and needs to be done by someone with previous professional tattooing experience, an artistic eye and knowledge of scar tissue. The skin is so so delicate and has been through so much trauma, that needs to be respected and understood. It is often overworked which causes more damage and can make corrective tattooing almost impossible, which is devastating and avoidable.
At the moment I'm working on growing the Nipple Innovation Project by training more dedicated artists who are interested in being a part of our movement. We're a charity run solely on donations, this helps us fund these treatments and offer them out for free. Covid has put a stop to our annual fundraiser so we are having to approach it differently this year but have found our waiting lists are increasing.
We will figure something out, we have a great team of support behind us and people who are genuinely wanting to back us and help us change the world – one nipple at a time ;)"
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Lucy. We've seen first hand what a huge difference nipple tattoos can make for people who have undergone breast surgery. We're blown away by your passion and the amazing work you do!
We have another wonderful guest blogger for you today. We're delighted to introduce you to the lovely Gabbie. Gabbie is a previvor who has been blogging about her experience of having a double mastectomy during a pandemic and living flat.
Gabbie sadly lost her mum to breast cancer; Gabbie was 19 and her mum was only 45. Years later, Gabbie underwent genetic testing and discovered she has a BRCA2 mutation. Gabbie has written so beautifully and movingly about her experiences in her blog thebooblesswonder.wordpress.com. We wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out. You can also find Gabbie on Instagram @thebooblesswonder.
Gabbie has written for us today about her decision not to have reconstruction surgery. Take it away, Gabbie:
"As soon as I heard I had a BRCA2 mutation, I knew I wanted a preventative double mastectomy. I had just turned 34 and was about to give birth to my second child. I couldn’t bear the thought of dying of breast cancer, like my mum had, and leaving behind my children. For me, the decision was easy: remove the breasts, reduce the risk.
But did I want breast reconstruction? That was trickier.
I have always felt fairly comfortable in my body. Fairly. Like most of us millennials who grew up in the nineties era of photoshopped models, I can’t help but carry around a mental list of my alleged physical flaws. Too short. Too white. Too hairy! Still, generally, I liked the way I look. Even after two kids and the permanent changes they had wrought on my body. Stretchmarks. Split abs. C-section scar. Wrinkly belly. After nearly two years of breastfeeding, my breasts in particular were unrecognisable. Deflated. But could I live without any breasts at all?
Right from the start, my gut instinct was that I wanted to be flat. But I also knew this decision was too important to make by instinct alone: I needed to consider every available option, and make an educated choice. I carried out a lot of research on different types of reconstruction. A lot. I read books, scientific articles, blogs of personal experiences. I joined multiple Facebook groups. I introduced myself, asked questions. Many, many generous women sent me pictures of their different surgical results, so that I could see what they looked like and consider whether I would want that for myself. For a while, my phone gallery was chock-a-block with boobs!
There seemed to be so many possibilities for reconstruction. Using my own tissue, using implants, using a combination of both. Saving my nipples or removing them. And so many potential complications! Rippling, rotation, necrosis. I was overwhelmed with information, fighting my way through it, trying to weigh everything up. But amid it all, I kept coming back to the idea of being flat. Turning it over in my mind, like a smooth stone. It was a calming idea, I found. As a surgery, it carried the least risk. Had the shortest recovery time. And I felt like it was the choice that would be truest to me.
When I met with the surgeon, I told her I was seriously leaning towards not reconstructing. Nevertheless, I asked her what she would suggest for me if she were to reconstruct. Not every reconstruction surgery is suitable for every woman, and I felt it would make my decision clearer if I knew which options were actually on the table.
The surgeon assessed me carefully, looking first at my breasts and then also at my body, for sites where she could potentially harvest tissue. As it turned out, my options for reconstruction were limited because of my body type – I am quite petite, with low body fat. I didn’t have enough tissue for DIEP-flap reconstruction, where part of your tummy is used to create new breasts. I could have an LD-flap reconstruction, where your shoulder tissue and muscle is used, but my surgeon said that without adding implants to boost the results, I would find them disappointing. My best option was probably to have a direct-to-implant reconstruction.
This pretty much decided me. I was certain I didn’t want implants. While I thought they looked incredible in other women’s reconstructions, I wasn’t open to the additional risks they posed for complications, however small those risks were. I am naturally very risk-averse. A born worrier. I knew that if I put implants into my body, I would be fretting about them for the rest of my life. And I just didn’t want to spend any more time fretting about my boobs. This mastectomy was supposed to be deducting worry from my life, not adding to it!
Ultimately, I decided to go with my gut and not reconstruct. It felt right. That’s not to say I wasn’t frightened about it – there was fear there, for sure. Not just about the surgery itself, but about afterwards. What I would look like. How people would react. How I would feel about myself. Would I still like the way I looked, after my breasts were gone? Would I still feel sexy? Would I get mistaken for a twelve-year-old boy?!
Then, with less than a month to go until my surgery, it was cancelled due to Covid-19. This was a major blow. I had really geared myself up psychologically, and to have the surgery whipped away when it had been in arm’s reach was so distressing. I was terrified it would be put on hold indefinitely, that I might develop breast cancer before preventative surgery started up again.
