By Liana Jacob
MEET the ‘previvor’ who has embraced her new post-double mastectomy body by getting a Wonder Woman phoenix tattoo and shares it on social media to raise awareness for others who are at high risk of developing breast cancer.
Stay-at-home mum-of-four, Stephanie Jane Paquin Kelly (42), from Michigan, USA, decided to undergo the double mastectomy operation after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in December 2015.
After Stephanie was tested positive for BRCA1, meaning that there is a high risk of her developing breast cancer too, she decided to prevent the possibility by undergoing surgery to remove her breasts and became a ‘previvor’.
She underwent surgery in December 2016 and the operation lasted for two hours, then remained in hospital for a further 24-hours.
She always thought her breasts were one of her better qualities, so the process of removing them initially knocked her confidence. She eventually decided to embrace her new body by tattooing a large ‘Wonder Woman Phoenix’ logo across her chest.
“With my family history full of cancer, I had always thought breast cancer was a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’,” Stephanie said.
“The genetic counsellor said I had a very high risk. I didn’t want to live in fear. I live next to my mum and just watched her suffer from the chemo more than anything else.
“I didn’t want to wait to get it first and then need chemo on top of the surgery. I made up my mind almost immediately.
“The counsellor said I took the news more calmly than anyone else she’d talked to. I just wasn’t surprised at all. I jumped in and wanted it all done as soon as possible.
“I’ve had issues with my body my whole life. But I had really worked hard to have a strong body and be as healthy as I could be, despite my other health issues.”
Stephanie has been faced with a few major chronic illnesses throughout her life, one of them being pain from a car crash.
She also suffers from gastroparesis, a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine, fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body, depression, and anxiety.
“I did like my breasts. They were a big part of what made me feel confident and more than that, I loved that they had fed all my kids for many years collectively,” she added.
“I have my moments; when I miss the soft curves of my breasts, when I miss being able to wear a bathing suit and have it fit well.
“But honestly, with my new Wonder Woman Phoenix tattoo across my mastectomy scar, I feel very confident. I have never been one to be just like everybody else.
“I feel like this gives me even more freedom to not care. I am never going to look like the majority of women in this world, so I get to re-invent myself into whatever I want and make this my new body my own.”
As well as the external advantages, Stephanie feels like her new body has many practical aspects and it has helped her connect with many women in the same situation.
“I am now sleeping more comfortably, on my belly, I can run without needing extra support, I save money by not having to buy bras,” she said.
“I can wear smaller sizes and actually shop in the girl’s section which is a lot cheaper than the women’s section. I can hug closer. I can take my shirt off in public – I haven’t yet, but I can.
“It has connected me with a new community of women. When I began posting, I couldn’t find many images of women like me, so now I’ve made a point to share everything.
“Even if the pictures are hard to share, it is something I like to talk about a lot. I try to raise awareness of the BRCA mutations and how easy it is to be tested for it.”
While the surgery went smoothly and there were no complications, Stephanie found the acceptance of her new body difficult at first.
“The surgery went smoothly and I healed well. It is now ten months post-op and I do have some muscle pain still. It is especially painful in my under-arm area,” she said.
“Mentally, I think the part that was hardest was walking away from the sexual side. Giving up a major erogenous zone is a big decision.
“But my husband made it clear – he’d rather have me by his side for life. Perspective helps. My family is great. My mum had a double mastectomy after her chemo.
“My older sister is also positive and is in the process of her own surgeries. They have been my biggest cheerleaders.
“I can’t imagine life without them. I had a few friends question me, but I found that giving them my reasons made me more sure of the decision myself.”
For more information visit: https://www.instagram.com/stephanie_jane_kelly/