I, Mutant

How breast cancer altered my identity

31 December 2020
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WHEN MY FATHER PASSED AWAY, in 2016, I made grandiose promises to myself. One of them was that chemo would never enter my bloodstream. If cancer came for me it could have me. Watching him disintegrate was hard. I blamed the drugs as much as the disease. Since my father was diagnosed with and eventually died of lung cancer in his late sixties, this was the manner and age I expected it to happen to me too.

In May 2020, in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. By June, I had undergone a battery of tests and started the first of an eight-cycle chemotherapy regimen that would leave me questioning my own sanity as much as my gender. In October, I lost both my breasts, some muscle and several lymph nodes. As I write this, in December, I am about to begin a 15-day cycle of radiation. I am wondering how much more this year can do before it is done.

With my cancer metastasizing, I had to think fast. What it really came down to was this: who would take care of my son? My son could go to his biological father—a father in name only, who does not know and has never spent time with him. I was having none of it. But there was still the reluctance to chemo. The first tumour had grown so fast that it had already taken up a third of my breast by the time I was diagnosed. But I had no choice but to sit on it until the lockdown was lifted.

Natalie Soysa is a photographer, writer and activist based in Colombo.