Personal Posts
Sharing your cancer on social media
By Marianne Aleardi

We continue our special series following Queen Stewart on her quest to live a full life after her breast cancer diagnosis.

Just a few weeks before the end of last year, Queen Stewart stood in her kitchen facing her phone. She opened her sweater to reveal ivory bandages wrapped ’round and ’round her stomach and pushed “record.”

“Hey y’all, guess what? I got my drains out!”

It wasn’t the usual end-of-year video people were posting on Instagram, but Queen’s social presence over the past year – ever since getting her Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis – has not been typical.

As she recorded, Queen unraveled some of the bandages and support wraps, showing her mesh underwear, new surgically created belly button and her hip-to-hip scar which, since surgery had been only 2 weeks earlier, was dramatically fresh. (She gave a warning to fast forward for any squeamish viewers.)

“I know this is a lot,” she said in the video, “but it’s important.”

Queen has been taking followers along on her cancer journey for over a year now, since her diagnosis in 2021, one day before her 35th birthday. This video, though, was one of the more honest and vulnerable posts.

“A lot of my girlfriends, when they talked about my reconstruction, they would say things like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna look so good.’ And I’d be sitting there feeling like the bride of Frankenstein. People don’t understand how that feels when I hear it. This is not what I would have ever chosen. I don’t have nipples. I have huge scars. And I’m gonna have this huge scar from hip to hip for the rest of my life. I wanted to go on Instagram and say, ‘Listen guys, this was a serious surgery. And I want people who may be contemplating this to really understand what it is.”

The reconstructive procedure Queen had is called DIEP flap, where a surgeon takes tissue and blood vessels from another part of the body to reconstruct the breast. In Queen’s surgery, tissue was taken from her abdomen.

“So essentially, I got a tummy tuck too,” she says. “But it’s an 8- to 10-hour surgery. They have to move blood vessels and make sure the blood flow is right, because if not, the tissue will die.”

Heading into surgery, Queen says she was worried because she knew how complex it was. “Honestly, there’s a movement out there where some women stay flat. I contemplated that because I didn’t want to deal with traditional implants. But I decided to do this surgery, mostly for the aesthetic, because I was worried about how my clothes would fit. But at the same time, these aren’t really breasts. I look at the scars I have on my chest – I don’t show those in the video – but those scars are serious.”

While Queen didn’t show the scars on her breasts during her video, she did tell viewers they could DM her and she would share more details about the surgery. That openness is consistent with all her posted videos, from sharing right after she was told her cancer was upgraded to Stage 3 to a very emotional description of the neuropathy she was experiencing after starting chemo.

“This whole social media thing is hard,” she says. “I just started to tell whoever was watching what was going on with my cancer. When I had my mastectomy, I talked about the drains I had to go home with. I talked about things that had been happening to my body about a year prior to diagnosis that turned out were early signs. So for example, I was having night sweats. And people could easily say, ‘Oh, I’m hormonal, I have night sweats.’ But having night sweats out of nowhere for a whole year was actually a sign that something was brewing in my body. I would have never known that, so I talked about it on Instagram. And I had a few people say they went to see their doctor to make sure they were ok. That’s what my posts have been. And people thank me for being so vulnerable.”

In perhaps her most vulnerable post, Queen recently put up a photo of herself with text that talks about how she appears one way on the outside, but feels something else on the inside. The post ended with: “You see smiles and progress while I’m left in pain and pieces.”

“Being vulnerable doesn’t matter to me,” she says. “I don’t worry about what people are saying. The worse that could happen to me is dying. So I’m going to tell people how I feel. What happened to me during this past year happens to many women, but no one talks about it. I would have had a better time if someone had talked about it. So now, if I could, I would show all my scars. I want people to know what’s real.”

February 2023
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