How can Facebook brand our scars pornographic When one of these women posted pictures of her mastectomy on Facebook, the site banned them. Here, she and other survivors defiantly hit back…
22:17 GMT, 20 June 2012
Every year in the UK, more than 20,000 women undergo a mastectomy for breast cancer. Yet when one sufferer, Joanne Jackson, posted pictures of her scar on Facebook last month, the social networking site removed them after a complaint that they were offensive. Here, Joanne and four fellow survivors pose topless and reveal why they’re proud of their scars . . . not ashamed!
Joanne Jackson, 40, is a consultant for Slimming World. She is married to Andrew, 43, a self-employed cobbler and shoe retailer, has two sons, Connah, 19, and Evan, five. Joanne says:
Last spring, I found a pea-sized lump in my breast, so I went to my GP to get it checked out. It was a year ago this month that I went back for the test results with my mother. When the lady introduced herself as a breast care nurse, I sensed the news wasn’t going to be good.
Brave: Joanne Jackson, left, and Cheryl Kerr, right
I remember hearing my mum make a heaving sound as if she was about to start crying, but I felt strong. I said: ‘Don’t start crying!’ I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to be beaten.
The doctor said she would need to do another biopsy to determine whether I’d need a mastectomy — removal of the whole breast — or a lumpectomy (removal of the cancerous tissue).
I got home and announced my breast cancer on Facebook immediately, so I wouldn’t have to tell people individually. I also decided that whatever results came back from my biopsy, I was going to have a mastectomy.
The younger you are, the more aggressive cancer can be, and I wanted the breast removed to maximise the chances of getting rid of the cancer so I’d be around to see my children grow up.
Andrew was amazing and was behind me all the way. After the operation, I was bruised and tender, with a seven-inch line where my breast had been. It may sound surprising, but I wasn’t upset.
It felt surreal to see one side of my chest look round and feminine and the other look flat, like a boy’s.
Baring their scars with pride: Christine Marshall, left, Justine Thompson, middle, and Joanna Kirkup, right
In fact, I wish I’d been given the option of a double mastectomy because the imbalance threw me. I didn’t mourn my breast — I was glad to get rid of it, because it was the thing that could take me away from my family. A breast isn’t worth sacrificing your life for.
I loved my new body, scar and all. I’d hated my figure for many years because I’d been overweight by more than five stone. It was only after I shed the five stone in 2009 that I grew to love the way I looked. For the first time ever, I felt sexy and feminine.
In fact, losing the excess pounds saved my life, because had I still been overweight, I’d have never felt the cancerous lump through the fat on my breasts.
I was so happy with my new figure that I didn’t wear the prosthesis the clinic supplied. I wore figure-hugging tops and people didn’t even notice that one breast was flat and the other wasn’t.
A couple of weeks after my mastectomy, a friend whose husband is a photographer approached me and asked if I’d like some pictures taken of my scar. I jumped at the chance: I wanted to show people that your life doesn’t end with a mastectomy — you can still look sexy.
I was thrilled with the photographs, while Andrew got quite emotional about it and said I looked beautiful. Last August, I put the shots on Facebook to show friends, and the comments I received were wonderful.
Then, last month, I got a warning from Facebook to say someone had reported my pictures as offensive. They said their policy was not to show anything that was pornographic, sexually explicit or nude. But I couldn’t see how my pictures were any of those things. I was really annoyed.
Ninety-three percent of women whose breast cancers are picked up by screening live for at least five years after diagnosis, and 88 per cent for at least ten years
I’ve now been automatically referred for a reconstruction. I get a tummy tuck thrown in, because they take muscle from my stomach and place it in the breast. Although I’m happy without the reconstruction, it would be nice to have some symmetry.
Despite having cancer, the last year has been the best one of my life. I hope these photographs show what cancer is really like — and that you can still be sexy and beautiful with it. I wear my scar with pride.
