How I Learned to Get Naked With Strangers Again After My Mastectomy

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I’d finally done it. Eighteen months after my mastectomy, I got a tattoo to cover my scar. It transformed me from feeling like a victim to feeling victorious, a badass with a bright branch of cherry blossoms across my chest to protect me. Instead of being imperfect — with a deflated chest and a divot (a reminder of the reconstructive surgery that failed) — I was now a piece of living, breathing art.

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Cathy Brown’s post-mastectomy tattoo. (Photo credit: Gen “Pistol” Gordon, Guts’n Glory Ink)

One of my great joys had been making occasional pilgrimages to a Korean spa in College Point, Queens, with a handful of close gal pals. One of my great sadnesses (besides being diagnosed with breast cancer and being afraid I was going to die, that is!) was the thought that I might never be able to handle being in a public bathhouse with dozens of other women who, unlike me, had two ta-tas.

But I felt more ready to cross that “spa” line since getting my tattoo. Gen “Pistol” Gordon’s custom-drawn design transformed my scar tissue into a symbol of rebirth. With my permission, Gen posted my new tat on Guts’n Glory’s Facebook page. I posted it on my own Facebook page, Pinterest and “Why We Ink,” a page devoted to memorial and survivor tattoos. The response was overwhelmingly positive. But there’s a big difference between baring my chest electronically and doing it in person.

My moment of truth was yet to come. Could I be naked with strangers?

Knowing my trepidation, my friends, Nadia and Eila, invited me to join them when our mutual friend, Liza, decided to celebrate her birthday with a spa day. I felt incredibly comfortable with these three women. During my health odyssey, they’d been an undaunting support system, offering songs of healing and hope, coming by with Trader Joe’s “puckers” when chemotherapy made my mouth feel as dry as ash and lending a empathetic ear at the other end of the tunnel after chemo. I was ready to be naked with them. But with strangers? That was something else entirely.

On a bright fall day, Eila and I drove toward the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge from our homes in Brooklyn. “I can’t wait to see your tattoo,” she told me, perhaps sensing my trepidation. After we’d parked, paid and stowed our shoes, we moved toward the spa’s communal area where women of all shades and sizes were in various stages of undress.

As we unlocked our lockers with magic wrist bands linked to our credit cards, Eila asked gently, “Are you ready?” I fumbled with my lace bra, hoping my silicone form wouldn’t fall out from the left cup. I wasn’t exactly ready … yet I was.

I prepared myself for the first unveiling — showing Eila my tattoo. Taking a deep breath, I unsnapped. Eila leaned in close. I could practically feel her warm breath on the side of my chest, the place where “Lefty” used to be. The place that was protected by a spray of persimmon-shaded flowers. “It’s so beautiful,” Eila said, her face softening into a grin. And I believed her.

Spa Castle has a strict no-towels policy in the indoor soaking area. In strongly accented English, their booty guards made no bones about coercing ladies to drop their drapes if they tried to cover up. The same-sex hot tub section was a bathing-suit-free zone. Even the flimsy hand towels they offered left little protection.

Eila and I padded barefoot toward the spa pools. Before immersing ourselves, we rinsed off in adjoining showers that sprung from the black tiled walls. Due to the extreme heat, I left my glasses behind in the locker because the lenses would be perpetually fogged. This was a blessing in disguise because if anyone stared at me, my nearsighted self wouldn’t be able to tell. So far, so good.

After a quick scrub, Eila and I chose one of the pools in the medium temperature range from the four different heated mineral soaks. Still sans spectacles, I managed to decipher Nadia by her walk. Liza, the birthday girl, was just behind her. All three of my angels of support were finally here. Circling me, they oohed and aahed over the bouquet tattooed across my chest.

I finally sighed with true relief. Maybe it was the presence of my “sisters.” Maybe it was the relaxing heat of the bubbling spa. But I had suddenly made it past a huge post-mastectomy hurdle.

I had managed to be naked with strangers and lived to tell the tale.

In the end, no one stared. Well, no more than women usually stare at each other, especially naked women: comparing and contrasting, and hopefully concluding, like I did, that we’re all quite lovely and all so very different. 

We’re all beautiful miracles, every last one of us. But especially me.

A version of this story by Catherine Gigante-Brown first appeared at ravishly.com, an alternative news+culture women’s website. 

More from Ravishly:

25 Pieces of Advice for Anyone Going Through Chemo

After Losing Three Sons

Why Do I Get to Be “Cancer Girl”?

