He made me feel like an exquisite piece of art.
There was no registration of shock on his face when he saw my scars. He traced his fingertips over the surface of my skin, careful not to purposefully touch or avoid them.
I just became me. Whole. In my entirety.
I surrendered to the sensation of what I was feeling and took a glorious moment to get out of my head. My past no longer mattered. My future no longer mattered. Only this moment, this moment of feeling whole. This moment stripped of labels. I am not Christie Page, breast cancer survivor. I am just Christie for now.
As a breast cancer survivor, dating in my 30’s presented with new challenges. I had had a double mastectomy at 33, reconstructive surgery, complications and revisions to the tune of 13 procedures and counting.
My body was the physical representation of the battles waged beneath.
My breasts were made of silicone and cadaver tissue. My nipples were reconstructed flaps of skin and tattoo for pigment. I was a modern day Frankenstein beneath my clothing. On the outside I appeared like every one else. My clothes fit me just like anyone else’s did. But in the seclusion of my own home, when faced with the bathroom mirror, I was quite a different sight.
I could reconcile this body with myself at times. I accepted that this was the shell I would occupy, but I was terrified to present this shell to a new lover. I was married at my original diagnosis and surgery and my husband at the time was my rock. He never made me feel anything other than beautiful. We had history, love and family between us. We were more than our original physical attraction, but we were no longer together.
I knew I would have no problem meeting other men in my life, but I wondered when and how to approach the subject of what lay beneath. I was afraid of letting men down that I hadn’t even met yet.
I would love to say that I was a proud survivor and that just being alive was enough for me. I would love to be like other survivors that I have seen that pose fully naked revealing everything in soul baring photo-shoots, but I am not that type of woman. I feel guilty at times being vain when I am fully aware that there are others like me who did not make it.
I am a third generation breast cancer survivor. Both my grandmother and my mother had it and my grandmother has since passed on. I also work in the medical field in a specialty that deals specifically with breasts all day every day and have for over 15 years now.
I know all too well the other spectrum, the side that doesn’t make it, lives taken too early where family members would give anything to have their loved ones back despite their appearance, so it’s hard to verbalize at times my own feelings without feeling a profound sense of selfishness. However, it’s honest and I am being honest and true to who I am.
This is my life and dating was a real issue for me and other women like me. I am not the only one.
So when I decided to put myself back on the market and accept that I was a single, viable woman with wants, needs and desires it was not easy. I spoke with many friends and family members about the everyday insecurities we women face and that’s “as is” in the shell we were born with.
Now go and slice that shell apart, break those eggs, get messy and put yourself back together again and have the same conversation in the mirror. It’s one thing to think your thighs are too big, or your breasts are too small but when you are missing the parts that define you as a woman it’s a whole other ball game.
Now let’s get down to the intimates, let’s get real, honest and dirty.
When you are intimate with a partner, there is a certain expectation to how your body, your breasts and nipples respond to touch. Well, guess what, although my nipples look like nipples, the fact of the matter is, they are not. They do not respond, they do not contract or get hard, they are the same no matter what you do because my nipples have been removed.
Now, I gave up on caring about this particular issue for myself. I have accepted that that sensation is something I will never experience again for the rest of my life. It was not a flippant realization but one that came with a lot of tears, a lot of anger and a lot of heartache. It was part of my sex life that I enjoyed, that I coveted and I have found that it is a very important part of the male experience. So the dilemma began.
Do I tell my new partner what to expect ahead of time? The first time? Do I proceed with sex and allow the same touch of fingertips or lips because it is almost universal. I still enjoy those things, just in a different way and they still look the same, but they are not. Am I being dishonest if I don’t disclose the truth? Or do I allow the illusion?
These are the questions that riddled my mind before I made the decision to get back out there. The possibilities daunting and at times depressing. What if someone looked at me and was so repulsed by my scars that they couldn’t or wouldn’t want to be intimate with me? Could I handle that kind of rejection?
Now I can share the reality of what happened. My faith in the humanity of man restored. Not one single encounter I had in the five years of being single after cancer bothered the men I was intimate with. Not one. Re-read that statement. All the tears I shed, all the anxiety I felt, all the care I took to make the rest of my body as good as it could be mattered. No one cared.
The first time was nerve racking and I decided that I was not going to disclose anything I was just going to wing it and see what happened. What happened was some amazing sex with a little liquid courage on board. I didn’t shy away from being naked in front of someone. I didn’t leave my shirt or bra on to cover myself. I stripped down and got to it. It was fantastic.
My partner was fantastic, he treated me at first like a fragile flower and with a little encouragement let his fear of hurting me go and went for it. I think because the first time was so liberating that I adopted an entirely new approach to my new body. I began to think of my scars as an adornment to my temple, beautiful etchings that revealed who I was and what I had been through. I viewed them as I did the tattoos that I have on my body, each telling their own story. With that single experience I gained the confidence I needed to just get down to being a woman again.
I no longer felt the need to label myself as a survivor, explain myself or apologize for myself. I was just me. Since then I have had some wonderful men cross my path. Men that accepted me, scars and all. The dating and intimacy became less scary and I was able to focus on the things that really mattered.
Did I like this guy? Did he treat me well? Were we compatible? What was I having for dinner?
My current boyfriend was no exception. He made me feel like art. He didn’t shy away, didn’t concern himself with my hang-ups. He treated me then and he treats me now like any other woman on the planet and sees me for me and not for my history of disease or illness.
I have grown proud of this body of mine. It has allowed me to experience the greatest loves of my life, my children. It has allowed me to embrace this life in a way that was absent before.
I no longer take for granted the smell of fresh cut grass, the taste of red wine on my lips, the feel of the sun light on my cheeks or the look in my lover’s eyes. I have accepted that cancer has not taken from me the fact that I am a sexually liberated woman who just happens to occupy the body of a survivor.
You can call me Christie. It’s just Christie for now.
Author: Christie Page
Editor: Catherine Monkman