When it comes to women’s health, breast health is often overlooked especially when breast cancer is, in fact, the top cancer that affects women. Breast cancer is a scary reality that forces individuals to confront your own insecurities and body image in ways they never imagined.
It’s reported in Canada that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, however the probability of surviving breast cancer at least five years after diagnosis is about 89% in Canada.
This fact truly drives home the importance of us all understanding what affects our breast health and how breast cancer and breast cancer recovery can affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Christella shares her experience with breast cancer, the unexpected complications she faced following breast reconstruction surgery, and her journey back to health and body acceptance. Her story sheds light on the importance of self-advocacy and the need to reevaluate conventional approaches to breast cancer treatment.
She’s on a mission to bring visibility to breast implant illness and breast cancer recovery. Join us on this journey of resilience, self-discovery, and body acceptance through Christella’s experience.
I’m Christella, I’m a 37 year old in my sixth year of Portrait & LIfestyle Photography at Christella Luna Photo Co. and (now) Body-Positive Model & Flat Activist, living in Durham Region with my partner Justine and my 3 kids, Cohen, Carter & Cash. I’m passionate about living life with humility and generosity, and capturing life’s beautiful moments along the way!
I was diagnosed at 35 years old, in March 2022 with Stage 2A Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, about a year after finding a lump under my right breast. I was immediately concerned with the impact of reconstruction on my body, however I was talked into believing that I was overthinking things and reconstruction was just as safe of an option.
In May 2022 I had a bilateral mastectomy (breast amputation on both sides) with an immediate implant reconstruction with 2 x 350 CC saline mentor implants.
Immediately I had complications ranging from extreme pain, to a massive hematoma in both breasts 9 days post-op. Within weeks from surgery date I had several emergency trips to ER, a pulmonary embolism scare, my body began shutting down.
I had blurred vision / spots in my vision, migraine headaches, extreme chronic fatigue, mood swings, extreme chest, arm and extremity pain, extreme joint pain, onset depression and anxiety, hair thinning / loss, complexion changes, dark under eye circles, a deep impending sense of doom, and it quite literally felt like the life was draining from my body.
On May 1st, 2023, after many months of campaigning for it, I was finally able to have a bilateral explant surgery and capsulectomy, removing both implants, the alloderm, and the implant’s capsules from my body.
I had significant damage to the muscles and chest wall from the implants, leaving me with deep indentations, muscle weakness and thick lumpy scars instead of an aesthetic flat closure. Almost immediately all of my symptoms began to subside, and I began to regain my upper body strength and mobility again.
Today, I am back to working full time on Photography, and I’ve had a full recovery from my implant illness! I try to use my experience to warn other women about the realities of implant reconstruction, long term prognosis, and give a face and a name to breast implant illness. In my dream world, we would have a best practice of *NOT* putting black box devices into people actively going through cancer treatment, and waiting until treatment is complete before looking at additional reconstruction options.
How has your journey in womanhood evolved after experiencing breast cancer?
I’ve always felt so interconnected with my womanhood, and primarily I think I truly feared that breast cancer was going to take something of that connection away from me. Realistically, that’s not at all what happened. I’ve been able to connect with other cancer thrivers.
Womanhood is so intrinsically about strength, and subversive power, and meaningful connection, and in a way my breast cancer recovery and the self-advocacy I had to do along the way made me feel more empowered and stronger than I was before.
What do you wish you knew about before considering reconstruction surgery?
I wish I knew not to rely so heavily on the advice of my surgeons, as the experts. While they may be the experts in surgery they certainly aren’t the experts in recovery, trauma or emotional well-being. A lot of time their decision-making is financially motivated, and beyond that, they don’t have to live in our bodies or experience what we experience.
I wish I had more heavily weighed what the path of least resistance and healing would be for my body, and trusted my gut instinct, which was screaming at me not to have implant / mound reconstruction.
My logic took over and the idea of getting it “all done and over with” outweighed the concerns for recovery, and that should never be the concern. In hindsight, a survivor is much better off having reconstruction later, and focusing on dealing with the physical and emotional impact of the mastectomy, than concerned with how they will look when all is said and done.
