Interview: Anne Stansell

by Alice Rawsthorn .

You are you, do not be influenced by social pressures to change your appearance by surgery; it is not the answer. We are beautiful, strong, vital women just the way we are.

‘Fourteen years ago, at the age of 39, I had a breast infection. For several years I’d had a lump in my left breast as a result of a minor injury in an airplane accident. The surgeon said: "If you’ve had this lump for several years and your regular doctor has been following you, it is probably alright." My husband asked her: "If this was your breast  what would you do?" Her answer: "I’d have a biopsy." The surgical biopsy showed intraductal cancer. ‘The following week I had a radical mastectomy. Nineteen lymph nodes were removed and tested, none were cancerous. And there has been no recurrence.’

‘Three specialists told me: "You have breast cancer, you need a mastectomy, radiation therapy and breast reconstruction." As if it was all part of the treatment. I felt as if the doctors had just saved my life, I trusted them. At first I liked the breast implants. It helped me be in denial about having had breast cancer.  People could not tell I’d had my breasts amputated, and I did not mention it, either. The breast cancer rate continued to escalate and I found that if no one spoke up, people were very comfortable not seeing anyone who may have survived this dreaded disease.’
‘After a few years the breast implants became very painful, one had shrunk to half its size, and I realized these lumps  did not resemble breasts at all. Then I became ill with many strange symptoms. I did not realize that my dry eyes were caused by the leaking breast implants. My retina tore in my eye it was so dry. My memory was impaired, as was my vision. I had chronic fatigue, I had skin disorders, the list goes on.’

‘I had the implants removed and now my chest is so tender I cannot wear any prosthesis at all. I can only wear soft clothing like knit shirts. But my health is improving. My symptoms are subsiding, although I have a way to go before I will feel myself again. My confidence is in the fact that I have survived cancer, and have survived breast implants.’

When the specialists were advising Anne to have reconstructive surgery: ‘There was no discussion that silicone breast implants were not and never had been approved by the FDA. I was not told that there had been no research on mastectomy women and breast implants. I was not told that breast implants block mammography. The recurrence  of breast cancer was my number one concern, not how I looked in a bathing suit. I was not told that breast implants caused many illnesses.’

‘I was told that breast implants would last a lifetime. Now I’ve learned that the rupture rate is unacceptable. After 10 years, 50% of all implants begin to fall apart and leak; and at 20 years nearly all implants have ruptured. This is true of all implants no matter what their filling (silicone, saline, soy oils, etc) as all implants are encased in a silicone envelope. These statistics are from the FDA.’

‘I decided to participate in the shoot with Nick Knight as it has been my mission to encourage all women, whether affected by breast cancer or not, to be accepting of their bodies. Whether breasts are small or large, they are yours. You are you, do not be influenced by social pressures to change your appearance by surgery; it is not the answer. We are beautiful, strong, vital women just the way we are.’

‘Furthermore, I encourage women all over the world that if they are diagnosed with breast cancer, they too, can be survivors. I encourage women who have had mastectomies to remain the same women they were; to capitalise on the strength and courage gained during their illness and be proud of the fact that they are survivors.’

Anne is now a photographer, who dedicates her work to breast cancer survivorship. Her photographs of women and their stores, Silicone, the Sequel, is available for exhibit at universities, breast cancer charities and art galleries. For more information contact: