Monday, March 21, 2011

Healthy Pleasures

She-Driven Photography
By Fiona Zedde, Authorist
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved myself. My insides were flowering seeds. My outside was the perfect covering. I never dwelt on what I wasn’t, but I knew what I was. I knew what I had. And, for the most part, I knew myself.

Then, in November 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before that, I had been the healthiest person I knew. I’d never been to the hospital, never broken any bones, had no surgeries, and felt completely secure in those ten years prior that I had lived without health insurance.

That diagnosis changed me. It ripped through everything my thirty-two years of confidence and walking well in the world had led me to think I was. My body had turned against me. I was not as strong as I thought. I was not as whole. With that tumor inside me, I felt like walking weakness. It shamed me.  

Facing surgery, I had the choice of a single or double mastectomy, both equally terrifying. In the days before going into the hospital, I spent hours on the internet looking at pictures of mastectomy operations, of women with their bodies ripped open, their lymph nodes, muscle, and tissue exposed. Their lives never again to be the same.

Fiona Zedde
I had my surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, eventually coming out on the other side of those experiences a healthy woman. Having gone through chemo which took my locks and radiation that wore me out and burned my skin, I felt lucky to have survived. But that was all. I still deeply felt my body’s betrayal.

But things changed. One day, I sat at my desk at work feeling ravaged and weak and miserable when my co-worker in the cubicle across from me said, “you’re handling this so well. I would have fallen apart if I had to go through what you did.”

I realized then that I wasn’t handling it all so well. I was letting self-pity carry me along on its toxic tide. Each day after work, I went home, only did the bare minimum of living before getting in bed and waiting for morning and another work day to come. My body was no longer what it was. I felt deformed. Less than. This was surviving; it wasn’t living.

That morning at work was my first time really looking at myself post-cancer. I didn’t like what I saw. So I vowed to stop surviving my life and start living it.

I started taking time with my body each morning. Re-learning it as I smoothed lotion into my skin, touched my breasts, my scar, the radiation burns. The weak strands of post chemo hair, I lovingly massaged and oiled, claiming this unfamiliar baby hair as mine, a part of my healing body.

Over the months of healing, I’d almost become afraid of touching my body, fearing its fragility and unfamiliar scars. But full sensuality begins with self-touch and self-love. Although I was far from being ready to share my body with a lover again, I knew that for me to be able to get to that place, I would need to love myself.

Self seduction can be difficult at first. But after one swims in that river for the first time, the current and the warm wet weight of the water become familiar and desired.

A secret part of me had always loved poetry. The poems of Audre Lorde and Pablo Neruda occupied a tiny portion of my shelf. In my search for the self I had lost, I re-discovered these two poets.

Speak earth and bless me with what is richest, Audre says. And I listened.
make sky flow honey out of my hips
rigid as mountains
spread over a valley
carved out by the mouth of rain.

            ~ Audre Lorde “Love Poem”

Kiss by kiss I cover your tiny infinity,
your margins, your rivers, your diminutive villages,
and a genital fire, transformed by delight,
slips through the narrow channels of blood
to precipitate a nocturnal carnation,
to be, and be nothing but light in the dark.

            ~ Pablo Neruda “Carnal apple, Woman filled, burning moon”

With these things; poetry, red wine, and a hot blue beginning to my new toy collection, I reclaimed who I was. I reclaimed my sexuality. This rediscovery opened me to the sensual possibilities of life, so much so that when I traveled to Spain for a quick two week trip, I allowed myself for the first time in months to feel attraction, to flirt, to touch another woman and walk with her to the edge of possibility.

No matter what a woman has to deal with—cancer, taxes, the sameness of everyday living—it’s important to nurture the sensual body. With or without a lover in your life, these frequent expressions of eroticism, of sexiness, are as important as air. For me, this nurturing was the road leading me back to myself.

Fiona  is the author of six novels - Bliss, A Taste of Sin, Every Dark Desire, Hungry For It, Kisses after Midnight, and Dangerous Pleasures – and three novellas (Pure Pleasure, Going Wild, and Sexual Attraction) published in the collections Satisfy Me, Satisfy Me Again, and Satisfy Me Tonight, respectively. Her short fiction has appeared in various anthologies including Necrologue: DIVA Book of the Dead and the Undead (DIVA), Wicked: Sexy Tales of Legendary Lovers (Cleis), and Fist of the Spider Woman (Arsenal Pulp). Find info on her at 


  1. What an amazing story of surviving to thriving, Fiona. You are a dynamic and powerful, yet always accessible sister. I am always inspired by your being. This article is more of that inspiration. Peace! Imani Evans

  2. I am so pleased that you shared this personal truth about suffering, self-evaluation and living live like it's golden. I have never had cancer but I can relate to your experience vicariously through a dear aunt of mine who is a survivor and the secret fear that cancer could be in my future. Living is the most important thing to do while we're alive. Beautiful.

  3. I am so glad that you shared your story. I am sure it was not easy but I know that other can and will relate to it, grow from it and reclaim their bodies because of it.

  4. Truly an awesome contribution! Thanks Fiona!

  5. You are such an inspiring example always Fiona. Thank you so much for being yourself and loving yourself and giving us permission to do the same.

  6. Saludos a Fiona y las otras aqui!

    Como estan ustedes? Estoy tan afortunada hoy!

    Am leaving my gems to sprinkle at Fiona's feet this lovely afternoon here in Atlanta! Fiona, you are a joy to behold! I am so elated that you are present to give witness to your experience. Your words buoy me and other readers over the rainbow and beyond.

    I had a rather lengthy dissertation typed, but when I went to click POST COMMENT, it vanished. And I knew I'd return to an enpty comment box.

    Yet I know not to fret...long! I am too grateful for so many things to allow one moment to mar my delight.

    Giving honor to you and your strength, faith and beauty.

    Paz, amor y bendiciones,