I wish I had looked into the rates of implant failure, and the contra-indications of implants and cancer, and implants and chronic illness. When I asked my surgical team about these it was downplayed significantly (I’m sure as to not freak me out) but if I had done deeper research, I would’ve seen how prominent the rates of implant failure, implant rejection and complications actually are. I wish I’d spent more time looking at beautiful, flat bodies and reminding myself I would be whole, and complete, with a flat body.
What questions should you ask your doctor before reconstruction surgery?
1. What are we hoping to achieve with this reconstructive surgery?
2. Are there any potential risks or complications that I should be aware of?
3. Could you give me an idea of what the recovery process will be like and what I should expect during that time?
4. Are there any things I should keep in mind for the long term or any possible issues that might come up after the surgery?
5. What can I personally do to make sure I get the best results and lower the chances of having any problems or complications?
What has your recovery experience been like after explant surgery?
The year I lived with implants was physically the most difficult year of my life. With each passing week I lost physical ability, my mental health declined to a place it had never descended to before, even with years of trauma and challenges. While breast cancer made me incredibly fatigued and I could feel the effects of it on my body, life with implants felt like I’d been hit by a chronic illness truck!
I had the explant surgery almost exactly one year after my double mastectomy with reconstruction, and the recovery was like night and day. I felt myself getting stronger, I could see the colour begin to refill my face. The dark circles under my eyes filled in, my daily chronic pain subsided.
I could feel the strength and lift in my arms and chest where before there had only been constant, drilling pain lifting so much as a coffee cup. I had zero surgical complications, and my recovery time was so fast comparatively. I felt refreshed, able to work and hike and lift my daughter again. My mental and physical health improved so drastically I was taken aback!
What do you want people to know about breast cancer?
Breast Cancer is NOT a death sentence, and it’s hard to process a diagnosis without feeling like the world is caving in around you. The reality is, MOST people diagnosed, if caught early, are able to live long and healthy lives after breast cancer, which is why it is so imperative that we do self checks regularly, advocate with our doctors (even when we get push back!) and try to make choices that benefit not only our recovery, but our long term health after breast cancer.
Breast Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It affects young and old, women, men, non-binary folks, and everyone in between.
We all have different journeys with breast cancer, but they all come with trauma of diagnosis, fear of being alone through your treatment experience, and fear of what happens next, because you truly never know.
The best way to support your loved ones through it is to keep being present, at the beginning, middle and end of their journey through cancer.
How has your relationship with your body changed after Breast Cancer?
For a while my body felt like it really wasn’t mine. When I was diagnosed it felt like it had betrayed me in some way… gone rogue. I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror, I captured my body in photo shoots before, during and after my experience, because I want to honour all that it has done for me. When I had the implants I truly understood what body dysmorphia felt like, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see my body. In my mind I looked like a mannequin… unreal, misshapen, crudely put back together.
I had jokingly called my new breasts “franken-boobs” because of the alloderm used to support them, but they really FELT like franken-boobs to me. It hurt to move, I couldn’t lay on my stomach, hugs felt wrong, and I couldn’t enjoy my body anymore. The day the implants came out, I felt in my body again. The foreignness of the silicone was gone, and while I am now flat, I also feel sexier, more empowered and stronger than I did in every way. I can look in the mirror and not feel like a stranger to myself.
I spend a lot of time mentally mapping my scars, and some days are better than others for body confidence (like with all people, really) but I refuse to let society’s weird obsession with symmetrical lumps let me trick myself into thinking I’m not a beautiful, whole, loveable person exactly as I am!
How does your MG undergarments support your healing and body acceptance journey?
My MG garments have supported me by giving me the literal physical support and style I need to look in the mirror and feel empowered and beautiful!!! I WISH before my surgeries I had seen more flat bodies in sexy, beautiful and supportive lingerie.