Cheryl Kerr, 40, is a full-time mum to daughter Laiken, four. She is single and lives in Liverpool.
It was September 2010 and I was 38 when I found a lump in my right breast and felt shooting pains. I’d had cysts before which turned out to be nothing serious, so this time I left it three months before going to the doctor to get checked out.
When I was told I had breast cancer, I swore out loud in front of the surgeon. I couldn’t believe my ears.
My little girl was only three. I’d split up from her father the year before and our business had gone under. People had tried to comfort me then by saying: ‘You’ve still got your health, Cheryl’ — but now I didn’t even have that.
I went home and for about a week I just stared at the walls, numb with shock. Because I was so young, the doctors asked if I wanted to harvest my eggs in case I wanted more children, and they also asked me if I wanted chemo.
I decided against both. Harvesting would have delayed treatment, and I had a grade 2 tumour that had not spread to the lymph nodes, so I felt that chemo was unnecessary. Besides, I didn’t want my little girl to see me without hair.
When I told my new partner, he wasn’t particularly supportive. In fact, his first words were: ‘I’m destined to be alone.’ Needless to say, I broke up with him. I needed support, not to feel sorry for someone.
Five weeks later I had the mastectomy, but I wouldn’t look at the scar until three days afterwards. I felt ugly and mutilated. Losing my breast, especially as a single woman, was an enormous deal and I grieved for it for a long time.
I didn’t feel attractive or feminine. The nurses said it was a ‘beautiful scar’, and that made me so angry. I was bruised and black and felt like Frankenstein. How would anyone find me attractive again I just wanted to get out of the hospital and go home.
A few weeks later, I went to look at some pictures of reconstructions — but all I could see were scars. They didn’t look like normal breasts.
I struggled for many months to get over what had happened, and at one stage felt suicidal, even though I knew my body was recovering. I felt my life had been turned upside down.
I remember chopping a lemon up in the kitchen and thinking how easy it would be to cut my wrist and have done with it. Thankfully, I told my sister and she got in touch with my GP, who put me on a low dose of anti-depressants. I’m definitely through the worst of it now, although it never quite leaves you.
I really enjoyed taking part in the shoot. I want to show other women going through a mastectomy that you can still be beautiful.
I’m not seeing anyone special at the moment, but I am confident enough to go out on dates. And because I’m so open about what happened to me, any man who gets chatting to me usually knows within ten minutes that I’ve had breast cancer — and it hasn’t put anyone off so far.’
Christine Marshall, 65, is a retired finance and administration officer from York and is divorced. She has three children and four grandchildren. She says:
My mastectomy took place at the beginning of October 2010, and when I first woke up after the operation I didn’t want to look down at the scar. It was a couple of days before I looked.
When my daughter asked how I felt about having my breast removed, all I said ‘clean’. When I’d been diagnosed with cancer, I felt like going out in the street with a sign saying ‘unclean’.
I remember thinking I mustn’t cry as the surgeon told me she wanted to do a mastectomy, but feeling tears streaming down my cheeks anyway.
That night in bed, I wept buckets. Your breasts are such a part of being a woman and I didn’t want to lose one. But a month later I’d got my head around it. Cancer was invading my body and I wanted rid of it. This was the only way.
I’d been informed about the reconstruction options before the surgery and decided to go with an implant. My daughter joked that if I did that, I’d have one perky breast and one saggy breast, so we nicknamed them ‘Pinky and Perky’.
The surgeon has uplifted my right breast to give me more symmetry, and I had an inflator bag put in the left breast, which stretched the skin ready for the implant, which was inserted in February.
I’m due to have another operation in July for another uplift of my natural breast to match the implant.
I’ve also had a nipple reconstruction. At first I was in two minds about whether to go for it, but I have to admit it makes me feel more feminine.
The skin from my breast has been stretched into a nipple and the areola will be tattooed at some point, but I have yet to discuss when.
It looks very realistic and I’m more than happy to show it off because if this can help even one woman who is considering reconstruction, then it will be worth it.
