29. A Portrait of Cathie Malhouitre: Uncompromising, Unembellished Reality

October 2008 – to – October 2009 © MMM PH

Cathie Malhouitre of Paris, France is a designer and artist who is committed to “the real” when it comes to breast cancer – realistic discourse, realistic expression, realistic portrayal, and realistic engagement. Cathie’s attention to realism is the culmination of her deep desire to find acceptance, peace, and fulfillment after having two breast cancer diagnoses and subsequent treatment. Before sharing Cathie’s creative work, I’d like to share her diagnosis story.

Cathie was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 at the age of 37. She was treated with mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation but did not have reconstructive surgery. After completing her initial treatment, she didn’t want to deal with the additional multiple surgeries and recovery time that a full reconstruction would entail. As a single mother of a 9-year-old son, Cathie chose instead to return as quickly as possible to her full time personal and professional life. She got back to a fairly normal routine but continued to feel pain, emptiness, and loss. Eventually she regained her strength, established new loving relationships, and came to terms with her one-breasted body. By 2006 Cathie was feeling good about moving on with her life.

Then, in 2008, Cathie had a recurrence (i.e., a return of cancer after having no evidence of the disease). Recurrences can develop in the area surrounding the initial breast cancer or in other parts of the body. Cathie’s cancer appeared in her other breast. With this second diagnosis, Cathie had breast-conserving surgery instead of a mastectomy, and this was followed once again with radiation and chemotherapy. Cathie continued to work throughout her treatment, but the stress of work and a second bout with cancer treatment took a physical and emotional toll. She developed heart problems and extreme fatigue that forced to reduce her work hours to half. There were no real outlets for Cathie to share her experience, and at times she felt like she must be the only one-breasted woman in France. Then, one of her close friends died from breast cancer at the age of 37.

To bear with her grief, her changed body, and her changed life, Cathie turned to an inner core of creativity. She started writing a blog, Rosarosir, where she could work through what she was facing, talk about cancer frankly, and avoid what she calls the “pink-false-happiness” of cancerland. Cathie was not interested in covering up her experience or normalizing her appearance for other people, but she also realized that she had lost some of her confidence. Not only had she been avoiding mirrors, Cathie had to some degree been avoiding herself. She decided it was time for her to embrace her asymmetry, find her own elegance, and stand tall.

To get started Cathie needed a new bra, an assymmetrical bra made especially for one-breasted women. Since there weren’t any, Cathie decided to design one herself. The process of research and development took two years and then Souti1 –pronounced “soutien-gorge”– was born. “Souti” is French for “bra” and the number “1” represents the single breast. Cathie started the Souti1 website in 2010 and “la Gazette des Souti1” which is an informational blog about the one-breasted world.

The asymmetrical bras have been well received. The Souti1 was mentioned in the Mensuel Avantages (Oct. 2011), PRIMA (Oct. 2010), and the lingerie trade magazine Intima (Jul. 2011). Cathie was also interviewed on Radio France and in la Maison du Cancer. Souti1 was even part of an art installation honoring the breast at the Museum of Women in Canada from March to August 2011 as a way to reconcile the breast in all its forms. For Cathie, Souti1 is a reclamation of femininity following her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. It’s a different femininity, and Cathie’s effort to foster an appreciation of difference carries through her other artistic work.

When approached by French filmmaker Philippe Joubert to take part in the film short, A Simple Message, Cathie agreed. The film is a testimony to the human condition in both its simplicity and complexity. It focuses on the difficulties that cut across varied life experiences (i.e., including breast cancer), the decision and effort needed to transcend challenging and sometimes tragic circumstances, and how a single step can make a monumental difference. Cathie’s character in the film exposes a reality of breast cancer that is uncompromising and without embellishment. Beginning the bath, her character shows that cancer need not be hidden for it is a valid part of experience.

Watch the filmA Simple Message. The text that accompanies the film in French is translated here:

embark on a journey

put yourself into the music

play the sport

feel your self-confidence

so that your resolutions

become revolutions

Within the tapestry of the film, Phillipe Joubert shows that courage and compassion are qualities available to everyone, and that we all struggle to find them when we need them most. What’s more, change and adaptation are a continual part of life. Cathie tells me that for her, cancer has become the center of her life and that the piece of lace on her heart, Souti1, is her revolution. Vive La Revolution!

Cathie Malhouitre has also started an organization, Au sein de sa différence, which focuses on issues of identity for women with cancer.

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1 comment to 29. A Portrait of Cathie Malhouitre: Uncompromising, Unembellished Reality

  • Mary

    Gayle, thank you for bringing Cathie Malhouitre into my life. The more reality about breast cancer and its inherent treatment related difficulties the better. I detest the pretty, pink, wrapped in a bow breast cancer that is, too often, forced down our throats. My story is similar, in that I have had two “go rounds” and is one of the stories featured on the October Army of Women blog.
    http://blog.armyofwomen.org/2011/10/it-takes-an-army-marys-story/

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"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
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Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

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