Most of my reservations about closing flat initially were simply created by the stark lack of visibility in the wide stream social gaze, of flat AND sexy as a possibility. I’m proud that MY body, in these gorgeous undergarments, on display for the world, may be the visibility that someone else needs to avoid the experience I endured. If it gives ONE person the confidence to say “I’m whole and loveable no matter what shape my body is!” and avoid a future breast implant rejection, diagnosis and further pain and surgery, it’s all been completely worth it!
When it comes to breast cancer recovery, picking the right undergarments can make a big difference. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or are recovering, comfort and skin sensitivity become your top priorities. Your choice of bras and undergarments can go a long way in providing that comfort. Wearing bras that fit well and offer proper support not only feels better but also eases any strain on the body. It's all about promoting overall breast health and well-being.
The undergarments Christella is wearing have a stretch fabric which makes it easier for you to move around so that you’re comfortable during your recovery. They help minimize irritation and discomfort, allowing you to focus on your well-being.
The Organic cotton lining, on the other hand, is gentle on sensitive skin. Its natural, chemical-free properties make it a soothing choice for you. It's breathable, hypoallergenic, so you don’t have to worry about any skin irritation. While undergarments can't prevent breast cancer, they can certainly help improve the journey to recovery.
What are ways you are practicing self love and body acceptance?
As a photographer, and long before that as a feminist and a woman, radical body neutrality was HUGE for me. It took years to shed the skin of the girl who was conditioned to believe she wasn’t enough unless she was a certain size, or she didn’t have something to offer if it didn’t come in a euro-centric beauty package, so in a way these practices have been built into my mind-set long before breast cancer came knocking at my door. That said, it was certainly tried and tested throughout that experience, and it’s probably the one thing I held on to throughout my breast cancer journey that gave me the perspective I needed.
I always tell my clients “Which one of your best friends do you look at and judge her body? Which one of your girlfriends isn’t worthy of love because she isn’t a size 2?” and they all say the same thing: “NONE!!!” and that’s because we need to treat ourselves like we treat our best friends. We would NEVER look at them and judge them for not measuring up to a made-up scale, and we shouldn’t put ourselves through that either.
As a Mom of 3, how did you do it all?
I surround myself with people who are filled with humility, kindness and generosity. I refuse to accept anything less than that, at this point, and in that is a beautiful reciprocation of energy, love and time. Not one person can do “it all” and if I’ve learned ANYTHING throughout my journey with breast cancer, it’s that community matters.
If it wasn’t for my amazing network of friends, clients and even strangers, I wouldn’t have financially or mentally made it through. Their generosity of spirit, heart and money truly made ends meet in all the ways. When it came to doing “it all” – I let the things that could be picked up later fall, and I didn’t guilt myself for it. I relied so heavily on my amazing partner Justine, who really stepped up in every way to support me. Having people who you know have your back around makes all the difference though, truly.
What’s new and exciting in your world right now? Is there anything you’d like to share with our community?
It’s been seven months since my explant surgery, and I feel freaking AMAZING. One of the biggest struggles I had was the huge barrier. My physical limitations made my work for me, and I love my photography work! Now, seven months out, I am back to booked and busy, and I feel so good about it! My clients have been insanely supportive throughout the whole breast cancer journey, and honestly some days it was my phenomenal clients who kept me going, knowing one day I’d get to be back making memories with their families.
I am living my best life with my beautiful Justine, and our three kiddos. We spend lots of time going on adventures and hanging at home, and their support means everything to me. For the future, I’m putting myself out there in every way I can! I’ve started modeling to bring some visibility to breast implant illness and breast cancer recovery.
On the work front on top of the amazing family and lifestyle clients I already have, I’ve begun accepting wedding clients, boudoir sessions, engagements, and broadening into more editorial and stylized shoots. I’m saying “YES!” to everything that makes me feel great, and on the daily living a really active, healthy life that brings me so much joy.
Check out Christella’s beautiful photography portfolio and follow along her journey!
Christella Luna Photography https://www.instagram.com/christellalunaphotos/ https://www.facebook.com/christellalunaphotos/
Book a photography session with her! https://sessionl.ink/christellalunaphotos
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