As it turned out, I was lucky. I live in an area that wasn’t hit hard by the pandemic, and my surgeon called me in to have my surgery the moment she could, in the first week of June. I’ll be honest: even on the journey into hospital, I was still worrying a little bit about whether I should have asked for a reconstruction. But the pandemic had crystallised things for me: the crucial thing was that the boobs, and the risk they posed to me, were gone.
I had to go alone to the hospital, due to strict Covid rules. I was fizzing with nerves, but kept myself calm by bantering with my nurse as I waited to be called to the operating theatre.
When I woke up, I was surprised by the lack of pain. I was groggy, but comfortable. It wasn’t long before I was able to get out of bed and get dressed to go home. As I removed my hospital gown, I decided to walk into the bathroom and look in the mirror. The moment I saw myself, I was so relieved. I knew I’d made the right decision for me. Being flat looked fine. I didn’t look freakish or boyish, or any of the things I had worried about. I just looked like myself.
I’ve been living flat for three months now. I’m having fun working out what clothes I can still wear (spoiler: most of them!) and sharing my journey on my Instagram account @thebooblesswonder to help other flatties and prospective flatties. I love being part of this club of brave, beautiful and individual women, all rocking their foobs or uniboob or no boobs at all."
Thank you so much for your wonderful blog, Gabbie, and for continuing to share your story and support other women within this community.
Today we feel incredibly fortunate to be able to introduce you to the wonderful Katie who you may also known as @kates_cleavage. Katie is an English teacher and writer from Hertfordshire in the UK. Last year she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer (with mets in her left hip) and now, in her own words, she is navigating stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 30.
We hope you enjoy Katie's blog as much as we have. We're sure you'll agree that it so beautifully expresses those complex emotions that we know will be (sadly) so familiar to so many women in this community.
The Big Bad: Recurrence and Life Beyond It
"I want to start by sharing an excerpt from the memoir I penned during my primary diagnosis at twenty-one. I wrote over 40,000 words during my treatment; it was a means of navigating the unknown, of making sense of the changes I was experiencing. The last thing I penned, before abandoning the project for living beyond cancer, is below:
‘Fear pulsates through my temples, pressing hard against my skull, urging my thoughts to enter my brain at a much faster pace than I would like. Here in the breast clinic waiting room at the University College London Macmillan Cancer centre I find myself repeating the same question repeatedly to myself and to my nervous father sitting next to me: what do I do if it has come back? I am wondering if my cells have begun again to fiendishly tangle together, like a pair of messy shoelaces, forming that suffocating mass inside my breast. Over the past year, I have experienced a multitude of phantom aches and pains. At one point, I went to my oncologist with a persistent tenderness in my ribs that an ultrasound deemed entirely fabricated by my fanciful imagination. On another occasion, I became entirely obsessed with a supposed swelling in my abdomen, which again did not prove to be a massive tumour crawling like poison ivy through my intestines. This is the nature of the fear that I am sentenced to live with for the rest of my life. The inconsolable fear of reoccurrence is enough to tempt you into putting an end to contemplations of a happy future. My fear is not especially unique, from reading other women’s blogs I have noted a serial trend in those entries made as soon as the wheels of remission start gaining motion. We ‘survivors’ make it our business to fixate on the probability of reaching the finishing line, of touching base at the house of complete remission.’
That was the last I wrote on cancer back then. You see, I wanted to step outside of that fear, relegate it in my mind. I suppose I mainly succeeded. For five years of remission I qualified to become a secondary English teacher, travelled, fell in and out of love, lived my life with a view to having a long future.
The Big Bad did return though, in 2016 with a new primary tumour in my left breast. I felt somewhat frustrated that all that fear had come back to justify itself. The new tumour was found in my yearly scan: an essential part of the monitoring process after any cancer diagnosis. I will wrap this chapter of my life up by saying that it was dealt with via a second mastectomy and little else medically speaking. Caught early, I did not have to endure any further treatment. Part of me wonders whether this was a mistake. However, it does not serve me now fixating on this. One again I moved on, but emotionally the fear had resurged with this second diagnosis before thirty.
In 2019, slap bang in a brand new year, I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. A dull hip ache sent me advocating for scans and investigations. This wasn’t easy, I had to have some very difficult phone calls to get the secretary to organise a bone scan. What’s more, it took four tests, including a bone biopsy, to determine that it was cancer. How do I feel now? Sometimes tired, sometimes scared, but mostly alive. Knowing that you will need to dedicate your life to healing, one day at a time, is overwhelming. But I like to think that it is not outside of the realm of possibility. Fear is life limiting, it poisons your present moment, and that is all we really have, cancer or no cancer. I am not immune to fear: it resurfaces with every three-month scan. Scanxiety takes hold but not when I do not let it. As I write this, my results are next week. Until then I will focus on what I have: a lively, life affirming classful of kids ready to learn with me, a safe home that I can return to a place of self-care, and a dream that keeps me alive. I will finish my book, but it won’t be about cancer. Not directly anyway."
Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful blog with us, Katie. We can't wait to read more of your writing in the future!
