Thursday, 14 April 2016

Cancer gave me a voice ~ Kirsty

At 33 years old, having to deal with a potentially fatal dose of breast cancer was not part of my ‘plan’.

I had met a lovely man and we were planning our wedding. The diagnosis was in the April as we were getting married in the August.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 hormone positive breast cancer with a tumour of 12cm.

My surgeon and Oncologist took me through my treatment and the impact the chemotherapy would have on me.  It scared the living daylights out of me.

We did not know where we stood in regards to having a family, but there was no time to harvest my eggs, the treatment had to start NOW.

It made, me angry that my options were being taken away - that a disease was dictating my life and how long potentially I would be allowed to live it.  I was 33 years old, how did this happen?

The treatment was as intense and as severe as it possibly could be. I lost my hair, my bodily functions regularly and the breast that was doing a damn good job of trying to kill me.

I have never been so poorly in my life but I was determined that it was not going to beat me. I can honestly say though, there was a day where I had no energy left in my body and didn’t think I would be here.  My temperature was at 37 and I was exhausted.

I stayed in bed and allowed my body to heal. I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I want to do and more if I survived.

Well, my diagnosis was on the 27th April 2011 and things are going pretty well.

I have always been a very shy person, the one that was wrapped in cotton wool by my parents (who are ridiculously overly cautious about everything.)

If anyone told me that I would be talking in front of groups of people up to 100, I would have laughed and probably told them they were crazy!

Having a near-death experience changes you; it makes you assess your priorities and it totally affects your outlook on life.

I must admit, I have been through the whole spectrum of emotions once the treatment ended - anger, relief, resentment and empowerment.

Empowerment was the strongest out of the lot. I found that any fear I ever had (relating to any aspect of my life) had pretty much gone.  

The way I saw it was that if cancer couldn’t kill me, then what’s the harm in facing any other fears I had?  Really, what is the worst that can happen?

I found an article written by a lady called Kris.  She was diagnosed at 23 and was previously dismissed by the Doctor as being ‘too young to have breast cancer.’ She was at stage 4 when she was finally diagnosed.

Kris founded a charity called Coppafeel, which is a breast cancer awareness charity, educating young people on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.  Self checking can lead to much earlier diagnosis and with mammograms being so much later in life, self checking is so very important when you are young.

I was totally inspired by Kris’s story and the volunteers called the Boobettes, who are ladies who have had breast cancer at a younger age. 

They visit schools, universities, colleges, festivals and businesses, educating people on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer via a presentation which includes their own story.

I knew I had to be part of this and I am proud to say, I have been a Boobette for 2 years. I didn’t know I should be checking myself and I certainly didn’t know the signs to look for.  

The first time I did a talk I was so scared I hardly slept. I had practised the talk a hundred times at least.  

The talks were at a local school, and once I got into it, I loved it. The more I did them, the better I became.  

The last talk I did was for the Big Lottery Fund and our Health Education Manager accompanied me from our HQ. She said how much confidence I had compared to my first talk and the feedback (one from a professional speaker) was amazing. This talk was also in front of three of my friends, so to hear such positive responses, made me proud and a little emotional.

I have always been fairly artistic and have a very artistic family, from painters to musicians and singers. My Dad has always been a keen photographer, taking photos of us growing up at any given opportunity along with other unwilling members of our family throughout the years.

I had a camera from a young age, but nothing professional and I didn't really take it seriously.

I wanted to take up a hobby after I was ill and something I could be proud of and actually stick with (I get bored of things very easily.) 

I decided on photography as I was always taking photos with my iPhone, so it was an easy choice.

The friends I have made and the images I have taken have enriched my life more than I could have ever imagined.

I have the confidence to direct a model and take images I never thought would be possible.  

It has taken a while to find my place in the ‘dog’ world but pets are my thing.  I have rescue cats and support a few rescue charities.

I feel at home behind the camera and my four-legged models make it even more enjoyable. At the moment it is just a hobby, but I am pushing myself to make it into a full time career.

To have a job that doesn’t feel like a job because it’s so much fun would be incredible.

I have a few Photographers who are my inspiration, but mainly Jill Greenberg, whose pet images I recreated with my cat Chuck!  

My family are so proud of me and love seeing my work (even though some of the female models I refrain from showing my Dad!) They encourage me and give me the support I need to make this dream a reality.

I take a lot of lingerie shots and I know a few people could not understand how a woman (and a woman with one breast!) would feel happy taking photos of other women in their underwear or less after what I had been through. I am sure people thought that I would have some kind of resentment to the models as they had two breasts and I only had one.

The female form is beautiful regardless of shape and size and I love taking the images to portray that.  

The only downside is that the models always have the most gorgeous underwear! Post Op Bras on the whole are either not pretty or a ridiculous amount of money.

This leads me on nicely to my latest mission.  

I went to M&S recently to buy a couple of bras, only to find the smallest stand of post op bras tucked away in the corner of one of the biggest stores in the West Midlands.

None of them were my size and after a brief visit to Debenhams who no longer stock any in store (‘sorry Madam, they are only online now’) this was the final straw.

The choice was frumpy and basic.  

I was in tears in the middle of Marks and Spencer surrounded by beautiful ‘normal’ bras saying loudly ‘why do I feel like I am being backed into a corner to have reconstruction?!”

I quickly tweeted M&S and vented by anger, questioning as to why they couldn’t just make a few of their standard range into the post op bra range?  Surely it is not that difficult?

I am now in talks with the lingerie team as to what they could do to improve their range and I have been asked to put forward my suggestions, which I have.  They are also making me a bespoke bra which is fab.

Sometimes you have to make your voice heard when you aren’t happy with something.

In a very odd way, cancer has given me the voice I never had.

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