Justine Thompson, 49, a healthcare professional, lives in Peterborough with her husband Neil Pope, 57, a journalist, and her daughter Ellen, 13. She says:
I discovered my lump in 2001, and by the time my operation came round three months after diagnosis, I was more than ready to lose my breast.
I was more scared than I’d ever been in my life, but I didn’t want to die and leave my then baby daughter. I am fairly small breasted anyway, and didn’t feel too emotional about losing something that could kill me.
The operation went very smoothly and I was left with a tidy scar. Afterwards I had radiotherapy for three weeks and chemo for four months, during which I lost all my hair. I found that more upsetting than losing my breast because it’s more of an obvious visual sign.
I discovered I had cancer when I stopped breastfeeding Ellen and my right breast went back to normal and the left one didn’t. I knew you could have lumpy breasts after giving birth, but I did think it was a bit strange so I went to my GP, who referred me to a consultant.
When it was confirmed as cancer, it was as if hell had broken loose. I had a 14-month-old daughter and was suddenly having three months of intensive chemotherapy which made me so ill. The doctors wanted me to try chemo before I had a mastectomy because they wanted to try to shrink the tumour — but it didn’t work and so I had the operation.
A year later I had a reconstruction to give my body some balance back. I’m fairly slim on top and like wearing no bra and strappy tops, so the implant would even me out.
But unfortunately that wasn’t the end of my cancer story. In 2005, I found another lump. This time on my breast bone, right down the centre of my chest.
It meant that both implants had to come out (I’d had one in my right breast, too, to match the left) and my breast bone was removed. The surgeon also found a tumour on my lung, which he removed.
In 2010, I found cancer in my right breast. Thankfully, this time it was a hormone-induced cancer so I had my ovaries removed to stop the production of oestrogen and started taking Tamoxifen, and the cancer disappeared.
Now I don’t have either breast and I’m perfectly happy because I’m in good health.
Taking part in the shoot was fantastic. I’m doing it because one in four women will get a secondary cancer, like me, and it’s very frightening.
I don’t mind people knowing I don’t have any breasts. There’s still a lot of living to be done!
Joanna Kirkup, 27, is a student veterinary nurse from Wiltshire. She lives with her boyfriend, Pete, 28, a contact centre worker. She says:
Before my breast was removed last March, I was very nervous. I’d never even had an operation before, and because I was so young, the surgeons wanted to throw every kind of treatment at me — chemo, radiotherapy and mastectomy.
When I woke up after the op, I felt fine until all the visitors left me on the ward. That’s when it hit me and I started feeling sorry for myself. I was lonely and felt vulnerable and in pain.
A couple of days later, the nurse came to change my dressing and that’s when I saw the scar for the first time. It was longer than I expected — about five inches — but I remember thinking it was very straight and smooth and I felt quite proud of it. Loads of people asked me about it and I was happy to show it off.
During chemo, losing my hair, nails, eyebrows and eyelashes was far more traumatic than losing my breast. You can hide your breast from the outside world, but shaving your head and wearing a headscarf advertises that you’ve had cancer. I found that difficult.
Strangely, I found that the only place people stared at me was in the hospital waiting rooms. It made me realise how much younger I was than other patients. I didn’t feel like people stared at me in the street.
At the time, reconstruction wasn’t an option because the radiotherapy affects the tissues of the breast, but now it’s over I’m considering some kind of operation. I’m in two minds about it because my body has gone through so much recently, but in the future it would be nice to be able to buy pretty lingerie again.
Taking part in the shoot was great. I really wanted to get involved because I want to do my bit to raise awareness. None of my friends checked their breasts before I got diagnosed, and I’m so lucky that I did. If just one person checks their breast as a result of this picture, then it will be worth it.’
For information and support to anyone affected by breast cancer, contact Breast Cancer Care at breastcancercare.org.uk or on free Helpline number, 0808 800 6000