In 2006, I decided to have both my breasts removed – and that’s when it all began. (Except of course it didn’t actually begin then, it began years and years ago, when my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer…)
I kept a journal throughout the time I was preparing for and recovering from double mastectomy. Then, about nine months after the operation, I began to write poems about my experience of the surgery and its aftermath. The poems became a sequence, or cycle, and groups of them appeared in print in journals, magazines and anthologies. The entire cycle is published in my collection Excisions (Waterloo Press, 2011). In Breastless (Pighog, 2011) some of the poems appear alongside some of Laura’s photos, and there is an essay by Gareth Evans, a leading cancer consultant.
Laura Stevens had taken photographs of me before and after my surgery. Some of these were published in 2010 with nine of the poems in Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme. It was the first time the poems and photos had appeared together. One colleague told me: ‘Those pages are just wonderful. Absolutely magical. So powerful.’ So I put together a performance of the poems alongside a display of Laura’s photographs. The first performance was on October 4th 2011, at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Over the years since then, I have taken ‘Self-portrait without Breasts’ to other medical schools, to Medical Humanities conferences and to a wide variety of audiences. The poems and the photos provoke all kinds of interesting discussions.
More recently, I have also written here about other projects that relate in some way to ‘Self-portrait without Breasts’.
For more about me and my work: www.clarebest.co.uk