As a photographer, taking a photo is a natural choice to document how I have felt at any given time - some of those bald headed, tear stained and post surgery images are a joy to behold, as you can imagine. Here I am, twelve months down the line - I am sure you can read into the expression yourself but allow me to tell you the trigger.
It was my very first twelve month check up with a consultant. I had polished my golden badge in readiness, mastered the art of not hunching over when walking. I could stretch and reach tall with my beautifully, over-moisturized skin and interesting looking scars - I had adapted and come to terms with my new half-boy shape, given away all my bosom enhancing dresses, found new and inventive ways of dressing and was fully back into my productive and varied life. NONE of which had been especially easy, really, but that was okay. The consultant was about to give me a pat on the back for having been amazing and would probably give me another golden badge to put alongside my own - I was certainly prepared to do the extra polishing.
I don't think we actually shook hands by way of introduction, I wasn't really convinced that the file he held was mine - he looked confused when deciding if I was a left or right sided person, maybe that explains the shock when he opened my surgical cape for a look, only to discover I was neither.
It didn't matter, afterall. I was pretty darn fantastic and he was going to step back in admiration for this beautiful "boy" torso and view this woman also with admiration for all her achievements. Well, he did step back - but in shock, declaring We shall sort this out, Jai, you CAN be fixed! What?! Pardon? Sorry, I can be fixed? I asked. Yes, you are a good candidate for reconstruction! Remember the over-moisturized skin? Well, apparently, that is a good thing - plus I am young (confirmation right there that he hadn't looked at the file) and he can cut me up in five places (the stomach, two areas from my back and, of course, two areas on my chest) to make me "right" - seriously?! This is an acceptable suggestion to this exceptionally stunningly beautiful amazing gold starred woman - a slight exaggeration but you get the gist. All I mumbled in return as I quickly fastened my cape, fished around for my clothes and shoes and left the room, now hunched over in my shoulders, biting my lip was I DIDN'T KNOW I NEEDED TO BE FIXED!
And there it is - however we arrive at our situation, we are completely amazing. And, if truth be told, I actually prefer the half-boy look but that's a whole other discussion.
So what does a girl do in that situation? Well, she went home, dried her tears, took all her clothes off and put on her most favorite hat and took photos! Mentally, these images are 24 feet tall and are emblazoned on the side of a very tall building because that is how tall I feel with the pride brimming up inside of me. Not just for me but for every beautiful flat woman out there - there was also a stamp of the foot just then but you may not have heard it.
Twelve months. Is that really all this has been? The day we drove home in silence, driving through the busy town, stopping at traffic lights, letting people pass and watching the cyclist, shoppers and buses pulling out and dropping off the school children. You have invasive cancer and both breasts need to be removed next week. I don't think we were even offered tea to help soften the news, it might have helped. Being the proactive type, I decided I needed information - this was a new world I was about to inhabit. What is a double mastectomy? What does it look like? Will it hurt? Will I still be a person?
I locked myself in my bedroom for four solid days with a "do not disturb" sign on the door (well, except for large cups of tea). I was armed with the laptop, books, notepad and pens. I was not coming out until I had learned everything I needed to know. By day four, despair was swetting in. I was only being presented with celebrities and reconstructions. It seemed only to matter that they looked amazing with their double d's on the red carpet. Where are the icons and role models for the flat people? I was quickly learning that I was about to become, through necessity, my own role model. That wasn't overly reassuring. I still hadn't even seen what this new me was going to look like and there was nowhere to go - obviously, the world of Flat & Fabulous had yet to be discovered.
By tea time of day four, I stumbled across The SCAR Project which, as a photographer, immediately drew me in. And then I came face to face with a visual idol - a woman who looked completely real, a strong power house of a girl. Vulnerable and amazonian at the same time. I sat on my bed staring at the screen with tears rolling down my face, which quickly turned to sobs. Not of sadness but of happiness. The mystery had been lifted just like that. THIS is what a double mastectomy looks like and, actually, it was rather wonderful - simple, straight forward and clearly nothing to fear. The tears rolled some more, now with gratitude to the girl in the picture. How could I ever thank her enough - she had taken her top off to the world, she looked majestic. I needed to find her name - and there it was at the bottom of the page: Barbie Ritzco.