Written by Dianne Russell
I was initially diagnosed with IDC in 2014. In 2016, I had an aggressive recurrence and underwent chemotherapy and a bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction. Remaining flat was not an option offered by my surgeon but something I had to fight hard for. The battle for autonomy over my own body and the recognition that reconstruction is not required for a woman to feel whole lit a fire in my belly and led me into the world of advocacy. I am now the flat representative on the Canadian Cancer Society's national advisory board for BRA (Breast Reconstruction Awareness) Day. My role is to ensure that flat and single-breasted women are represented at all BRA Day events and publications. I was also the first flat model to walk at last year's BRA Day in Vancouver. It was scary but absolutely empowering! My desire to make change also led to the creation of the Facebook group "Flat in Canada: Support and Advocacy".
Chemotherapy left me with severe brain fog and memory issues along with mental health struggles. As a result, I am not currently able to work. Being someone whose self-esteem was derived from my work and intellectual ability, my identity has undergone a radical change. Volunteering as a patient partner and advocate with the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, the BC Cancer Patient Experience Council, and BC Provincial Systemic Therapy Council has allowed me to still feel like I’m a contributing member of society whose experience with cancer is meaningful and valuable.
Art therapy has given me a way to both manage anxiety and difficult emotions as well as explore a creative side that I didn’t realize I had. My new love of painting motivated me to create the Facebook group "Art From Darkness - Group" where breast cancer patients share their art. “Art” is loosely defined and we have the opportunity to inspire and be inspired by others. It's my favourite community on Facebook, and I’m proud to have created such a supportive, accepting space.
Paddling with Abreast in a Boat, Vancouver’s breast cancer dragon boat team has also been life changing. Seeing the changes in my body, feeling stronger and socializing with women who understand what I've been through is incredibly healing. It wasn’t until after my first official race that I finally felt somewhat like myself again: strong, vital, glowing and gorgeously alive. Dragon boat also took me to Italy in July for the International Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Festival in which I raced with 4000 other thrivers from 20 countries. It's an experience I’ll never forget!