My son found a lump in my breast when he was just three years old. He kept coming to me and putting his head on my right breast and stroking it. I kept thinking, 'What are you doing?' I had a look at my breast, thinking maybe it was something pre-menstrual. I was fit and healthy with no history of breast cancer. I was floored when I was given a breast cancer diagnosis.
Being told I had breast cancer completely changed the way I viewed my body. I had to come to terms with what my diagnosis meant - one of my breasts now represented disease and I wanted it gone. It was an extremely long and gruelling journey through surgery and treatment. At points I didn't even recognise myself – I lost my breast, all my hair, put on weight and didn't feel like me anymore.
That was seven years ago. Gradually my relationship with my body changed and I've embraced the new me. Now I'm comfortable in my skin. My scars, skin changes and belly fat are all part of me. This is the me that I have now, and it's ok to be me, the way that I am. It's been up and down, but I am so grateful that I'm still here, slightly different, slightly scarred, bruised and battered, but I'm here and I'm me, and for me that's the big thing.
Being asked to pose for Breast Cancer Care's national body confidence campaign last year was quite scary initially, especially being told that it would mean posing topless. But I knew it would be a great way to help others whose self esteem had also been damaged after breast cancer and so said yes!
Before the photo shoot I felt so nervous, but as soon as I got there and met the other two women taking part, Jill and Ismena, I started to get excited about it all. We had some lovely photos taken all together and it was amazing to have the chance to share our experiences and talk openly about the changes to our bodies. It reminded me why I wanted to get involved - to show that it can be possible to find confidence after breast cancer and that there is support available.
I had no idea that my diagnosis would lead me here, posing alone with a message to my body painted on my back. It was so empowering. My message truly reflected how I felt about my body "I've learned to love and accept you for what you are. Not perfect. But beautifully imperfect. You are my body. And I'm proud of you."
It is such an honour to have won the Dove Self Esteem Award alongside Jill, Ismena and Breast Cancer Care. I am so proud to have been involved in the campaign and it is very humbling to realise the huge impact it has had.
By Heather Shekede