Tattooing: the final creative touch after mastectomy

Ever since I had breast cancer surgery, I have been fascinated by the idea of surgery and reconstruction as art. Down to creating a fake nipple and colouring it with a tattoo, the process is a creative  one. I wrote about my own experience of medical nipple tattooing in my Oncoplastic Fruit blog a while back; it was quite something to see the range of colours at my nurse’s disposal when I had it done – not unlike seeing the range of nail varnishes when having a manicure!

nipple tattoo colour crop Someone recently gave me a copy of Rose, a free French magazine for breast cancer patients. It’s beautifully produced, with ads for luxury brands like Chanel, making it possible to pay for well-researched and meaningful articles, illustrations, and photography. This copy has a comic-book style article about nipple tattooing in it, which stopped me in my tracks.

The images of the tattooist at work are brilliant. It’s like art describing art. You can see at a glance how it works; I instantly recognised the rows of ink, so similar to mine. You can see how the tattooist reassures his client and how pleased she is with the result, which would give confidence to patients who are weighing up whether to have this done or not. I love the idea of sharing knowledge with patients in this visual format, and I wish we could do more of it. It would be a lovely thing if patients were given graphic articles and illustrations like this to make even complicated medical issues more accessible and easy to understand – as long as it’s in the right language of course…

tatoueur de baltimore crop

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2015: my year of running

Some time ago, I watched my partner join a running club. He ran twice a week, and then would get up early on Sunday mornings for races, whatever the weather. I would yawn, roll over and bask in the extra space in my bed thinking: sucker!

After a few months though, I noticed how much happier he seemed to be. He came back with stories of running through hidden paths and woodlands, and across beautiful fields and cliff tops. He made new and deeper friendships with his companions. He brought the fresh air back home with his flushed cheeks and mud-spattered legs. And what legs! Instead of thinking my partner was a mug, I began to feel jealous and left out. So when he told me about a 0-3 miles running group, organised by Falmouth Road Runners, I thought, why not? If I could run for a bus, maybe I could do it for fun, too.

It took some courage for me to turn up to the beginners’ group. I’d been recovering from early breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction on one side. I’d had many healing complications, and I needed to build my strength up again. I was self-conscious about my body and a little bit scared about how it would take to running. But I was determined to do something healthy. I needed to get out of the house and feel the blood pumping through me.

The running group worked because it began – literally – with tiny steps, and involved lots of instruction and support. The coaching team were friendly and approachable; I had been worried that I might feel intimidated. I was relieved to find that many of the others, and we were all ages, had never run in their lives. All we had to do was run a minute, walk a minute. That was it! As time went by, I found I could actually run further than the end of my road, and when I completed the three-mile challenge despite my dodgy knees and everything else, I was absolutely chuffed.

I discovered running’s health benefits: I lost a bit of post-surgery weight, and I gained a lot more energy, but there were also social benefits. Running was how I met Sylvia. She had been through a rough time, and so had I. We may have looked silly running down the road together – she’s about a foot taller than me – but we were well matched for running, and as we made friends, we found that talking helped keep us going. Simply having a friend there made me more motivated to turn up. I plucked up the courage to join Falmouth Road Runners, which previously I would have considered way out of my league, but I was surprised to find they welcomed even the slowest of runners with open arms.

A few weeks ago, I decided try the club’s regular social run on the Bissoe trail for the first time. I’ve never been able to before; Saturday mornings usually mean a mad dash to swimming or ballet or something else to do with my children. As I drove to the trail, I listened to Radio 3. I thought it might put me in touch with my better self. Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral symphony was playing, and as I got out of the car and surveyed the sun shining beatifically over the valley, I could hear the angels singing. Almost.

This was the reason I took up running in the first place: just to be outside, in nature, moving my body and feeling alive. I realised I was too late to run with the group, and the club runners had already left, so I started running on my own. I started laughing stupidly as I ran. It felt fantastic! And all I’d had to do was turn up. That reduced the anticipation of a difficult run to its most simple form: just turn up, put one foot in front of the other, and see what happens. That morning was so glorious that I’ve made up my mind to keep running every week, and even participate in races. My aim is to take part in the Cornish Grand Prix, a series of races across the county, at the end of which is the promise of my first-ever sporting trophy. Will I really be able to give up my Saturday morning lie-ins and commit to regular training? That’s a column for another day…

bissoe sunshine