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Holding my breath

I’m doing a lot of breathing exercises and voice work at the moment, in preparation for various readings and performances – the launch of Excisions tomorrow September 16th, then the first performance-with-photos of Self-portrait without Breasts on October 4th. All through autumn 2006, the weeks of decisions and waiting, I had to remember to breathe to calm myself.

22 Sept 2006

Yesterday I went to talk to the breast care nurses about different kinds of surgery and look at prostheses and pictures of reconstructive surgery.

The room was full of prostheses – boxes and boxes of silicone breasts – and posters for wigs and a glass cabinet of head-wear for after chemotherapy. Pink turbans and blue-and-white checked gingham turbans. And hats, lots of weird and wonderful hats. And racks and stands with stacks of leaflets informing about every kind of cancer and its therapy.

You have to walk through the chemo day centre to get there. Chairs with people attached to tubes dripping poison into their blood, to cure them. One thing I can now be sure of – I would do a lot to avoid being in that room, sitting in one of those chairs. I would have my breasts removed to avoid it.

We talk about keeping nipples or not, numbness or not, and what began as my clearly voiced need to discuss ‘no reconstruction’ ends with being shown pictures of reconstructions (there are no pics here of simple mastectomy scars). A big album with colour pics of women without heads, without legs, just torsos and scars. Scars at all stages of healing. The BC nurse says, ‘Now yours would look like this, as good as this… This is how great your result will be.’ She seems very clear about what is beautiful and what is not, what constitutes femininity and what does not. I decide once and for all that reconstruction is not for me.

Today I feel numb, as though some operation has been performed on my feelings and sensibilities. I am thankful just for being whole physically at this point and for the support network I am able to tap into. And for time. Most women don’t have the luxury of time.

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About Clare Best

I am Clare Best – poet, writer, teacher of creative writing. My first career was as a fine bookbinder. I've also worked as a bookseller, and for many years as an editor. Poetry publications: Treasure Ground (HappenStance 2009), Excisions (Waterloo Press 2011), Breastless (Pighog Press 2011), CELL (Frogmore Press 2015), Springlines (Little Toller 2017)

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