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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This Man Created a Font to Show What Reading With Dyslexia Is Like for Him

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Daniel Britton, a graphic designer from Kent, England, was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was 18 years old.

While attending the London College of Communication to study graphic design, he decided to take a school project and turn it into an opportunity to allow his friends, family and colleagues to see the world from his perspective.

“My problem with dyslexia is that it’s greatly misunderstood and miscommunicated,” Britton told The Mighty. “Since it’s an invisible disability it’s hard to empathize or help someone because you can’t see or feel what their problem is.”

So Britton created Dyslexia, a typeface that recreates the frustration, embarrassment and difficulty of reading with the condition.

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He did this by removing about 40 percent of the lines from a regular typeface, making it more difficult to read.

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A comparison of regular text and the Dyslexia font.

Britton wants to recreate this experience for people who don’t have dyslexia so they can be more understanding and gain perspective.

“It’s a tool for raising awareness,” Britton told The Mighty.”I thought it could help a few people.”

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After completing the project for his college class, Britton showed it to family and friends and finally felt understood. For the first time, they could all comprehend the difficulties he’d faced all his life.

“It gave them that lightbulb moment of, ‘OK, I get it now,'” Britton told The Mighty. “To hear that they understood was all I needed. I’d finally managed to get someone to empathize with my situation.”

Daniel Britton Dyslexia

Britton says the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive since his project was first published online a few weeks ago. He’s received emails from people all over the world who say his font has helped them understand the struggles of loved ones with dyslexia or that it has helped them get others to understand their own difficulties.

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He hasn’t yet begun the process of turning it into a purchasable typeface but hopes to be able to someday soon.

And for young people living with dyslexia who find it difficult to keep up in school, Britton has this to say.

“When you find out you’re dyslexic, it’s hard, but if I had the option to chose, I’d choose dyslexia every day,” Britton told The Mighty. “The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. You’re going to have to work ten, 15 even 20 times harder than everyone else, but you’ll learn to solve problems in a completely different manner. In the end, it’s really, really gratifying.”

To check out more of Daniel Britton’s design work, visit his website

Related: This Man Invented a Font to Help People With Dyslexia Read

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This Is What My Anxiety Feels Like

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There’s a misconception that anxious people are antisocial, short-fused or overdramatic. But they’re most likely processing everything around them so intensely that they can’t handle a lot of questions, people or heavy information all at once.” – Katie Crawford

Anxiety can be debilitating. It feels like a constant heaviness in your mind, like something isn’t quite right, even though you don’t know exactly what that something is. It feels like acid in your stomach, burning and eating away at the emptiness and taking away any feelings of hunger. It’s like a tight knot that you can’t untwist.

Anxiety can feel like your mind is on fire, overthinking and overanalyzing every little, irrelevant thing. Sometimes it makes you feel restless and constantly distracted. It can feel as if your thoughts are running wild in a million different directions, bumping into each other along the way. Other times, it can make you feel detached, as if your mind has gone blank and you are no longer mentally present. You dissociate and feel as if you have left your own body.

Anxiety feels like there’s a voice in the back of your mind telling you that everything is not OK, when everything in fact is. Sometimes the voice tells you there’s something wrong with you and that you’re different from everybody else. It tells you your feelings are bad and a burden to the world and that you should isolate. It can make everyday tasks, such as making simple decisions, incredibly difficult.

Anxiety can keep you up at night, tossing and turning. It’s like a light bulb that comes on at the most inconvenient times and won’t switch off. Your body feels exhausted, but your mind feels wide-awake and racing. You go through the events of your day, analyzing and agonizing over every specific detail.

Anxiety is a liar, although it feels incredibly real. Listening to it won’t make it go away. You’re not different from everyone else or a burden. Your feelings are as important as everyone else’s. You experience anxiety, but you are not your anxiety. Don’t let this psychological disorder define you. With the right help, it can be manageable.

A couple years ago, I would get panic attacks before oral presentations and my grades would suffer because of it. After years of working with my therapist on ways to best manage and face my anxieties, I was able to take a public speaking class and end up with an A. Constantly exposing yourself to your anxieties in a safe place, such as a therapist’s office, is key to working through them. I also learned the importance of taking care of myself — exercising regularly, practicing positive affirmations, meditating and getting enough sleep.

This post originally appeared on Liv Light.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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To The People Who Make Comments and Stare at My Scars, Thank You

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To all the people who stared, made comments and rolled their eyes when they saw me, thank you.

