Perfect weather to be by the seaside, and ideal conditions for getting naked…
…so doubly lucky me to be in residence at the beautiful Chalkwell Hall – home of Metal, Southend, brainchild of Jude Kelly, OBE – where I have been given two weeks Time & Space to develop my single-breasted life modelling performance, Truth is Beauty.
We recalibrate luck
The amount of times I read women in breast cancer forums, or hear them in support groups, saying, ‘I was lucky’ – ‘it hadn’t spread to my lymphs….’ or, ‘it was the sort of tumour that responded to chemo/Herceptin/Tamoxifen….’ or, ‘I didn’t get lymphedema’ –I mean, clearly WE WERE’NT ALL THAT LUCKY, WE GOT BREAST CANCER, FFS!
I think part of it is a Pythonesque propensity to look on the bright side – mustn’t grumble – but also it’s more profound: we DO see how much worse it might have been, and we DO feel lucky to be alive, and (especially if we don’t have religion) we see how close we came, and yes, it does make life feel good. And – even though we own it and it is ours – we ARE lucky to have an NHS, free at point of need, which gives us choices: what I want to do is to use my experience to build our confidence around how to navigate those choices.
I’ve been learning masses from the discussions that have grown out of my performances. One thing that really floored me was when a fellow B/C survivor challenged my use of the word ‘choice’: she had not, she said, chosen not to have reconstruction; her cancer meant she required a mastectomy, and so that was what she underwent. So what word can we use that expresses the decision not to have reconstruction? To refuse? To ‘elect’ not to? It’s all about negatives and nots, isn’t it? Can we celebrate/embrace something we didn’t choose – our single breasted-ness? (I’d love to see that as an option on a medical form!) If not, then we can at the very least choose not to feel freaky for choosing not to disguise it.
At the end of my stay here, on Sat Aug 4th I’ll be performing ‘Truth is Beauty’ at a pop-up in Royals Shopping Centre (I visited today, and discovered the central dome is like an enormous single breast: this surely augers well). The event is women-only, and booking is essential (previous experience of life drawing is not required). This will be followed the next day by an exhibition of all the drawings from the event in Metal Art School here at Chalkwell Hall, where I shall give a short (clothed!) reading, open to all – so do come on down more info and booking.
Today I gave a presentation to some of the smart and lovely TOMA students, and they made me feel like this work I am making is good and necessary. I am lucky to be here, with my one breast, in a gorgeous Georgian house, in a park with a view of the estuary, with a bowl of strawberries, and the amazing folk of Metal nurturing me and taking my work seriously.