Vanessa is a complex, challenging, outspoken, resilient, resourceful, eclectic, loyal, life-skilled, open- minded, defiant, passionate, unfiltered warrior who is a committed opportunity shopper - "Recycle all the way!" She's also a self-professed ratbag and says that some of the funniest stories she has come from her five years as the owner of an adult retail store. Vanessa is counting down to September-ish when she can call herself a breast cancer survivor. Welcome to her Conversation on the Couch.
What has been the most surprising effect about having breast cancer?
The way I think.
Looking for something my whole life and never realising it was there the whole time. The grass is not greener. There is no place greener than right here, right now, no matter what the moment brings.
Family, friends, professional and organic supports. People who want to make life easier/richer for the kids and I. Amazing organisations that put food on the table and keep a roof over your head while everything goes to shit.
Unspoken connections with survivors. Magnetic drawing. The priceless value of lived experience.
An awareness and clarity in thoughts.
A need to share, a need to be charitable, a need to support and give of self.
Letting go of the small stupid stuff that you thought mattered and warranted a buy in.
Letting go and trusting the universe has got your back and all comes to you when it is most needed. And if you need to struggle for a little bit, that’s ok too, it all builds strength and character.
An open mindedness to try new things. Entertain new thoughts.
Asking for and accepting help.
I listen to my body. I understand it and hear it more than ever. Things I never considered...nose hairs, only when you loose them do you truly understand their purpose...think about that for a minute.
Rapid menopause. You tune in fast, because it feels like crap and you need to find some prediction in it to cope with the ride. Acknowledge why the body feels so crap. Understand the other side is there and it will come, but just get through now.
Have you had any unexpected changes in your relationship with your body post-cancer diagnosis?
Unexpected? No, not really. I was well informed and researched what my diagnosis meant for my body. I like to know, I like honesty and expected outcomes. Getting my head around all possible senarios is an important tool for my mental coping skills.
I have never been big on my own body-image, struggling with weight my entire life. Never cared much for any fad diet, powder or magic pill. I see my body as a vessel I live inside and mostly have always accepted it, a young body, a pregnant body, a mummy's body and now an aging body....and a cancer scarred body. Hahaha. It doesn't define me.
It has been an adjustment to dress. I have never been one to go without a bra...ever. It suprises me how comfortable I am with it.
Breast Cancer/mastectomy is almost a right of passage to hang your boob about while you sort through it.
I am probably more comfortable with my body than ever before. It just is and I'm alive.
Sharing my body with my partner had some insecurities attached to it. But as I handle most things full-frontal, that’s what I did. I undressed asked him to look at me (poor bastard would have been shitting himself hoping like hell it was the right response!) I watched him look at me, I needed to see him see. I then asked that he touch my scar. I needed to know he just seen me. And he did.
You have a Facebook Page providing an honest view as one woman with breast cancer, tell us about the impact that writing on the page has had on you and did you expect it to fulfill that role
I have always been a communicator. It's pure therapy.
When first diagnosed, there is this time-frame between appointments and information. I have always been hungry to know things.
I searched websites, read books and brochures as I tried to work it all out. But what I really wanted was to ask questions, someone who could map out the “what now?” That was difficult to find. So I decided to put that out there for the next me who went searching.
The more you talk about something the less tabu. The more people understand, the more awareness.
If it gives others a platform, that’s great. If it helps someone support a friend, that’s great. If it shares fundraisers and gets a few $$ in a tin, that’s awesome. If it builds into a lifetime goal to write a book, that’s a personal achievement.
Time or money?
The trick is balance. What is money without time to enjoy it, and what is a whole lot of time with no funds to explore it?
What do you most connect with? Why?
Honesty. Informed choices are the best. No fairy tales, no bullshit, take it or leave it.
Humour. Because if you can't laugh, well I feel very sad for you. I value people who make me laugh.
Humanity. Because we all have rights, and if they were respected we would all have a better quality of life.
Do you find yourself influencing your world, or it influencing you?
The world influences me, we have rules/laws, accepted behaviours, media, global threats and many many things that largely out of our control.....BUT... I'd like to think I have some influence on it too. I'm doing the best I can to raise 2 great kids to co-exsist in it.
I have spent 20 years dedicated to walking alongside vulnerable people fighting to make change, demanding inclusion, breaking barriers and genuinely improving quality of life.
Do any of the things that used to upset you a few years ago matter at all today? What’s changed?
Funny question. Everything has changed. Just the other day I sat back on the lounge, looked about the living space and thought there's just crap everywhere, hot wheels tracks from one end of the hall to the other, dvds laying about the tv cabinet and coffee table, wii cords across the floor, dishes piled in the sink and dust pulled together on the floor boards to the corners of the rooms...not one bit of it mattered.
Normally this stuff would drive me nuts, I like things sorted and in their place.
My rest was more important than a tidy home. Mindfullness, here and now.
I don’t buy in as easy, It doesn't matter. And you know what, it's ok.
We can't thank Vanessa enough for that incredible conversation! If you'd like to read more from Vanessa, you can find her on Facebook at Breast Cancer, One Woman, Honest Blog.
We are currently seeking more volunteers to have a Conversation on the Couch, so please message us if you or someone you know would be interested in thinking about life and other things. As always, make sure you subscribe to our website at The Psychology of It to make sure you never miss a thing!