All of you had different reactions to a young teenage girl that had a half-shaved head due to having 10 brain surgeries within two years. Some of you gave looks of pity, some of you did a double take at the 30 something stitches and some of you just smiled.

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My favorite responses though were from the people who made nasty comments, saying “You don’t belong here, and don’t expect me to give up my seat for you,” (on a Downtown Disney bus — yes, really. Trust me I wasn’t expecting anyone to give up their seat for me.

One time, while being out in public I got this one: “You really need to wear something over that, nobody wants to see that.” I’m sorry if you don’t want to see a young girl’s life that was just saved because of a brain surgery?

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No matter where I went someone was staring. Workers, people I passed in parking lots, people I passed in the hospital, even nurses at my doctor’s office made comments about it. After the surgeries that was my exact fear — those reactions, and how I would deal with them.

Because of all of you, I was a bit surprised at myself. At first the comments did hurt a little bit because they reminded me that I do have to fight through a lot of things most people my age don’t. It made me feel different, like I wasn’t the same type of person and I most definitely “didn’t belong.”

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But then I learned I needed to quickly get over it because it was just taking space up in my mind and making me feel worse. I then realized these people had no idea who I was or what I was going through. They didn’t know my story and what my scars meant. It was just something I had to learn to brush off whenever I saw a pair of eyes staring at me, or a rude comment made to me. I had to remind myself that I’m still the same person despite having several scars on my head and half of my hair gone.

So thank you for all those comments and stares.

They’ve made me more confident and not afraid to show my head after a surgery anymore, because every scar has a story to tell. And I’ve got a lot of stories.

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The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When the Brother I Share a Disease With Made Me an Unforgettable Offer

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Almost a year ago while on a beach getaway, my family sat in a nice restaurant eating a delicious dinner. Well almost all of us… You see, my brother Tyler and I have a disease that makes our digestive tracts unable to move and digest food properly in our gastrointestinal tracts. Due to the severity of the disease, we’re both fed through a central line in our chest that gets the nutrients straight into the blood and bypasses the digestive tract. Everything the average person eats on a daily basis we can’t have.

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Sitting at that dinner table that night was particularly difficult for Tyler. He was only 9 at the time and was starting to realize he’s different than everyone else. Having to watch people do something we can’t do, like eat, feels like torture. Thankfully at home our parents don’t request us to sit at the table with them while they eat. We have an “open door” policy. If you want to sit down with the family you can. If you don’t want to sit down with them for dinner you’re able to do what you need.

This there wasn’t an option. There was no place to escape to that would allow us to get away from the aroma. As I saw Tyler struggling I offered to take him outside to the back patio because I knew it was hard for me to sit in there, much less a little boy to sit and watch everyone eat. We found some nice rocking chairs to sit in and started making silly little jokes — anything to get our mind off things. Soon we paused. Looking out into the ocean, he began to speak and said, “You know what?”

I replied, “What?”

He proceeded to tell me that if I didn’t need to have tubes, if he was the only one that was sick with tubes, he would do it. I don’t like my tubes at all, but I would do it!

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I broke down. That little boy didn’t know one reason why I was crying. He thought he’d made me upset, and I just took him into a big embrace. We stayed that way for what seemed like hours. My little man was so selfless, and he always worried about me and how I was feeling when he should be worried about himself. I’m supposed to be the one who worries about him. Mentally, the disease puts a big strain on his little mind, which can’t comprehend all of what’s happened. Yet, Tyler is the one telling everyone else to stay strong.

Tyler and I have always had the closest relationship. I believe we became best friends for that reason. We were close before we were both critically ill, but after, we both became each other’s biggest supporters. I understand many of the emotions he has and help him through them, and there are some procedures helps me through. It’s tough to see the fear and worry in his eyes because I know it all too well. If we lived a typical life I doubt I would have this bond with my brother.

It’s definitely bittersweet. While it sounds so amazing to have a partner to go through all this together, so neither of us has to be alone, I’d never want the situation to be like this. The two of us have had to be strong for each other, and that’s what’s made me remain positive — because I know I have to do it for him.

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That moment on the beach that summer night I knew we would be OK. I knew we would make it through the worst. We would survive and live life to the fullest all because we had each other as our source of strength. It was definitely a shock to hear this from my youngest brother, but it just further validated the reason why he is my best friend and my superhero.

A version of this story also appeared on It’s Not as Easy as You Think.

The Mighty wants to read more stories about siblings, whether it’s your favorite memory or a tough moment that taught you something. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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