Interview with a Queen: Kamya Ghose on cancer and her new mastectomy bra range
March 7, 2018
At 23 years old, Kamya Ghose was diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) – the first cells gone bad that would develop into full blown breast cancer if left untreated.
Luckily, they weren’t - ten days later Kamya would have a mastectomy and the cancer would be removed and revealed to be even more insidious than initially expected: it was high grade and almost certain to have spread.
We caught up with Kamya to chat about her experience of breast cancer and what she’s doing now to help support others in similar situations.
A common misconception about breast cancer is that it’s an older woman’s disease. Before being diagnosed were you aware someone of your age could have to deal with breast cancer?
I had no idea. Breast cancer messaging is always about older women finding a lump and getting it checked. I was healthy, young and at the peak of my fitness; I was even thinking about getting into body sculpting – breast cancer just didn’t seem to apply to me at all.
Can you take us through the thought process that lead you to choose a double mastectomy and reconstruction (rather than a stopping at a single mastectomy, or going flat)?
My first operation was just a single mastectomy. They weren’t sure what it was so I had to wait until the cells had been analysed before making any decisions about moving forward in case I needed more treatment (thankfully I didn’t!) It was an incredibly stressful week. I didn’t want to risk having another breast there and saw no need for it apart from being able to breast feed. I knew that if I kept it I’d be living in constant tension freaking out every time I felt a lump, or even a pimple. I know the studies show no real advantage for getting both off but for me, the peace of mind was huge.
You’ve been active on social media, posting images of your reconstruction and recovery. How would you describe the role of social media in your breast cancer recovery and advocacy for young women?
You know when you’ve done something wrong and you don’t want to tell anyone? Well, I hadn’t – I hadn’t done anything to deserve breast cancer (no one does!) so I figured there was no reason to be quiet about it, especially if talking would help other girls who had just been diagnosed. It also helped me make me feel normal again – like it was ok this had happened and ok to talk about it.
How are you dealing with coming to grips with your new body? Do you feel a sense of loss, or is it more of a new beginning?
Since I’ve got back into flying, and moved to Australia, it does feel like a fresh start not for me so much, but for everyone who’s looking at me. Not many people know so it’s really nice to not have people asking me how I’m doing all the time in ‘that’ tone. The expanders have also given me a lot more confidence – I’m no longer worrying about whether all my buttons are done up when I go to the beach. I think the biggest thing though, was when I passed my aviation medical meaning I had the all clear to fly again. That was a big tick box because it proved that even after such a traumatic experience I’m still the same me, I’ve just grown up a lot more.
A mastectomy bra range is not something you’d expect a young woman to launch. How did people react when you shared your idea with them?
It’s mostly been really positive – everyone has been super lovely and have gone out of their way to help set up the business. It’s amazing how helpful people can be. The NZ Herald did an article on me and after that I was emailed by an 80-year-old lady who said she was in the last stages of her life but loved the idea of Queen Zaria because she just wanted to look good for her husband. That’s the sort of thing I want to be able to give people; that sort of achievement would be a massive milestone.
How did you come up with the name “Queen Zaria”?
It took me ages. I wanted something real with a decent meaning behind it. I did think about using my name – Kamya – because that’s what people often do, but I haven’t done anything to add any weight to my name yet. I started looking up historical figures, in search of something attractive and feminine but also strong and fun, with a twist. I discovered Queen Amina Zaria – the first woman to become queen in a patriarchal society. Today her city, Zaria, has the largest university in Nigeria. She represents female empowerment, strength, confidence and beauty – it was a perfect match!
Queen Zaria isn’t just a bra range, tell us about the support element you provide.
Once my operation was done, I felt like there was no support available. To be fair, that was probably because I didn’t tell anyone, but I didn’t want to either – everything was up in the air and I was very unsure.
When I went back to Auckland my stitches started coming out. I rang my nurse but she was engaged so I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I take myself off to the emergency department or just chill and wait for the rest to come out? Similarly, when I went to America with my prosthesis, I wanted to ask someone whether I needed a note for the aviation security but I didn’t know who to ask.
It was navigating these little things that made me realise the need for a hub where women who are going through breast cancer can connect and discuss their experiences. So that’s what we offer. It’s an anonymous service (you only need to tell us your name, age and whether you want to chat to someone) and then you can talk with people who are going through the same thing as you, and to our nurse, too. We also want to set up patients with a gorgeous mastectomy bra before they have surgery so they know they’ll have something actually nice to wear afterwards.