Hasna is a Queen. Twice life has sent its claws to remove her crown, but she didn’t let it. Still she stands. Stronger each time.
When breast cancer showed up on Hasna’s life journey, she knew she would have a lot to take on. With 3 children and a life to live, she had no other option but to put all of her strength, energy and spirit into fighting her illness. As a woman with breast cancer her fight took on several dimensions:
The Inner Fight: The inner fight against her own body, against the Cancer gene that lived inside her body. The one that caused so much pain and weakened her to the point of having her breasts removed. This transcended to an outer fight, not only dealing with the emotional changes but the physical impairment of her body and figuring out a new way to accept it.
The Fight against society: Dealing with the uncomfortable eyes of men and women faced with breasts that went through surgery (lumpectomy and mastectomy).
So many were unaware and uninformed of the impact, particularly black women in her community who failed to want to communicate their story, it was like it was almost hidden in shame. Because of the lack of awareness, she felt the need to be that representation for people to learn and understand.
The fight against medical institutions: During her journey, several times she had to stand up to what she was being advised or explained to her by health professionals. By ensuring she kept herself an informed patient and listening to her body/instinct she aided her recovery and obtained a treatment that suited her. This assertive approach in influencing her treatments, paired with her own personal holistic approach enabled her to work better with the medical professionals and get positive results.
The fight for her femininity: the knowledge that a woman’s breast embodies sexuality and intimacy in today's society, involved a fight to find suitable accessories for her golden-brown skin in the medical and cosmetic world so as to appear sexy and acceptable to the public, and a partner behind closed doors.
The fight to keep breathing: until we are faced with life changing circumstances, only then do we consider the fact that our days in life are can be limited. Hasna had to find that value in her life again, to parent her 3 children, to laugh, to cook, to walk, to play mas, to love and to be the voice of past, present and future women on the ring of the cancer battle.
The angel of death came to challenge Hasna on more than one occasion. In 2006 she was diagnosed with DCIS stage 3 grade 2 cancer, when she was only 31. She underwent lumpectomy on the right breast, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Following her treatment, in 2010 she had a double mastectomy/reconstruction in order to prevent any further occurrence of the disease. This involved 17 hours of surgery where she had crossed the line of death on multiple occasions.
Hasna experienced a blessing when she became pregnant with her daughter, her 3rd child, in 2017. She believed the birth of her daughter was truly a miracle given the distress her body was exposed to in previous years and confirmation from medical experts that she could no longer get pregnant. But with this blessing came what seemed to be another unfortunate turn of events, as she was diagnosed for a second time with metastatic breast cancer.
Despite the diagnosis, her daughter, Haddasah was born as a healthy miracle and Hasna kept her strength through this emotionally challenging experience. Surgery for the new diagnosis was not possible because of the location of the cancer. In her case it could not be removed (mediastinum), and so she had to undergo immunotherapy and chemotherapy. In 2019 she continued her chance of survival and began. And since 2018 she is following a trial cancer treatment called plasmaMATCH. Besides the intrusive medical history and treatment, the last 13 years have resulted in reflection and new outlook on life. From the first diagnosis Hasna made a point of doing everything it takes to live and be an informed patient.
In 2006, after she was first diagnosed she started going to Cancer Black Care. It’s a place where she felt welcome, a space to exchange and get information from and with people like her. Hasna has recognised that not many people attend these spaces. Sadly, there is a known taboo about breast cancer in the BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) community where women are afraid, feel vulnerable or associate the illness directly with death. For Hasna it comes down to making that life choice, being proactive and well informed about her condition.
As she often says, this journey took her inside herself, made her take ownership of the illness, accept that she will never be the same and force her to emerge into the new woman she has become.
We all know that cancer leaves temporary and/or permanent physical scars. But we never consider how that impacts a woman’s perception of beauty. Women have always represented the embodiment of beauty through historical mythological goddesses like Aphrodite, to current idealisms in media. The collective imagination pictures a woman with long luxurious hair and ample bosom. This can leave women like Hasna questioning whether they need to follow society’s standards, and wonder if they can really embody beauty with no breasts or nipple?
After the first diagnosis, Hasna had to let her 11 years old dreadlocks down and get used to her new face, new scalp, with no hair. But she fully embraced these changes, and became bold and ‘boldylicious’ as she likes to say.
Indeed, embracing the transformation on her chest was only part of it, she still felt the need to hide it from the public and kept her new confidence to herself. Until 2011 when she was physically able to play mas again (taking part in a carnival parade). Carnival had always remained an important time for her, for its therapeutic purposes but also to get the mind in a space of full enjoyment and being able to celebrate their ancestors. Although she had to expose her body, she was able to wear her costume in a way that would hide what she didn’t want to display, especially the asymmetry of her breasts.
But it was the intimate settings that were more challenging. Dancing too close during carnival or unveiling herself before her partner would make her feel uncomfortable.
However, a young handsome man serenading her in a club one day helped her overcome this discomfort. It made her realize that the over focus on the breast didn’t really matter at the end of the day because she was still an attractive woman. Her attraction was held in who she is, how she talks, her beauty that shone through. For Hasna it was a “this is it” moment which helped her begin to embrace her breasts.
A few years after Hasna was blossoming into a new woman. She started doing topless photoshoots, and no longer had fears and discomforts, but felt pride and joy. She also felt the need to break the taboo around breast cancer and show people what it is, what it looks like, what it feels like. Especially as a black woman, she felt it important to be that representation for black women, so they wouldn’t struggle like she did when she was first diagnosed to find someone they could relate to.
When she crossed paths with Carnivalista something sparked. She had never seen such Nipple Pasties before. It was like love at first sight! She immediately got excited and thought “Oh my god, that would look so perfect on my breasts…this is going to spice up my life!”. Whether it is to go out, to meet someone or carnival! One thing she did realise during her treatment is that, nipple prosthesis from the medical system do not cater to women of colour, particularly in the UK. But the Carnivalista pasties addressed that issue and made her feel excited about it because it was matching HER!
When talking about cancer Hasna says “it’s a mind thing, it’s about living with what you have”. So, indeed, hair/no hair, breast/no breast, beauty can still be embodied when it comes from within, from confidence.
Speaking with Hasna and learning about her story has been a privilege. The reach of her story is broader than women with breast cancer, it can be seen as one of many universal life lessons, one that teaches love for live, perseverance and transformation through the struggle to a higher self.
“Don’t let your struggle become your identity” – Hasna De Four
Year round Carnivalista is helping women shine brighter through its line of Carnival accessories. In addition we are involved in supporting women through other initiatives.
Breast cancer is an everyday fight, but October is the world’s annual reminder to raise awareness about the disease, raise funds for research and educate people. Carnivalista is taking part in this fight by donating to cancer research when you purchase a pack of Nipple Pasties. Support our cause today click here to donate.