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Wednesday, May 26, 2010



When I was searching for the perfect dress to wear to my film premiere it was no easy feat. It’s not that I couldn’t find plenty of lovely places to shop or fine clothing to wear; it’s that none of those clothes looked right on my figure anymore because 2 years earlier I had lost both of my breasts to cancer. Now I had no bosom, and having chosen not to reconstruct it I really needed to pick my fashion carefully. If I didn’t, I could end up looking less like a pretty wife and mother of two and more like a pre-teen boy ready for little league try outs.

My journey with breast cancer is the subject of a documentary film called The Breast Cancer Diaries and in 2006 it was about to have its premiere at The Richmond Museum of Science in Richmond, Virginia at the IMAX theatre in front of 200 people. I wanted to wear an outfit that would make me look and feel pretty, sexy, and strong--like the courageous person I was hoping I was. It had only been a few years since my diagnosis and I was still getting used to being a cancer “survivor.” Of course, not having died of anything else yet, I was clinging to the hope that I was truly a survivor of breast cancer--but only time would be able to tell.

In the meantime, I had little time left--just a few weeks--until I flew to Virginia for the film screening and following gala in the ballroom outside the IMAX theatre. I had been through countless magazines, shopped store front windows, and combed the closets of family and friends desperately searching for “the” outfit. As the days flew by, I got nervous that I’d be in sweatpants and a t-shirt if I didn’t find something beautiful for my body--fast.

And then one summer day as I walked through my downtown’s main street, a sparkle of fabric wrapped around the shoulder of a store front mannequin caught my eye. I went closer and gazed through the glass at the most gorgeous navy blue taffeta dress I had ever seen. It was cut just below the knee, wrapped closely at the hips, with an elegant drape across the chest. I looked up and down but could not find any straps--and yet it was so beautiful and fairytale-like I made myself question the impossible. Could a breast-less woman pull off this strapless beauty of a dress?

I went inside to see the dress from the opposite side. It had a beautiful covered zipper straight up the back and a handsome, veil-like wrap to cover the naked shoulders of the wearer of this dress. Would that be me? I turned to see the shopkeeper standing behind me, beaming. Would I like to try on this dress? She was certain I’d be gorgeous in it.

I went into the dressing room and put it over my head. I didn’t need to unzip it because it slipped right over my scarred chest. I looked at the profile of my reflection in the mirror and saw the place where my breasts should be. For once, that sad area that cancer had robbed felt alive. Wrapped in blue sparkles and shimmering from a swath of fabric, my chest felt like it was getting something back, if only temporarily. But short lived or not, this feeling was something I’d missed dearly; I felt beautiful. I bought the dress.

And then the shopkeeper and I worked together to pull and tuck the top across my breast bone so that there would be no puckering, no pouching, no where-are-that-woman’s-breasts? When she was done, the dress looked like it was made for me and unless you’d watched my film or knew me personally you’d have never known I had no cleavage.

A few weeks later I walked down a pink carpet, passing photographers snapping pictures and was ushered into a front row seat to await the opening of my film. Encased in the stunning outfit that I’d first seen in that main street shop window a few weeks earlier, I was the belle of the breast cancer ball. I felt happy and healthy and pretty and beautiful and I smiled knowing that beneath this gorgeous piece of fashion was a fighter; a woman who was down once but was definitely not out. In fact, she was so “in” this night that she was beaming; bathed in blue, sparkling like glitter, and pulling off a fashion statement that three weeks ago she would have thought impossible to do.

And it was all thanks to the dress.

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