TRURO – Smiling and laughing at her kitchen table, Marlene Miller’s passion for life beams from her like a ray of sunshine.
The Truro resident said during the past three years as she waged war on breast cancer she gained a deeper appreciation for all the small joys in life.
Today, after a single mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments, she in remission and has launched another battle to remove the stigma of the disease.
“There is a huge stigma against women who have had breast cancer,” said Miller, 50. “Why is it? We didn’t ask to have cancer. No one asks to have cancer, that’s for sure, so why are we put in a category where ‘you’re different now.”’
Miller has joined 53 women from across Canada, four from the Maritimes, in a united front in the newly published book, Breast Stories: Cancer Survivors Speak Out, to break that stigma by telling their personal stories and revealing their scars, both emotionally and physically.
“Awesome,” she said about the opportunity to be involved with the project.
“To be able to share with the world or anyone who wants to read the book and to be a part of this with other women who have learned to move on, to live happily, to be full women even though we have body parts missing, I’m honored to be in that book.”
The book, published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside, is the brainchild of Montreal Journalist Phil Carpenter, who captured each woman’s story in full colour along with revealing portraits.
Miller became aware of the project through an acquaintance in Ottawa, who is also a breast cancer survivor.
“I jumped on it as fast as I could and messaged off to Phil and asked if he was coming to the Maritimes that I would be more than happy to show my scar, tell my story if it could help one woman, just one woman, by what I was doing, then it would be worth while.”
“I’m not ashamed to show my scar.”
Miller’s battle with breast cancer began in 2009 when she discovered a lump in her right breast. She had lost a grandmother, mother and sister to the disease, along with her father to brain cancer, and didn’t hesitate to have it checked by her family doctor. Her worst fears were realized on Dec. 23, 2009 when she was officially diagnosed and surgery to remove the breast was done on Feb. 17, 2010.
In January 2010, she was also diagnosed with bladder cancer and she underwent surgery to remove a tumor in April, followed by chemotherapy.
She said reconstruction of her breast wasn’t something she has ever considered, electing to only undergo life-saving surgeries and not to conform with expectations of society for women to have two breasts.
Miller recently attended the book’s official launch in Montreal on Oct. 19, meeting many of the women she shares so much in common with.
She said some people find the book difficult to look through but she feels it’s a tribute to the tenacity of the survivors and the images tell a true story.
“It shows that cancer is not a death sentence,” said the cancer survivor. “That beauty is in the eye of the beholder whether you have two, one or none. And to know that us as women have carried on very successfully with our lives. Huge adjustments needed to be made, and again, to get society to take away the stigma that is put upon us and we didn’t ask for it.”
She said after the mastectomy and chemotherapy, talking about her challenges and body changes helped her heal and keep a positive attitude as she coped with the disease.
She feels the journey has made her a more compassionate person and being a part of the book has given her strength to fight for others aiming to break the stigma associated with society's expectation women should have two breasts.
“ Some people don’t want to see it,” said Miller. “It’s not this horrific, ugly monster that’s on my chest it’s a scar and that’s all it is. Other people that have this know we are not abnormal, we are not monsters because of our scars. We are beautiful, we are survivors, we are alive and if this is what we have to live with every day to stay alive then people should be respectful of that.”
At a glance:
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).
* An estimated 22,700 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,100 will die of it.
* An estimated 200 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 55 will die of it.
*On average, 62 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day.
*On average, 14 Canadian women will die of breast cancer every day.
*Probability of developing or dying from breast cancer - one in nine women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and one in 29 will die of it.
Source: Canadian Cancer Society