I am STILL ME
KINTSUGI is the Japanese art of REPAIRING broken pottery with gold and lacquer. It is the PHILOSOPHY that SOMETHING BROKEN
can be re-made into SOMETHING even MORE BEAUTIFUL,
even MORE RESILIENT
It is a SYMBOL of FRAGILITY, STRENGTH and BEAUTY
Image: Jose G. Cano
This afternoon is an anniversary for me. It is hard to play back the memory and, I realise as I am typing, there is no smile on my face. Instead there are tears and reaching for tissues and feeling that all-too-familiar ache constricting my chest – the ‘heart-sore’ ache.
It is bittersweet, this memory. It is an important one, though; a memory of an event that literally scared me forever – not just physically, but emotionally. Profoundly so. But I'm resolutely turning up the corners of my mouth, because this event saved my life.
As I write this, it’s three years, literally to the hour, when I was hopping up onto the hospital surgical table to undergo a mastectomy; surgery which would leave one side of my chest as flat as a lad who’s yet to hone his pectoral muscles.
In cutting away my breast, my expert surgeon and her registrar deftly removed a sizeable invasive lobular tumour – breast cancer.
Almost 18 months later, with my hair long grown back after chemotherapy treatment, my scar well and truly healed, I elected to have my other breast removed. No cancer was found in it, but taking it away meant I could keep at bay an enormous amount of anxiety about breast cancer coming back to have another go at me. If cancer is going to get me, I decided, it won’t be breast cancer.
More than a few women have asked me:
“So, what is it like to have no breasts, to be completely flat?”
And they all remark on how wonderful it must be to not need to wear a bra and to be able to run and exercise, unencumbered by those confounded appendages! Well, yes – they’re right. It is indeed so much easier from day to day. (I am immensely grateful breast cancer did not strike when, during my 30s, I was having my children, breast-feeding each of them for more than a year).
My sense of feeling physically desirable, feminine, alluring and down-right irresistible in the latest pretty lingerie is as dented as my chest, but that’s another matter entirely. (I gave my pretty bras to a girlfriend who fitted them perfectly).
Recently, one woman reacted to seeing my honking great scar, which stretches in a slight, gradually-rising line from one armpit to the other, with: “Wow! They don’t do ‘straight,’ do they?”
I immediately regretted allowing her to see it. When I got home, I peeled off my shirt and stood in front of the mirror.
“It’s not that obvious, is it?” I asked myself out loud. “There are no dips and squiggles, right? It’s almost perfectly straight,” I reassured myself.
It irks me that her comment irked me; that it still irks me – because surgery saved my life. That is what’s important. I AM STILL ME!
This scar is the medal I wear proudly on my chest – the medal that shouts:
“Victoria, 1 – Cancer, 0.”
To anyone who has fought the cancer battle or if you’re in the middle of waging that war right now, say after me: “I am STILL ME!” No matter what scars your body bears, no matter how many stitches it took to put you back together, no matter how much of your beautiful body you had to let go in order to rid it of cancer, YOU are STILL YOU!
This empowering mantra – “Still Me” – was given to me by a survivor of thyroid cancer.
Helen Nott is a physiotherapist who works in the field of cancer rehabilitation, helping men and women to regain normal use of their bodies ‘injured’ by cancer treatment surgery, to manage and minimise the side-effects and take positive steps for their future well-being.
“As a cancer survivor and as a wife and mother of four incredible young women, I understand the turmoil a cancer diagnosis brings,” Helen says. “I love the concept behind the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which broken pottery and porcelain is repaired with a lacquer mixed with gold.
“Instead of considering the object to be flawed, its repairs are highlighted and displayed with pride.
“So too with our cancer experiences, our scars are a part of our unique stories. Our wounds have helped us to grow and develop resilience.”
Helen has worked under the banner of the PINC and STEEL Cancer Rehabilitation Trust since 2009. Through this work, she strives to give cancer patients hope, strength and courage. Her latest fund-raising project is ‘STILL ME’ – an art-photography exhibition for which the models are cancer patients and cancer survivors.
Talented photographer Jose Gay Cano has generously given his time and expertise behind the lens to capture beautiful images of women who have faced a cancer diagnosis and fought the cancer battle. Sadly, not all of them have beaten it.
Next month, the STILL ME art exhibition will open for just three days. Later in the year (just in time for Christmas) a very beautiful STILL ME book of Jose’s photographs will be published. I have been given the honour of donning my journalist’s cap to write the words to go with these truly stunning images.
So, if you live in my fair city - Nelson, New Zealand – or if you’ll be visiting Nelson next month, please consider supporting this wonderful project.
As Helen says: “The women in this project are mothers, daughters, sisters, partners and friends. Cancer can affect us regardless of our age, gender, ethnicity and lifestyle. My goal is to highlight the need for specialised cancer rehabilitation services and to fund men and women in Nelson to access these services.”
STILL ME – exhibition at The Granary at Founders Park, Atawhai Drive, Nelson.
Gala Opening - 7pm Thursday, September 26.
Exhibition open daily until Saturday afternoon, September 28th
TICKETS: Activate Physiotherapy - (03) 548 - 2622
GALA Opening Night tickets, $69
Entry to the exhibition by koha (donation) at the door.
*** Just 12 weeks ago, Jose photographed Wendy Bee for the 'Still Me' project.
She loved being a part of the project and her images are truly beautiful - Jose certainly captured the sparkle in her eyes; her vitality.
This afternoon (August 14) I attended Wendy's farewell (she did not want it to be called her funeral) and listened to the wonderful stories and memories shared with us by her family and closest friends. She was 67 - a wife, mother, grandmother and much-loved friend to many. Rest in peace, Wendy.
Wendy's images will be a part of the Still Me Exhibition. Our thoughts are with her husband Roger and family.