Body

Why I write to my boobs

Emily’s project began as a way to get her feelings about cancer off her chest.

By Monique Balvert

Scores of women are writing letters to their “wobbly womanly body parts” thanks to the initiative of a Tauranga breast cancer survivor.

Emily Searle underwent 14 rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy with node clearance, breast reconstruction and five weeks of radiation, and has ongoing hormone treatment. The day after her last radiation dose, she launched The Dear Boobs Project.

The endearingly named scheme is about collecting “intimate, courageous and sometimes hilarious Dear Boobs letters” from women who have undergone surgery due to breast cancer.

Since launch day on June 31, the 37-year-old has received 54 letters and had hundreds of women join her Facebook community.

A qualified physiotherapist and childbirth educator, Emily – a wife to Tim, and mother to Matilda, six, and Stanley, four – plans to compile the letters into a book, which will be used to raise awareness, share wisdom, inspire healing and to celebrate the “incredible” breast cancer community.

A qualified physiotherapist and childbirth educator, Emily – a wife to Tim, and mother to Matilda, six, and Stanley, four – plans to compile the letters into a book, which will be used to raise awareness, share wisdom, inspire healing and to celebrate the “incredible” breast cancer community.

Her goal is to get 1000 books into doctors’ waiting rooms, cafés and on coffee tables.

“I expect affected women reading the book will laugh, perhaps cry, but mostly grasp their own experience better, and feel the hope and healing power of being part of a sisterhood that understands just how it is,” explains Emily.

Meanwhile, carers and supporters will gain insight into the hard decisions, the emotional complexity of letting go of a body part and the sometimes-long road to
a “new normal”, she says.

Emily’s cancer journey continues, with ovarian surgery next on the agenda. During her breast cancer treatment, she discovered she was a carrier of a BRCA2 genetic mutation. This means she has a significantly greater chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer at a young age.

Letter writing – or “narrative therapy” – has been cathartic for Emily. She firmly believes it can help women progress with healing and the acceptance of their post-surgical chest.

Women embracing The Dear Boobs Project are from all walks of life, aged 29 to 77, and have penned letters ranging from a five-line poem to a three-page in-depth consultation with their breasts. The project’s reach has expanded beyond New Zealand to include women from the US, Ireland and elsewhere.

Both Emily’s old and new boobs have received letters. “On the better days, I’d write to myself, ‘Dear Emily on a bad day,’ and reassure myself there was light and hope to come. On bad days, I would write to myself and to my cancer to ask for help, healing and ease for my symptoms.”

During radiation treatment, Emily says she searched for a way to offer something back to the community – both real and virtual – that had become a huge part of her survival.

The Dear Boobs Project developed and, with it, a feeling of excitement that the scheme had the potential to benefit thousands of women and their supporters.

“When the letters started flooding in and my Facebook following grew, I finally allowed myself to believe this was really going to be something amazing.

“My ultimate intention is that women affected by breast cancer or BRCA will read the book of letters and be in great company. I want them to feel supported and encouraged to know that their unique relationship with their wobbly womanly body parts really does matter.”

You can join the Dear Boobs community by visiting facebook.com/thedearboobsproject.

To contribute letters or donate to publication costs, email Emily Searle at dearboobs@outlook.com.

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