We're super excited about today's amazing guest blogger. We're delighted to introduce you to Danielle. Danielle was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer in 2018 and, only a week later, she discovered that the cancer had spread to her liver. Danielle says lives in Kent with her husband, Tim, and their adorable daughter, Joey. She says that she doesn't let her disease define her; she uses it as her motivation to live every day to the fullest with her wonderful family. You can find Danielle @raising_joey where she talks about all aspects of living with incurable cancer.
In addition to sharing her own story on social media, Danielle is also one of the co-founders of @metastatic_mammas; an incredible support network for parents living with stage IV cancers.
Here's Danielle's story:
"Since being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in November 2018 aged 29, life has taken some weird and wonderful turns as well as some pretty heart-breaking and terrifying ones too.
After picking myself up off the floor for the sake of my 6 month old daughter at the time, I decided that I wanted to be a part of the changing narrative that is life with terminal cancer.
When I first heard that my breast cancer was incurable I was in complete despair. I searched high and low on the internet for stories of survival from other women with the same diagnosis. However, I couldn't find any.
What I did find was a whole host of ladies (and men) with all different types of cancers and they were all LIVING well with their disease.
I realised that I had to make this journey of mine through life, albeit a completely different one from what I had planned, a story that my daughter would be proud of.
I stopped moping around and started taking action. I had 6 rounds of chemotherapy as well as 2 continuous targeted therapy drugs, Herceptin and Pertuzumab that I still have now every 3 weeks. Whilst on chemo I decided that I wanted to raise money for cancer research by running 10k for Race for Life. I managed to get a group of us together and collectively we raised £6000. From there a fire was lit in me to keep sharing my story and keep raising money as my own defence against cancer.
I decided to apply to be the subject of a campaign called 'The Worlds Most Precious Stone' and actually got the part. A film crew from Paris followed my hair loss journey and made a lock of my hair into a yellow 1.59carat diamond to symbolise hope, strength and light. A Parisian jewellery designer then created it into a diamond necklace that was on display in The Cancer Centre for Immunology in Southampton Hospital for breast cancer awareness month in October 2019. The film was shown on billboards in Times Square and online and managed to raise over £11,000. The diamond necklace was given to me to pass on to my daughter Joey.
Since then, I have had many opportunities to tell my story and raise even more funds for charity including on my own social media where I tell all sides of the story about life with incurable cancer; the good, the bad and the ugly. I proudly raised over £2,000 during the UK lockdown by running a marathon in my living room; it took 8 hours and over 66,000 steps but I wanted to show the world that even in times of complete uncertainty, anything is possible.
I receive messages every day from young women telling me they are now more aware of their own bodies and actually check for changes in their breasts which I am so pleased to see.
However, the best messages I receive are from newly diagnosed cancer patients who have found my story and felt some hope that there can be life; a beautiful, happy life, for them too despite living with this cruel disease.
For anyone diagnosed with cancer there are really scary times, extremely tough days and complete uncertainty about the future. But they are all of the things that are out of our control. All of the beauty we find in life after the diagnosis, all the drive to make a difference, all the love we have for the simplest things and the happiness we find just to be here; they are all choices. We cannot control cancer... but cancer cannot control us either."
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Danielle. You inspire us every day!
We have a new guest blogger today! We’re thrilled to introduce wonderful Joanne aka @reallyratherannoying
Like so many in the cancer community, Joanne has spent much of this year shielding and she has documented her feelings throughout – on the good days and the bad.
Joanne has written a wonderful blog for us today in which she explains what it is like living with cancer in a time of coronavirus and what that has meant for her.
Here's Joanne's story:
"I swear a lot these days. I didn’t used to but now all the time in my head and too often in my speech. I grew up in a house where no one swore, the first time I said sh*t I was ten, I didn’t know what it meant I’d heard someone at school say it so I thought I’d try it out. My mum was horrified, I cried, I never swore again until just recently. I blame cancer……and coronavirus.
I’ve had cancer for three years, well probably longer but undetected. Secondary or metastatic breast cancer, that’s were the cancer has spread from the breast to other parts of the body. Mine is in my bones and stomach lining. Because of the nature of my cancer I’m able to take a reasonably new drug called Palbociclib. I’m lucky it’s worked for three years with relatively few side effects and I’ve led a relatively normal life. I’ve seen my two children graduate and hopefully next year my step daughter, I’ve got married, traveled to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. I’d probably have been to the USA too if they didn’t have that overly weird president. Life was, well not great let’s face it who wants incurable cancer but it was as good as I could make it.
Then something happened in China that turned mine and, too be fair, the whole worlds’ lives upside down. Coronavirus, Covid-19, call it what you will it’s a damn nuisance. In April as the whole country was in lockdown I sat by the phone nervously waiting for the results of my latest CT scan. Would the cancer still be stable? I’d already outsmarted the average time on Palbociclib so every three months the wait for results became increasingly anxious. The call came in, still stable BUT….It was a big but, the breast team, having reviewed my medication and general health in the wake of the global pandemic, decided that I should take a three month break from the medication. They had weighed up the odds and given my propensity to low white blood cells agreed that the risk of my cancer growing was less then the risk of my catching and recovering from coronavirus. I was devastated and extremely nervous, feeling I was being asked to put my three years of stability and hope at risk but what could I do?
