It doesn’t get any easier. Going to a cancer hospital to have a yearly mammogram. Waiting for results. Speaking to an oncologist. Talk of further testing. It’s funny how past memories and feelings of fear and trepidation come flooding back, invading every cell of your body so that part of you is part of the conversation and part of you is somewhere else altogether.
Trauma moves me. Jerks the words out of my consciousness. Bubbles poetry to the surface. Tears the scab off a wound that, if dug, would descend to the pit of my core if I let it.
I breathe in, steady myself and look around. Distraction is my best bet at self-composure.
It’s big business, cancer. A revolving door of cellular mutation. So many heads like shorn sheep. The difference I see now in my second successive visit to an Australian hospital since returning home is a sexy new approach to what is commonly regarded as a dreaded disease. Headbands, turbans, caps, beanies. For those who belong to the sisterhood, vulnerability has taken on a new spectrum of sassiness. The quarter boob, half boob or no boob at all no longer makes you a pariah, depending on your circle of influence of course.
I’m travelling in France with my husband at the moment, having put a lid on those raw emotions that made me temporarily come unstuck 4 months ago (until the next appointment anyway). Cancer can’t be eluded though. In the city of Lille, in a prominent city square, I come across a goddess statue, symbolic of France’s resistance against the Austrians in 1792. It sits atop a giant column and presents an impressive photo opportunity. What stands out though is her garish pink bra, apparently in support of Octobre Rose, France’s Pink October dedicated to breast cancer awareness.
And, on le Pont Iéna, the main bridge leading to the Eiffel Tower, a series of large, stylised photos of women who’ve been subject to breast cancer – alone, with family, mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, partners. A celebration of redefined bodies, unashamedly naked and beautiful in their resilience.
It wasn’t what I was there to see in this city of spectacular history. But it did bring home to me that I’m simply one of many. And that here cancer, or rather breast cancer, was being rewritten as a story of promise, with a new kind of allure and, of course, as an inspiration to others. I could see that not everyone was comfortable with such direct confrontation. But maybe that was the whole point, to bring it the fore, out in the open and make the scars and body loss as much a part of our vernacular as the traditional western body image we tend to covet.
After all, rather than lament the “dodged bullet,” we need to champion a new direction, one that empowers and builds anew la puissance féminine (female strength). It’s essentially the key to moving forward for so many of us now.