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Of breast cancer and cryptids and what makes us angry

Cheryl Sonnier Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging Volume Blue

By Cheryl Sonnier

I didn’t know I had breast cancer when I wrote Investigating the Sea-Hag Menace, in April this year.

I didn’t have the routine mammogram until mid-June, a month and a half after Improbable Press accepted the story for Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging (Volume Blue). A couple of weeks after that, I was called back for more tests, and on 2nd August I had a mastectomy on my right side.

I know, however, that people who know about the breast cancer, when they read the story, they are going to think the line below from the story’s narrator is autobiographical:

"I wonder what the scars from my mastectomy would look like, covered in those glimmering scales, and whether Tim would be able to look at them without pity clouding his eyes."

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Disabled sirens, trans shapeshifters, and autistic sea monsters
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Women’s’ writing is often assumed to be autobiographical, rather than an attempt to understand how someone else might feel in any given situation. As it happened, I did have breast cancer and – looking at my own scar – I think a set of glimmering sea-hag scales would look bloody marvellous. My husband isn’t called Tim, though, and he hasn’t once looked upon me with pity.

In fact, an important part of coming to terms with the drastic change in my body has been laughing with him about how we are now definitely a matched pair, with his long, vertical heart surgery scar and my long, horizontal mastectomy scar.

The Dark Cheer Anthology

We are older, though, he and I, and we have never had much time for the superficial. When the consultant surgeon asked me how I felt about having the mastectomy, my reaction was, "I’m gutted, but at least it isn’t an arm, or a leg." If I’d been younger, though, my reaction may have been different.

Women are constantly trying to live up to an image of womanhood seen on social media and in advertising. It’s not a true image (so many are filtered and touched up), but it’s one that so many young women grow up feeling they should aspire to all the same. For me, losing a breast was hard. But I’m at that ‘invisible’ age, (something I explored in my story, ‘What You Wish For,’ in The Invisible Collection from Nightjar Press). Losing a breast while the pressure is still on for women to be attractive to men must be devastating.

It shouldn’t be that way. We should not be valued for our appearance above all else. It’s one of society’s 'norms' that has always made me angry as a woman, and as the mother of a daughter. There are so many other injustices that make women angry. Investigating the Sea-Hag Menace in Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging (Volume Blue) explores some of them.

Cheryl Sonnier lives in Yorkshire, where she and her army of cats are plotting to bring down the patriarchy. Yes, there are only two cats; you have to start somewhere. Cheryl is studying for an MFA in creative writing and recent short story publications include The Invisible Collection anthology from Nightjar Press, and Wyldblood Press – Wyld Flash. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Originally published 11 October 2021 on Cheryl Sonnier's blog.


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