Reluctantly I agreed, treatment was paused and I started on a new regime of taking Letrozole, my other cancer drug, alone and just hoping I would stay safe. Two weeks later my worst fears were realised as I started to get severe pains in my right hip and pelvis. Over the next couple of days the pains became increasingly bad, I could no longer sit comfortably or indeed walk. I rang the Christie hotline and minutes later was taken by ambulance to my local A&E, not exactly were you would choose to go in a global pandemic with a compromised immune system. I was admitted onto a ward for investigation without a coronavirus test, that didn’t seem right but when I queried it I was told by the ward nurses if I didn’t get one in A&E they wouldn’t be giving me one - WOW. I just hoped no one else on the ward had it. For two days I had scans and X-rays , checking for spinal compression or broken bones but nothing appeared out of the ordinary, apart from the pain which was managed to a reasonable level by my old friend morphine. With no visitors allowed the only possibility of banter was with the nurses, too busy chatting about tik tok, the patients, too old to hear me or the people delivering the food, who claimed tuna bake was suitable for vegetarians. Thank goodness I’d had the foresight to pack my kindle and phone charger.
The tests revealed nothing untoward so I was released back home with a bottle of morphine and absolutely no idea where that pain had come from. For days nothing changed still sore, couldn’t walk properly, couldn’t sleep and the morphine made me so miserable I was swapped onto a synthetic alternative. I madly researched what it could be. Then I read stories of ladies having terrible joint pain on Letrozole, could this be the cause of my issue? Was the Palbociclib masking these unwanted side effects. Turns out there are a number of different brands of Letrozole, ranging from the current ones I was taking at £2 a packet to the crème de la crème at £90. My wonderful GP listened to my reasoning and agreed to prescribe the crème de la crème and the results were surprising, over the next few days the pain subsided walking became easier, all be it at first with a stick and I started to sleep. I had another CT scan and waited anxiously for the results, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. The results came via phone call, I was still stable, I could barely believe it and better still could start back on my Palbociclib and even better I could slowly come out of shielding and start to meet with friends and family I’d not seen for four months. Life was great for sixteen hours. Then my daughter texted me, the virus cases in Greater Manchester were rising to a dangerous level we were being told to stop socialising in our homes and even our gardens. What the hell? I’d not even got to that yet, the news was devastating, hopes of slow return to the ‘new normal’ dashed. You could not make this year up.
But as I sit here today on a chilly bank holiday weekend we have been released from these extra restrictions and by Wednesday will able to have friends round again albeit under the social distance rules. I’ve survived those horrible three months, but who knows at what long term cost to my health? Many who’s cancer treatment was paused or diagnosis delayed face an uncertain future, many cancer patients will die needlessly as a result of the restrictions of the pandemic. As we all move towards our new normal let’s not forget those who have suffered and continue to do so.
Follow me on Instagram @reallyratherannoying because let’s face it that’s what life with cancer is."
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, Joanne. We suspect Joanne’s words will seem familiar to so many and we hope you find her blog as powerful as we did. We know that this year has been very difficult for so many but Joanne has so beautifully expressed the fear and uncertainty of so many brave people in this cancer community.
Hello everyone! Please extend a warm welcome to our latest guest blogger.
Gina has written a wonderfully insightful blog for us today about her experiences of having a single mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and the resources she found helpful in reaching decisions about what was right for her.
Here's Gina's story:
"My name is Gina Davidson, I'm 53 and I live in Northumberland. I moved north 23 years ago; a decision my husband and I made when we were expecting our first child as his family are based up here. I love the culture, the beautiful coast line, the ruggedness of the wide open spaces and it is the least densely populated county in the country - which suits me just fine!
My husband and I have 4 children; now aged 23, 22, 20 and 19. They are my world and give me a reason to stay positive.
I work full time for the local authority, ensuring children and young people maximise their opportunities for education. I am currently not working though as I am recovering from surgery - I have had my partially reconstructed breast removed and I have chosen to remain flat.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2019 and had a single mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I hated the way it looked, the way it felt and the way it made me feel.
At the time of diagnosis, all the options for reconstruction were laid out for me and no discussion was had about the possibility that I may choose to be flat - who would choose that when surgery has come such a long way?
But I knew, as soon as I came round from the anaesthetic, that I had made the wrong decision.
After many many meetings with my surgeon and health psychologist - they finally agreed that to remove it was best for ME. I was due to have this surgery in May but because of COVID 19 it was postponed.
It was then that I started researching and looking for others experiences and opinions. Whilst I know many women who have been through breast cancer, most had had a lumpectomy or had had reconstruction surgery ( along with all the other stuff ie radiotherapy and chemotherapy) and were completely happy with the results of their surgery. But, although these women were wonderfully supportive, I didn't feel that I knew anyone who was struggling in quite the same way as me. I took to social media and found many supportive communities out there and yes it was ok to feel the things I was feeling and it was ok to choose to be flat!
