Posing for a glamorous fund-raising calendar, one group of breast cancer survivors prove that a woman can still look feminine and sexy after a mastectomy.
It's 10.30am and Sallie Floyed, a 6ft leggy blonde, is reclining in a sandstone bath full of soapy bubbles. She has a million-dollar smile. Tendrils of hair fall seductively around her face and there are glimpses of thigh.
Everybody here is taking part in a celebration of the lives of 12 ordinary but defiant women, united by their decision to remove one or both of their breasts to stop cancer in its tracks. The message here is that post-mastectomy – women can still feel gorgeous.
Beneath the glitz, glamour and glorious bubbles of Sallie's bath are two reconstructed breasts and a woman who, 18 months earlier, was undergoing a preventive double mastectomy. The story of the Bosom Buddies calendar began in March 2006.
Sallie Floyed, 35, and Chrystalla Spire, 49, were lying in neighbouring beds at the Royal Marsden, west London's world-famous cancer hospital. Both women were recuperating from recent operations, and bonded over the coincidence that they were wearing identical pyjamas.
There were four other women on their ward scheduled to have mastectomies. High on morphine, and in a scene reminiscent of an Alan Bennett play, Sallie and Chrystalla embarked on a truly inspiring journey, one that culminated in them forming the Bosom Buddies Trust.
The inspiration for the calendar was a terrified twentysomething woman a few beds along from Sallie and Chrystalla who was facing a double mastectomy. 'She felt so vulnerable and ashamed. She was absolutely devastated that she was losing her breasts,' recalls Chrystalla. 'We desperately wanted her to feel reassured about her body image – that
she didn't have to feel like a freak. We wanted to empower her, to take away the fear factor.'
In the spirit of the now infamous naked Women's Institute calendar, the Bosom Buddies version pays homage to every woman affected by a mastectomy. But they avoided the obvious path of nudity. 'We felt naked breasts would detract from our message,' explains Sallie. 'We've survived surgery and retained the essence of ourselves, so why not present our confident selves? It's all about attitude without having to shout it out.' In other words, revealing dresses that say womanly and desirable.
Sallie was just six when her mother died of breast cancer, aged 34. The disease went on
to claim her sister at 24. 'Geneticists calculated that I had a 34 per cent risk of developing the disease, so it was a simple choice to opt for a preventive double mastectomy – I didn't want to live under a death sentence,' she says.
Chrystalla has no family history of the disease, yet she developed it. The statistics are brutal: one in nine of us will suffer from breast cancer at some point in our life.
It was this staggering fact that spurred the two women on to set up the charity, Bosom Buddies, in April 2006. 'In hospital, Sallie and I had seen other women suffer and we realised how easy it was to focus on the negative, yet we wanted to stand up and say that you can have breast cancer and still be feminine and sexy,' says Chrystalla. Their idea for the calendar was spread through word of mouth, via family and friends, and there was no shortage of women stepping forward asking to be involved.
Lorraine Harris and Christine Creasy, two of the calendar girls, are part of a group of eight women who have known each other for years and get together once a week. When Christine returned from holiday four years ago, Lorraine was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy; then Christine was diagnosed with the disease. 'It's amazing, isn't it – that out of our group, two of us developed breast cancer? Two out of eight is a very high statistic,' says Lorraine.
In the background, another calendar girl, Maria Dockery, is swanning around in a silk
Ann Louise Roswald evening dress. She looks like Sophia Loren – all big hair and pouty lips.
Her cousins, all calendar girls too, are three sisters, Christine, Sue Chappin and Mandi McSwiggan. They came close to losing their lives to this disease but their resilience, robustness and sheer fortitude helped save them. As photographer Nicky says: 'These women are truly amazing – so enthusiastic and so proud. There's such bravery, such spirit and zest for life!'
The calendar is on sale in early September from calendarclub.co.uk, all proceeds go to cancer charities.
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