Still all woman
On 11 November 2014, I rang a bell in the cancer ward of the hospital to mark my last chemo session.
Wearing a sash saying Survivor, I felt proud of everything I’d been through.
My body was still exhausted, limbs aching, head bald. But I was cancer-free! ‘That’s what matters,’ I told Mum.
A month on, I had reconstructive surgery to rebuild my breasts – but they would never be the same again.
I had no nipples, didn’t feel sexual or attractive.
Of course, I was grateful to the doctors who’d saved my life.
But I’d come to hate the new reflection staring back at me in the mirror.
I read about women who’d had natural-looking nipple tattoos. Only, I had other ideas. I decided on something pretty, unique...
The cancer had sapped my femininity – now it was time to reclaim it.
‘I want to have flowers tattooed on to my mastectomy scars,’ I told Mum.
It took me weeks to pick out the black, purple-grey floral pattern.
‘Permanent lingerie,’ I joked to the tattoo artist.
The operations had left my chest numb, so I didn’t feel much during the four-hour inking session.
I reminisced about everything I’d been through. Felt lucky to be alive. And for the first time in so long, I was excited – I couldn’t wait to see my new boobs.
‘All done!’ the tattoo artist announced at last.
I’m not usually emotional, but seeing the beautiful roses swirling across my chest, I burst into tears. Finally, I liked the reflection staring back at me again.
As I recovered, my spirits lifted and I started dreaming again.
Could I still model? I wondered.
My body had changed, my self-confidence had been ravaged. Embracing being bald, I’d had people stare at me, call me ‘fella’ in the street. Unlikely, I thought, sadly. Only, then someone from Sourpuss called. They wanted me back!
Posing for the camera, my self-esteem soared.
My life had changed so much since the last time I smiled into that lens.
And catalogue modelling was just the start – soon the catwalk beckoned!
In February 2018, I was asked to model for lingerie label Anaono at a New York fashion show.
Its underwear is designed for women affected by breast cancer and breast surgeries – and strutting down the catwalk, showing off my tattoo, was empowering.
Two years before, I’d met Brian, 31, on Facebook.
He made me feel comfortable, content – and beautiful.
When I’m with Brian, I’m not any less of a woman.
Now my modelling career, here in Philadelphia, has really kicked off. It’s better than I could ever have imagined.
I’ve even posed topless – something I’d never contemplated before cancer.
I’m proud of my scars, my chest, and my beautiful inking. And I want to inspire other cancer patients.
It’s the fight of your life, but you can and will feel beautiful again.
It was time to reclaim my femininity from cancer
I was asked to model lingerie Feeling beautiful
Brian makes me whole