@FlatFriendsUK is an amazing group that wholly supports women without reconstruction with lots of lovely ladies sharing experiences and anecdotes so that women can come together to talk about the practical and emotional issues related to living flat. I heard from another group about 'in your pocket' - a phrase that signifies empathy - I absolutely love that phrase.
@thetittygritty, who fronts the #changeandcheck campaign, has many supportive followers and she hosts live discussions about all sorts of cancer related issues in an extremely safe environment with lots of humour thrown in for good measure.
Through these communities, I have really improved my awareness and knowledge of what was happening to my body and knowing there were others out there like me boosted my confidence to start doing guest blogs and I was even interviewed for the Lorraine show (my 30 minute interview was cut down to just 30 seconds haha!)
Another community that has really been inspirational to me is @MastectomyNetwork founded by @mastectomyjay. Her 'Become Visible' campaign that ran in October for Breast Cancer Awareness month, was devoted to increase the awareness of ladies with a mastectomy and to give us a voice and a platform to share our experiences. It has been fascinating to learn, through this community, of the stigmas we live with imposed on us by society; we should look a certain way as women.
The Become Visible campaign involved courageous women sharing photos of their scars on social media. No names or faces were used. Unbelievably, some of these were taken down as they went against 'community guidelines' on nudity and sexual activity.
These images are not sexual at all - they are powerful and inspiring. I featured in one one of them - it was incredibly liberating - no one knows what is going on under our clothes but these photos made us visible.
For the first time in over 18 months, I am beginning to learn to love me again - to feel confident and sexy. With just 1 boob. Today I was at the hospital yet again to get my foob. I don't feel I need to wear it as I am quite happy as I am but I feel I need the option in certain situations, so that others don't feel awkward around me. Some don't understand that when I have elected to be flat, why do I want a prosthesis - I cannot explain but I just do.
I have posted a lot on social media sites about my journey, which after today, I feel is finally coming to the end ( disregarding horrible hormone therapy for ........... years and 6 monthly check ups with my oncologist ). Some have commented on my posts or sent me private messages and if just 1 person is helped through this then my experience will be a slightly more positive one. I will continue to fund raise for Breast Cancer Now and will constantly shout about #changeandcheck.
Cancer no longer defines me like it did, but I will always be a BC survivor and now I wear my scars with pride - a badge of honour so to speak - a statement to myself that I can overcome and thrive. I will continue to support others by making sure women feel supported and have a voice to make decisions about their treatment that can be life changing.
As an end to this, this is the 3rd guest blog I have written ( the others can be read on my Instagram page: @ginalouisedavidson). This one is very different to my last ones as I am in a very differnt place both mentally and physically right now - thanks to the support of family, friends and the whole BC community. No one is alone x"
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, Gina, and for sharing these incredible resources which have been (and continue to be) so valuable to so many.
Hello everyone and welcome to our next wonderful guest blog!
Today’s blog is written by the lovely Casey.
Casey is 33 years old and BRCA1+. She had a prophylactic total hysterectomy on 26th May 2020 and a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction on 30th June 2020.
Casey’s mission is to help normalise flat closure among previvors and young women, as well as to inspire the flat-chested among us with outfit ideas as she “shops her closet” post-op.
Casey has always loved fashion and clothes and having no boobs has presented a fun new challenge for her as she gets dressed each day.
Casey says that she is a beach girl through and through. She lives with her husband and three kids in St. Petersburg, FL, right near the Gulf of Mexico.She loves paddleboarding, reading NYT bestsellers, making art (collage mostly), and drinking iced coffee on road trips with her family.
Casey would love to connect with you all on Instagram @theflattiecloset!
Here’s Casey’s story in her own words:
“I have a hard time wearing high heels because I feel like I’m lying about my height. I’ve only ever dyed my hair with semi-permanent dye because I’m happy living with my natural hair color. I never liked the idea of push-up bras because they felt a little dishonest. Heck, I didn’t even get french tips for my wedding (all the rage when I got married) because I rarely painted my nails and I wanted to present myself accurately.
Now that I write that all out, I’m realizing how completely neurotic I sound. But stick with me! The point of these bizarre confessions is this: I like feeling like the person that I was made to be. Celebrating my unique genetic makeup. Being the one and only Casey. Being my true self (cue the Disney ballad).
So: when a BRCA1 gene mutation reared its ugly head and I needed to do something about it, I wanted to simply morph into a new, natural version of me: a girl who was losing her boobs in an effort to prevent cancer, and gaining some pretty badass scars in the process. In fact, I barely even gave implants the time of day. I knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to go flat and stay flat. That might sound pretty crazy to most women my age, and I get it. I basically turned down a boob job. And believe me, after breastfeeding three babies, my chest could have used the revitalization. But in the end, I had to be true to who I am, and that meant opting out of further reconstructive surgery. Just scars, just flat, just my skin on my ribs.
I knew that women went flat – I’d seen information online that indicated it was an option post-mastectomy. But when I went to search the all-knowing Google, all I found was very limited information, some clinical photos of scars, and a few forum accounts of breast cancer survivors who had gone flat. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I fit in. I wasn’t a breast cancer survivor, I wasn’t middle-aged; I was “just” a previvor in her 30s.
