Nisha had a double mastectomy two days after her 30th birthday. Though surgery and treatment have changed her body, she is working to embrace her new image.
Fashion helped me when I was first diagnosed
Being diagnosed as a younger woman was hard. I was one of the youngest people on my ward and I was meeting women who had been diagnosed for the second time, which I found really scary.
As a way of helping myself through it, I would still dress up every time I went in.
My mum said I should just wear pyjamas to chemo, but there was no chance of that. I would wear nice clothes and headscarves, orange lipstick or a pink kimono. I wanted to go in feeling like myself. Bright and bold. I wanted that feeling of ‘I’ve got this’, almost as if it was an interview. I needed that strength through my make-up and what I wore.
I wanted to be in control of how I was perceived by others.
I grieve for the parts of me that are missing
As part of my treatment, I had a double mastectomy. That really changed how I feel about my body. It’s hard to feel complete when part of me is missing, and I grieve for the parts that are no longer there.
I used to have big breasts, so now my old clothes don’t necessarily suit me. I had to buy new things, try out different styles, and try to work out what looked good. It doesn’t matter what size your breasts were; after a mastectomy, it feels that your body is not so much yours. It feels artificial and unnatural and unfeminine.
But I have to own who I am. I was diagnosed young. I can’t feel ashamed of myself. I want to live the rest of my life being confident and strong. I can’t lose who I am because of my scars – they are part of my story.
It is important for me to be proud of my identity
My identity has changed, but in a good way. It’s important for me to be an advocate, to share my experiences and help spread awareness.
Being Indian and Sikh, we’re from a culture where people don’t talk about being unwell. They just brush it under the carpet. When I was diagnosed, I told my parents straight away that I wasn’t going to do that. I couldn’t hide this from anyone, so I made a conscious decision to be open.
Because nobody talks about it, I couldn’t see many people who look like me sharing their experience of breast cancer. Not having someone else going through the same thing made me feel isolated. It’s hard when you don’t find voices that sound or look like yourself.
Cancer needs to not be a taboo. I am not alone or an anomaly; this happens to everyone. I hope that now, by sharing my story, I’m doing my bit in spreading awareness that Asian people can get cancer too.
Cancer still affects me, but I have accepted who I am
Since the end of my treatment, I am rediscovering how I dress. It’s exciting. I’m a bigger person but I’m finding out new ways of dressing for my new body, a different style.
Fashion for me is fun and playful. I can portray my personality and use make-up to help define who I am. It is easy to be hard on yourself and your body when you see a reflection that doesn’t feel like you, but I see my scars as battle wounds.
Someone told me once, ‘Cancer is the gift that keeps on giving,’ and that is so true. Yes, I may be ‘over’ cancer, but my life will still involve tests, scans, appointments – it never ends. I thought I was going to have children and now I’m not sure. My breast cancer diagnosis impacted my future before my life had properly started.
But it is important to grieve for what you have lost while accepting who you are and what your body is now.
Treat yourself and go all out. Walk in feeling like you’re on a catwalk. Life is for living.
You can help support people like Nisha by purchasing something from our Fashion Targets Breast Cancer range. Every piece sold helps fund vital research and care for people with breast cancer.