My Writing

The Black Well of Despair
Stuck up to my chin in black oozing mud
Just enough clearance to breathe
The rancid stench of decay fills my nostrils
The taste of death in my mouth.

Raising my eyes
I can just see the pin prick of light far above me

I am deep down, deep down
Stuck in this deep well of despair.

One day I know
I will have the strength to climb out
To make the tortuous journey back up
Back up towards the light and rejoin the living

But for now I am stuck
Stuck here
In this deep black well of despair

Kay Gravell
April 2012

The black space
I peer into the white rimmed
black space.
Where my left breast used to be
now looks empty


My rounded breast
punctuated by a nipple
dripping in red paint
proudly adorns my right chest.

It has such beautiful symmetry
sensual shape
just the right size
to be gently cupped by a hand.

The concaved black emptiness
stares out at me
like an unblinking eye.

A large black pupil
holding hidden depths
of unknown meaning.

Kay Gravell
29th April 2010



Back in hospital again!
After four operations 18 months ago
I know the routine.
Remove my clothes and jewellery.
All vestiges of my individuality
replaced with the institutional
hospital gown, paper bloomers and cap.

Sitting in my bed
feeling vulnerable in my ill fitting gown
gaping at the back,
I entertain a procession of experts.
The anaesthetist’s assistant, surgical assistant, anaesthetist
and finally the surgeon who will cut into my flesh.

Six of us
corralled into holding pens
enclosed by fear and anxiety.

Scrambling inelegantly onto the operating table
Surrounded by instruments and bright lights
amid the bustle of everyone engrossed in their tasks
too busy to take any notice of me.

Gentle words accompanied by
the pain of the needle
in the back of my hand
and the cold liquid into my vein.

Then the discomfort of the
tube being removed from my throat
scraped and sore

with gentle words
“Kay wake up
Its’ all over”
I have returned!
I have survived!

The incredulity of time past
without me.
No memory of this lived experience!
The stench of anaesthetic fills my nostrils
and turns my stomach.

That night
alert and not able to sleep
an uncontrollable grief rips through my body.

I finally weep.
as my body remembers
and mourns
my breast cut away eighteen months ago.

Kay Gravell
28th May 2010



Inflated Pink Girl
Inflated little baby pink girl
She brings to mind the delightful innocence
of childhood;
of playing carefree and loved
full of energy and joy.
Strange that she has been adopted
as the logo for breast cancer research.

Breast cancer which is treated by
chemotherapy, radiation and surgery
leaving women feeling assaulted.
Questioning their femininity
as their hair falls out
and their breasts are cut away.

Kay Gravell
10th June 2010

Nipple Painting
Tomorrow my nipple is being cut off.

The perfect symmetry it provides my breast
will be replaced with a scar.

My nipple, a site of such strong sensation.
In response to emotion, sexual arousal, touch, temperature
it magically changes shape, colour, texture.
A barometer of my inner and outer world.

A constant reminder of my womanhood.
As I move forward
my nipples are the extremity of  my phuysical boundary
like a cat’s whiskers
they are a radar
sensing the atmosphere ahead of me.

How do I celebrate my nipple?
Commemorate it?
Connect with the emotion of its loss?

I have a desire
to somehow retain its character
to allow it to make its mark,
to feel its physicality.

Like a paint brush
I move my paint somothered nipple
across the paper
making a series of abstract marks.

I immerse myself in nipple painting.
My nipples become tender
the abrasive movement across the paper
becomes more painful.

I paint slashes of red.
The pain shooting through my nipple
feels like a knife cut.

Kay Gravell
12th November 2008


Fearless in my Nakedness
I am strong
 fearless in my femaleness
The beauty of a woman’s body
in all its stages
Puberty, fecundity, pregnancy, middle age and crone.

How to sustain my feelings
of being fearless in my own nakedness?
Without the need of the props of status, identity, possessions.
To be in the world
as who I am.

At times I feel shriveled by my fear!
What are my fears?
Fear that I will waste
this precious gift of life.
That I will not be worthy
of being allowed to live
while others have died young.

My sister Ann
who died of breast cancer at 35 years of age.
I’ve had an extra 20 years of life
What have I done with this?
Have I made good use of this time?

Kay Gravell
27th September 2008

Ode to my nipple

I am going to have my nipple cut off!
My nipple that nourished my three beautiful children.
The sight of my newborn baby latching onto my nipple
blissed out as the milk flows.
This incredible miracle of sustaining life
enacted through my nipple.

I am going to have my nipple cut off!
My nipple that has brought me so much sensual pleasure.
Waves of delight coursing through my body
with my lover’s touch.
I am going to have my nipple cut off!

I’ll feel unbalanced.
My left nipple that has already  survived two operations

The first when I was 20 and working at the Anti Cancer Council one summer
entering data on cancer survival rates.
I found a lump.
It was benign.
I wouldn’t be entered into the research data.

The second operation five years ago.
We’ve discovered hypophasic cells in your breast ducts.
We’ll have to go in again.
We probably won’t be able to save your nipple
said the grey haired surgeon
with all the sensitivity
as if he was discussing the loss of my toenail.

Booked in for surgery before Christmas.
My nipple was saved
by someone whose need was more urgent.
Perhaps I don’t have to do this?

I went to the Mercy Breast Clinic.
What a difference!
From the crowded bus shelter environment of the public system.
This was like an upmarket hotel.
Beautifully groomed reception staff,
the smell of freshly brewed coffee,
a few people, mostly women, some with male partners,
quietly reading the morning papers
like tourists waiting to go on a day tour.
The waft of anxiety, the only hint.

A dark splodge is found in my annual ultra sound.
It looks so inoffensive, just a small dark shadow.
I watch the screen as a core sample is removed.
Five times the hole puncher is fired into the dark shadow.
My breast is bruised
Amazing colours of blue and yellow surround my nipple.

I won’t be able to save your nipple
my surgeon told me with concerned care
You have malignant cells in your breast duct.
Just behind your nipple.
Its your decision but I believe
its best to be sure  we get all the malignant cells.

My sister went into surgery
I’m just getting a lump removed she said
Its no big deal
She awoke from surgery
without her left breast.
She died a year later.
She was only 35.

I am going to have my nipple cut off.

Kay Gravell
16th Septemeber 2008

Beauty is in my lived in skin.
The wrinkles, lines and scars
evidence of a life lived fully.

Beauty is in the light that
shines from within.

Beauty is in my connection to others.
in our lives entwined.

Kay Gravell
September 2008

Locked into other’s expectations
of who I am.
What I can do.
I strive to escape
this constricting construct
to truly express
who I really am!

Kay Gravell
May 2008


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