I started to wonder if there really was anyone else out there like me. Did women actually just walk around and go to the grocery store flat? Were they self-conscious at all? Would I regret my decision? Would it be good to get a prosthesis? How would clothes fit? Could I still wear what was in my closet? What did not having breasts feel like? How would my brain process not having boobs anymore?
The questions kept coming. But my biggest question was: where were the flatties? Specifically, where were the previvor flatties?
I turned to Instagram, and began searching all kinds of flat hashtags. Once I’d waded through the photos posted by owners of Flat-Coated Retrievers (yeah, the main “flattie” hashtag is co-opted by dogs – face palm), I started to get somewhere. I found a small army of amazing women to follow, but I also began to learn that flat closure after a mastectomy was an option that had been fought for for years by a crusade of brave individuals. This group of women had been campaigning, dealing with botched surgeries, picketing for their rights, and advocating for all women to get the surgery results they desired. Going flat was a bigger deal than I initially realized – it didn’t used to be such a simple, easy decision to make.
It’s because of these women that my breast surgeon didn’t flinch when I asked her for a flat closure. She was aware because this group of women had fought to make doctors like her aware, and for that I am so very grateful. Not only did I find the flatties, but I found that those flatties were beautiful and badass.
I’m now proud to join the crew as a newbie, adding my voice to the mix, sharing my love of fashion, and writing honestly about life as a flat previvor. I am still slowly trying to find more women who are previvors like me who have chosen to go flat – if you are one, give me a shout! We seem to be few and far between, and that’s one of the main reasons I started my Instagram account – I want to connect with you!
I want to be able to talk about what life looks like for those of us who haven’t fought cancer, but still need to fight genetic mutations. I want to showcase what clothes look like on a flat chest, and encourage women considering a flat closure that being fashionable is still an option. I want flatties and potential flatties to know that life can be good even without lady parts; that we are free to be ourselves, no matter what form that takes.
And I especially want previvor flatties to know that their stories are valid and important, and they are not alone.”
Thank you so much, Casey. We love Casey’s mission to connect with and support other previvor flatties.
Like Casey, we are so passionate about doing what we can to ensure that you feel empowered and confident and that no woman in this community feels isolated and alone.
Today we have the honour of introducing you to Ivania who has written a moving blog for us about her experiences following her diagnosis of breast cancer fourteen years ago.
Following her diagnosis, Ivania felt the loneliness that will be very familiar to so many of us as she didn’t know of anyone her age who was going through (or had gone through) breast cancer treatment.
Ivania took matters into her own hands five years ago and started a blog to document her experiences. She called her blog “Borrongonga” which is what her dad called her when she was a little girl.
Ivania told us that she wanted to write about her experiences, educate people about the challenges faced by young women diagnosed with this disease, and also help other women have a successful voyage during breast cancer treatment. We think this will strike a chord with many of you who are doing the same thing and are finding support and companionship in the community of amazing women out there on social media.
You can find Ivania on Instagram @borrongonga.
Here’s what Ivania has written for us today:
“Fourteen years ago, my life was apparently “perfect”. I was married to a nice guy, we had good health, we made a good living together, we traveled often, and we had good friends.
In 2006, we felt we were ready to start a family, I had a miscarriage in March and that September I received the terrible news that I had breast cancer.
There isn’t any required breast cancer screening for women under 40 in the United States. I was not one to do self-examinations and I still don’t; but for some strange reason, I found the lump myself.
I was 31 when I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. I did not know anything about cancer, at least anything good. I was not prepared to be sick. I was not ready to give up. I wanted to fight, but at that moment I did not think it was slightly conceivable to win any battle. I was already defeated because I did not know anything. I was blind.
Not knowing is perhaps your biggest enemy.
I think about the day when I first found out about my diagnosis and the feelings of distress, panic, anxiety, shock, and stress immediately come back. I realized that the wrong group of doctors were handling my case, so I decided to contact a good friend who worked at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, MA. He pointed me in the right direction and recommended an Oncology surgeon right there at MGH.
It was 6:00pm on a Friday when I got to the hospital. All the staff were gone, but my surgeon was waiting for me. I spent about an hour with her and learned a lot about breast cancer: What it is, where it is located, how it progresses, etc.
She helped me understand everything with drawings and gave the most sincere and hopeful words. I loved her. I left the hospital feeling a tad better. I can’t say that I was super positive or optimistic, but at least I understood my disease and my options. I was educated.
The following week, I was scheduled to get an MRI to know the exact location of the tumor. After that, I had a date for surgery. My doctor successfully removed the tumor and 19 lymph nodes.
That was the easy part, then the hard work began.
After slightly recovering from surgery, I met with an oncologist – also at MGH. We discussed what my treatment was going to be like for the next 6 years. This included chemotherapy, Herceptin, radiation therapy and 5 years on a drug called Tamoxifen.
If you are at your prime for childbearing, and your treatment includes chemotherapy and Tamoxifen, then you should/must see a fertility doctor before starting chemotherapy.
I met with a fertility doctor, who had nothing to do with my treatment, and gave me the spiel about the hypothetical opportunity to become a mom through in vitro fertilization… In six years!
