Jane Ballot

Being me in the world

Saturday 11th April

There are always lessons to learn around us, if we only take the time to look.

In the last week I have been in direct contact with one 88-year-old woman and seen a video interview with another (well, she’s actually 87, but likes to give her age as one year older).

Both of these women have a lot in common: a great sense of who they are; a strong grasp on life; and a sense of just being as they are. Neither of them exhibits an attitude that their advanced age buys them the right to anything special. They are simply as they are and that is how it is.

The video interview is with Lisl Steiner, a famous photographer. It forms part of a project where the artist gets famous people to strip in front of the camera. So, there you have this elderly lady, chatting away about herself and her life, as she removes her clothing. It’s all done very matter-of-factly and seems almost normal. When she takes off her dress, it is revealed that she had a double mastectomy sometime in her life.

She is totally unselfconscious. She is just as she is.

It may have taken Lisl Steiner a whole long time to get to the point where she is now – both about herself as an old woman and as someone who has been disfigured in that way because of cancer. She may have reacted very badly and may have been terribly depressed about losing both her breasts.

Or, maybe not.

It doesn’t matter now, though, how she may have reacted then, or how long her journey through the cancer was. What matters is now and she so obviously accepts herself as she is.


Sometimes I feel resentful that I have been disfigured like this and that I have been on horrible treatment that had a harsh effect on my system. I am also annoyed that something so alien has caused me discomfort for all this while and that, because of it, I am on medication that affects my joints and may, very well, be messing with my constitution.

I think I’ve earned the right to feel like this. I think that it is completely normal and something that I need to feel. The trick is to not allow myself to feel it too deeply for too long.

I don’t know anything about Lisl Steiner’s cancer. I do know, though, that she is also disfigured as a result of the disease/condition – and that now she is fine and she can accept what she looks like.

At least, that’s how it comes across strongly in the interview.

I don’t know Liel Steiner. I don’t even think I’ve ever seen one of her photographs. I do know that her interview gave me reason to pause and to think.

Yes, I have had a horrible experience. Yes, the journey may never fully be over. Yes, I am disfigured and don’t look entirely normal. So what, though? That’s just how it is and that’s what will become my normal.

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