I have had a strange relationship with my body in its nearly 50 years. It has taken me a long time to love it but I think I finally do.
This is the story of my body and how I grew to love it:
Let's start with height. I am the shortest female in my family. Despite being 2 years younger than me, my sister was always the same height as me when we were growing up, causing people to believe we were twins. In our teens, she overtook me and now, in our forties, she still willows 7 inches above my diminutive 5' 4".
After many lofty years, our mother has finally in her seventies resorted to my height as a result of osteoporosis, but still stick-like in comparison to my form.
Because as well as being shorter, I was also much more "curvy" than both of them. Where they were granted ample bosoms, lithe bodies and long, slim legs, I am long and wide in body and short in the legs, with a huge bottom defining the two distinct parts of my body. A black man once commented that there is a black woman somewhere walking around with a white girl's arse, because I have hers!!
The curvature of my bum extends into two pretty sturdy thighs.
This was quite a lot to contend with in my twenties and thirties. But then along came J-Lo, Kylie and Kim Kardashian, with their bootie and I realised that rather than bemoaning my "wide surface area", I should be celebrating it and set about attracting attention to it. Hipster jeans were a godsend, sitting as they did at the base of my over-arched back, hugging my curves and exaggerating the fullness of my bum.
I realised that I too possessed nice boobs, just of a different shape - apples to my mum and sister's pears - and with the discovery of plunge bras, I created a very noticeable and admirable cleavage.
So I began to love my body and became intent on showing it off, dressing more provocatively, exaggerating my newfound assets, to attract attention and gain the necessary endorsements...from men.
In my forties, I had late onset discovery of exercise, realising that it was necessary in order to preserve the assets which were now serving me very well in terms of male attention and admiration. (Yes it was pure vanity that drove me to exercise, nothing to do with health whatsoever but this was obviously a handy bi-product).
I started walking and this soon lead to the engagement of a personal trainer, a buff ex-bodybuilder with whom I would flirt and discuss sexual preferences, whilst he led me to tighter buttocks and stronger core.
Having never before possessed ankles (our family are blessed with cankles), suddenly defined muscles appeared on my calves, giving the illusion of ankles - cankles be gone!
Inches evaporated and a more toned and defined me replaced the previously voluptuous version.
I was still curvy but the curves were now toned and in the right places. And I gained the confidence to exhibit them at every available opportunity.
In my teens I had battled with acne - not just the odd spot - full-on pizza face until a kindly doctor prescribed antibiotics which finally kicked my hormones into touch before too much damage had been done to my skin. It escaped with minimal scarring, although the blemishes can still be seen if you look closely.
Braces straightened some pretty crooked teeth, making first teenage kisses even more awkward, but now I sport a beautiful set of pearly whites.
I am a self-confessed foodie, there are not many foods I dislike and I don't have to be hungry to eat - if food is there, I will eat. I live to eat rather than eat to live. In my forties, in an effort to conserve my newfound body shape, I became more conscious of the link between what I put in my mouth and how it translated on my body.
I had stopped drinking milk in my teens, too many occasions putting sour milk in my coffee or on cereal! I loved cheese but it did not love me, so that pleasure was reserved for Christmas only. I removed processed carbs - pasta, bread, rice, biscuits, cake - from my diet with dramatic effects on my waistline. Lean meat and plenty of leafy green vegetables were my mainstay; dark chocolate and red wine were my treats.
So, in 2016, I was probably the healthiest and fittest I have every been in my life, exercising three to four times a week and following a sensible, healthy diet, with a cracking body to show for it.
Then cancer came knocking at the door...and almost overnight, my body changed.
I think the change in my appearance and the loss of the body I worked so hard to achieve has probably been the hardest part, harder even than the diagnosis itself. I have had to witness the evidence of my efforts slip away for the sake of my health and quite frankly, my life.
That's a massive trade off which I have had to accept very quickly!
Following my hysterectomy, I now sport a very unfetching stomach 'apron' - a swollen belly, like a little spare tyre which overhangs my pubis! My ribcage has expanded widthways taking my pelvis in the same direction. My arse has become one of those shelflike examples at which I used to marvel.
For most of my life, I have been a solid size 12. During those golden few years of optimum weight and size, I had started experiencing the heady pleasures of size 10 clothes and this was a huge badge of honour for me. Now, as I approach a year since diagnosis in July, I am having to accept that I am a reliable size 14.
I have done the sensible thing and packed away my clothes from my former life in acceptance that it is no longer who I am. I have to adopt a new style, one more adept at complimenting my more shapely form. This has of course given me the perfect excuse to go shopping and buy a whole new wardrobe!
Of course, what has happened to the outside of my body is only half the story and there is so much more going on inside my body.
It has become a ticking time bomb. The body I had finally grown to love no longer loves me back.
With my BRCA1 diagnosis, I now have to think about whether I opt for drastic risk reducing surgery - the removal of my beloved breasts - the two proud domes, which still sit pretty much where they're supposed to, even in shape and size, full, round mounds. They have served me well and brought me much welcome attention. I have exposed them on many occasions - often inappropriately.
These glands - the essence of my femininity which have brought me exquisite and immense physical pleasure - have become my nemesis, enemies, bringing now the threat of disease and pain.
Their removal would not only scar me physically but also have a profound effect on me mentally and emotionally, more so than losing my womb. External v internal.
Today, I am learning to be grateful for the body I have. It is having to withstand gruelling treatment and I am rewarding it by loving it for what it is - alive!
PS yes, all the photos are indeed me. I am so pleased that my love affair with my body encouraged me to have not one, but two, boudoir photography sessions. I have these photos to remember how I once looked. I am planning another soon to celebrate my new body.