No, thank you.
How could I think about being a mom when my own life was at stake?
At that time, it was my personal decision to not pursue fertility treatments and to start chemotherapy ASAP. Being a mom, a healthy one, could wait.
I started chemotherapy as planned on a Monday morning. I showed up bright and early to my first treatment. At MGH a nurse is appointed to you and will be your chaperone throughout your treatment. The drill is pretty much the same every time – weight check, blood work, then treatment.
I guess a dreaded part of going through chemotherapy for many women is losing their hair. It is pretty easy to understand why. Hair is a sign of femininity. Losing your hair makes you look vulnerable and easy to label as someone who is sick.
Buying a wig to regain what you’ve lost is not a simple, straightforward solution – it’s not the same as the real thing. I got fitted for a synthetic wig, which I only wore once. Instead I wore scarves, which I found to be very easy and versatile. I had a few regular scarves that I just tied around my head, but my personal favorite was one that I could tie on top.
I lost my hair a few days after my second treatment. Knowing I would lose it, I decided to cut it off beforehand. I thought it would make seeing it fall out be less challenging.
Honestly, losing my hair did not faze me. I was more concerned about reaching a chemically induced menopause at 32.
My periods did stop after my second treatment. My doctors were not sure if they were ever going to come back. For the first time in my life, I wanted to get my period. I started to despair about the idea of ever having a biological family.
Getting breast cancer at 31 brought my world to a crashing halt and forced me to reevaluate my husband, my job, my life and what I wanted out of it.
I understood that I deserved to be with someone who shared my joie de vivre, my craziness, my laughter and my essence. I also learned that life is too short and that my wish was to share, in an unconditional way, a life project with a person with whom I could be myself with – a partner, not a boss.
Sometimes I can’t help but I wonder what went wrong in my marriage and if divorcing was inevitable, or if breast cancer had something to do with it. Interestingly enough, I think going through that ordeal made me understand that we were not right for each other. Breast cancer brought us together and distanced us at the same time.
My treatment lasted a year and a half, and that’s when we were the strongest as a couple. After treatment, I realized that we did not see life the same way. I wanted to find a way to make us strong as a couple again. I knew he wanted a family; but starting a biological one was not going to be an option for a while.
It was a very difficult time and a challenging situation, but probably the most convincing thing for me was to think: “I didn’t survive to have an existence where I don’t feel like I am living at all.” It took me two years to make a final decision about my marriage, but today I have no regrets about it.
After my divorce in 2010, I promised myself that I would always think about myself first. This is how my pursuit of happiness began. Unfortunately, I ran into situations where I didn’t make the best decisions.
I was meeting new people, but not the type of men I wanted to be with long term. Even though I was very busy at work, that was not enough distraction to keep my mind occupied. Most importantly, I felt very lonely and loneliness can be your worst counselor at times.⠀⠀⠀
I was seeing someone for about 2 years and one day I found out I was pregnant. Having gratitude for not feeling lonely and being with someone, made me think I was happy enough and in love with him. All of that and the pregnancy hormones made me believe that we could play house together.
And once again, I was wrong.
Today, fourteen years later, I don’t have my life figured out by any means; but all of this self-discovery led me to become a mom, the most rewarding experience of my life. I did go through a bad time, but I became a mom at the ‘right’ time. My six-year old son has brought so much joy to my life and has given me the most important reason to live.
He is the engine that keeps me alive. Thanks to him, I have a valid justification to strive for better things, avoid harmful situations, stay fit and live a healthy lifestyle.
I never thought about writing about my personal experience with breast cancer, but I thought that my story could raise awareness and help other young women going through the same thing I went through in 2006.
This is how “Borrongonga” – my personal blog – was born about 5 years ago, after a casual conversation during lunch with a friend. It is a blog that narrates my experience going through breast cancer, my recovery, my divorce, and becoming a mom 8 years after cancer.
Since I moved back to Colombia, after living in the United States for 15 years, writing became a cathartic exercise for me. So now I make it a habit to write about valuable life lessons, survivorship, motherhood, relationships, marriage, love, and the life I dream of.
2018 was a wonderful year for me because I gained closure to a lot of chapters in my life. I started working again, I finally forgave myself for my past decisions, I healed, I established an order of priorities in my life, and I accepted my single mom status.
Even though I haven’t been in a relationship for a while, I feel I’ve healed. I am ready to be in one with a person who truly loves and values me and, most importantly, respects who I am.
I am at my best moment as a woman, because I’ve learned to love myself, and am capable of having better control of my feelings and emotions. Even though I am still working on finding that almost perfect balance – where I am in full control of my decisions in a rational and assertive way; I would not want to lose my essence – a combination between a woman with a modern front and an inner chaste persona, who doesn’t want to forget about herself.”
Thank you, Ivania, for sharing your story. It is always a pleasure to connect with like minded women who feel as strongly as we do about supporting each other and sharing our stories.
It’s time for another fabulous guest blog!
Today we are delighted to introduce Kari.
Kari describes herself as a farm girl from Minnesota who now lives in the countryside in Wisconsin with her husband, two kids (ages 12 and 15), and her dog, Lucky.
