A funny thing happened on my way to survival
Today’s guest writer is Jamie Inman, a professional motivational speaker and teacher, psychotherapist, and breast cancer survivor, who speaks on a wide array of mental health and spiritual topics relating to breast cancer, personal growth and family life.
I guess I am a born philosopher; I came out of the womb asking, “Why?” You can imagine that when I got breast cancer twice I had lots of whys. I never asked, “Why me?” but I DID ask, “Why at all? Why should anyone have to suffer like this?” Refusing to let my suffering go to waste I determined to give it meaning by helping others who were facing the same ordeal. I wrote my story on websites and message boards, lending support, answering questions and warning people about pitfalls to avoid. I hopefully probably offended more than a few members of the medical establishment. I really didn’t care!
At the time I had my mastectomies DIEP flap reconstruction was just gaining popularity. Since I was overjoyed with my results I eagerly shared my success with anyone who was interested. In fact, I loved my breasts so much that on more than one occasion I flashed them faster than folks could say, “No thank you!” To me they were medical marvels! It became a joke among my friends to say, “Is there anyone in the country who hasn’t seen your breasts?”
That was 2006—fast forward to June 2011 and the FORCE conference in Orlando. FORCE stands for Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered and is dedicated to fighting hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Since I tested negative for the genes I never thought I belonged in the organization, but I wanted to visit friends in Florida and the conference gave me a neat business write-off. (Not very noble of me, I confess.)
Truthfully, I dreaded going because I didn’t know a soul, and for the first day I felt so out of it that all I could think about was leaving early. Why in the world did I come here? I didn’t belong. Alas, changing the flight would cost a fortune, so I quit feeling sorry for myself and jumped into the program wholeheartedly.
The day ended with a gathering called “Show and Tell” where attendees could speak directly with surgeons about treatment procedures they might be considering. To my surprise I walked into cocktail party with no signs of surgeons or presentations. I asked one of the FORCE volunteers why, and learned that the “Show and Tell” took place in the next room, where women at various stages of reconstruction would show themselves to women facing mastectomy. Next thing I knew I was standing, bare-breasted, in a circle of grateful women asking me life-changing questions about my surgeries.
Now I knew the reason why I had come—to help people, in the flesh, who were worried and frightened by this awful disease.
Oh, and also because there were some people in the country who had not seen my breasts.
Visit: http://jamieinmanent.com to learn more about Jamie and her work
Great story! I love the Show & Tell idea, and women like you who are brave enough to bare it all. I’d never heard of DIEP before my diagnosis, and when it became my only reconstruction option, I’d have loved the chance to talk to someone like you. Keep on flashing people so the education can continue!
Really enjoyed this Jamie – thanks for sharing your breast cancer experience
Well, I would say you have gone ‘above and beyond’ your duty in the share/help department! Seriously, it’s pretty remarkable. My plastic surgeon had photos for me to look at, but boy I would have liked to have seen and talked to a real live woman who had been through reconstruction. I don’t think a ‘breast reconstruction mentor’ for all newbies would be a bad idea for physicians to consider.
I do show and tells, too! Didn’t know I could do them so publicly…. It’s always been one on one. But I know it helps! When I was recovering from my mastectomy, a friend came over with another friend I barely knew. She showed me. I was still with drains hanging. I never forgot that.
My neighbor still had TE’s and was sobbing to me one day about how she was deformed forever. I held her hand while she sobbed and when the moment lightened up, I said if she could come out of her bedroom with a bald head, I could show her how it looks when the tissue expanders are swapped. I will never forget how we BOTH cried and I will never forget the way she hugged me when I left. “I know I will be normal again. You don’t know how much you helped me.”
I’m teary now as I think about it….
And yes, Nancy.. I definitely agree with the idea of a patient mentor on the team.
WOW! This posting blew me away, and you are so great to help others. I have flashed people facing a mastectomy or who have had a mastectomy and want to compare. It truly is part of the education process.
Thank you for a lovely post and for all you are doing to help others.
Great post and thank you for flashing the world 🙂 It takes a special person to show their scars and talk about their experience.
The “Show and Tell” idea is indeed a great one. In one of my breast cancer support groups some women revealed their reconstructed breasts to the rest of us so we could get an idea of an outcome. At first I was flabbergasted, but then I saw the value and the interest as shown by the amount of questions asked. It’s attention-grabbing and invaluable. Thanks for the post!
Back in 1993, NO ONE was showing what a mastectomy looked like until Matushka, a model in New York City, took a self-portrait and the New York Times published it. I had just written my book, Fine Black Lines, and included a picture of my first mastectomy. (Even though my three sons almost disowned me.)
The editor of a Colorado Woman News wanted to do an article similar to the one in the New York Times, had seen my book, and asked me to pose for their cover. By then I had had my second mastectomy, both without reconstruction. The picture is me, naked from the waist up, holding a beautiful red rose.
That cover created quite a stir in October 1993. But a lot of women thanked me. CWN included one of my poems on the cover, too:
like the endless petals
of an Infinite Rose
the center is
(excerpted from Fine Black Lines, copyright 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)
Lois, what a wonderful comment – thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and what a sublime poem