‘Going Flat’ After Breast Cancer
I grew up in a houseful of art. Art was created and encouraged every day.As a young girl, I created my imaginary friends into soft sculptures that pleased me more than any new toy.
And as I grew, I continued to create daily the process as well as the finished piece provided me with many fulfilled outlets.
I often explored many new mediums to express new emotions, using color, texture and patterns.
As an adult this continued and resulted in a variety of art jobs and an income, it also paved way for my dream to have an art studio!
Life however did change in 1994, when on a job painting a ceiling, I had a very stiff neck. I ignored the pain and finished the job. Many weeks later, extremely fatigued I thought I had the flu…..or maybe I was pregnant???I was a newlywed and was excited about my future plans with my husband.I decided to go to the chiropractor to get some much needed relief from the pain in my neck. The chiropractor took an xray and we discussed further treatment.
I went home and a few hours later, I got a call, the chiropractor saw something odd in the xray, it was a mass, she could not diagnose But urged me to go to an infectious disease doctor nearby as soon as possible. I had an appointment within an hour and had several vials of blood drawn. Within a few days, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma Stage 2B, (the mass she was referring to was the size of a grapefruit)
So,…now I wasn’t pregnant , and yes, I had to go home and tell my new husband that not only do I have cancer, but the treatment I will have will result in infertility.
Within a month I had a splenectomy and several rounds of radiation. I finished all treatment and continued creating my art! Now when I entered my studio I was more pensive, angry, and sad and in need to express and explore my emotions. What came out of me onto paper was for me only, private….I would draw big, dark, messy images with charcoal, which I’d roll up and toss aside.
In 1997 I had a reoccurrence that I would then have to undergo chemotherapy. This time, losing my hair at the age of 32 and not knowing Anyone like me. I went back into my studio to create more art. The release was positive for me and I created numerous images that I would now share,..reluctantly.
Jump ahead 2014, I find a lump in my left breast,…and yes,. Its cancerIt was from the radiation I had in 1994.And yes, once again I would lose my hair and have chemotherapy.Along with a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction,…which was successful for a while, but ultimately ended up with infections and removed.
Now living my life flat chested…
My art now has a new focus…the images now are of me and several beautiful women I have met through social media and a group called flat and fabulous.
They are still quick drawings this time smaller and done with watercolors.The images are whimsical with images often of a tree, a bird cage, birds, me and a string with a heart at the end.
The tree is life….the birds are my breasts, the bird cage my sexuality (something I still struggle with).The heart at the end of the string is my ever present hope.
Losing my breasts has affected me in different ways. It is a part of me taken away. I tried to rebuild but got knocked down .It’s a very different journey now and I will continue to explore and express in my art.
p.s. lucky for me, I was able to have a child…he is now 16!!!!
Links to her articles about her Fight and helping others
The underbelly https://theunderbelly.org/2016/08/marianne-duquette-cuozzo/
Anti Cancer Club https://anticancerclub.com/inspiring-stories-from-cancer-survivors/one-artist-healing-art/
Spring Street http://www.spring.st/women-going-flat-after-mastectomy
New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/well/live/going-flat-after-breast-cancer.html
Mia took these photos before , during, and after my breast cancer, not only are they beautiful and cathartic..but her vision made me feel and whole again
Mia Barkan Clarke author,artist,art therapist and photographer