Kari is a high school chemistry teacher and will shortly be starting her 21st year of teaching! Kari enjoys lazy lake days at her family’s cabin, reading, and spending time with those she loves.
You can find Kari on Instagram at @kekuhl
Kari has written about her experiences last year following her diagnosis. Here is Kari’s story:
“Life sure can turn on a dime and test you in ways you never expected.
Last year, 2019, was the year I never expected to have thrown at me, at least not yet. I was 43 and school was out for the summer; I’m a high school chemistry teacher. I was looking forward to lake days and playing chaperone to my two kids, ages 11 and 14. Instead, I spent the majority of the summer sitting in doctors’ offices, having biopsies and other myriad of tests, and finally the chemo chair. Oh, and let’s not forget about the 3 night stint in the hospital for a pretty bad deep vein thrombosis in my left arm.
The whole ordeal actually started in February. My husband found a lump in my right breast (yes, you can go down THAT road with assumptions!). He’s a family medicine physician and was able to get me in to see my doctor that morning and then an appointment that afternoon for an ultrasound. Luckily, it turned out to be a cyst. Fast forward 4 months. It’s now the end of June and I made the five hour trek with the kids to my mom and dad’s house for the weekend to celebrate my dad finishing chemo for bladder cancer. On the way, I started to get very intense breast pain and swelling. This was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was painful to move my arm and I couldn’t sleep, I assumed it was due to the cyst getting larger and having my period. A few days later, the pain and swelling began to subside, but I decided to have it checked out anyway, thinking I would need to get the cyst aspirated. My annual mammogram was due in a month, but I really didn’t want to wait. It’s a good thing I didn’t.
This time, as I sat in the waiting room of the Breast Center, I was much less anxious. After all, in my mind I already knew what it was. It turned out I was wrong. The cyst was indeed much larger and needed to be aspirated, but next to it was another mass that hadn’t been there in February, and it was not another cyst.
Two weeks later, I had 8mL of fluid drained from the cyst and the other mass biopsied. The next eight days were excruciating. I got the phone call the following day as I was in parking lot of our grocery store. I had triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma. I had zero risk factors but somehow cancer chose me.
Things happened so quickly I couldn’t breathe. It was like I was in a dream. I had a consult with a surgeon, a BRCA test (which was negative), an MRI, another biopsy for another mass that showed up on the MRI, my port-a-cath placed, a consult with oncology, a PET scan, and finally my first chemotherapy. Oh, I also had to tell my work I would not be returning to school that fall to teach.
Being an easygoing person, I had no idea what anxiety was until then. It was almost debilitating. Once I started chemo, it subsided some because I was actively doing something, but all I could think about was cancer. What if I died? How would my kids survive that? How would it affect my husband? What about my parents? I couldn’t sleep, had a panic attack while driving, and was so weak from the stress.
Miraculously, the chemo did not make me sick at all. That was about the only thing that seemed to be a bright spot. The anxiety kind of came to a head in August when I was in the hospital with a DVT, a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot), which was induced by my port. I spent 3 days in ICU being treated, and when they moved me to a regular medical floor, I finally broke down from the stress and anxiety when a nurse from interventional radiology happened to stop in to check on me. The poor guy. He had to listen to my blubbering and crying for 45 minutes. The next day I was finally on-board with taking something to help me out.
After this, things improved. I wasn’t sick from chemo, but I was horribly fatigued until I finished the first course (8 weeks of Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide). Once I started 10 weeks of taxol I bounced back and was able to go back to teaching 4 days a week, with chemo every Friday. I made it my mission to teach my students about how I was navigating cancer and how the treatments worked. The teacher became the student on Fridays, and then became the teacher again on Monday.
My hope is that my experience can show my students that when they are thrust into the cancer world at some point, either for themselves or a loved one, they’ll know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I also learned a few things along the way that were not related to science. I found I had a far greater support system than I could’ve imagined.
My good friend, Tami, was there every day. She set up a Relay for Life team in my honor and also set up a meal train. She was with me for my PET scan and my first chemo. She came over when I couldn’t stand to be alone.
My kids, despite their own fears, were tough and resilient. My husband was steadfast, a calming voice of reason, and beyond supportive.
My dad, who had just gone through his own bout with cancer, made so many trips to be my babysitter I lost count. He was who I called when I needed someone to tell me I was thinking crazy thoughts.
I also learned that I’m a tough cookie and a positive outlook makes all the difference. I may not be able to change my circumstances, but I sure can choose how I react to them. It’s also ok to ask for help, both from others and from anti-anxiety meds. That was a tough pill to swallow.
Now it’s 2020 and a year later. I endured 20 weeks of chemo, a single mastectomy with no reconstruction, the removal of three lymph nodes (all of which were negative for cancer), and two other stints in the hospital for a DVT. Yes, two. I got another one five days after surgery. But here I am with hair growing back and, despite COVID, the excitement of a new school year because this year I get to go back on day one.
Cancer sucks. It ruled my thoughts and emotions for over six months. But it’s not getting any more of my energy.”
Thank you, Kari, for talking so openly about everything you have been through. We agree with you; you’re one tough cookie!