book extract: Nerf Attack — A Story About Breast Cancer, Nerf Guns and Nipples taken from Might Make You Smile

Nerf Attack is taken from Might Make You Smile by Brenda Burling. This story was contributed by the book by Susan, a woman who battled Breast Cancer (and stray bullets from her son’s favourite toy!) This is another of our favourite stories from the book, this one really does represent everything that Might Make You Smile is all about. 

Susan was a thirty-something-year-old mum of two lively boys. Having been diagnosed with Breast Cancer, she had undergone all the treatments and was looking forward to getting her life back on track. With her family by her side, and her faith she knew she could withstand anything. Her cancer had taught her so many lessons. She felt she had found her ‘real’ friends and was surprised that sometimes those she had thought were closest, had not always proven to be so. But Susan had also learned that there was no right or wrong way to deal with the ‘C’ word and that everyone was entitled to their own approach.

She felt that she had gone through hell and back, as had her family, but now she wanted to focus on being ‘normal’ again. Her appearance wasn’t by any means all-consuming, but she was the first to admit that her goal of feeling as much like her old self as possible did, to a degree, including how she looked.

There came the day when she was having the final touches to her breast reconstruction, and it was the time she had been truly looking forward to, she liked to call it “nipple time”. Having had the breast reconstruction done in stages, this was literally the ‘cherry on the cake’. Nipples were to be created and added to her already reconstructed, and much loved ‘boobs’.

The morning came and the operation went off without a hitch. The specialist surgeon created the nipples and had attached them with infinite care and precision. Bound and dressed, Susan was glad to be going home to heal. This, to her, was the final stages of completing and surviving her cancer; and ultimately thriving as a woman, wife, and mother. She couldn’t wait to see the end results. The surgeon had warned her that the dressings would be there for a time, it was vital she took things very slowly, and she adheres to her surgeon’s words on how to help aid in her recovery. Susan couldn’t wait for the day she could remove the dressings, she knew she would enjoy the great unveiling.

Life carried on with a home and family to look after. Susan was careful to keep her exertion to a minimum, and the whole family made fun of her for resembling a mummy with her dressings.

Susan waited patiently for the day when she could remove the final dressing. Being the mother of lively boys, she had learned to dodge most missiles, glide over Lego, always be up for sporting licky, sticky tattoos to be stuck in various inappropriate places, and deal with pretty much everything her offspring had launched her way.

Getting dressed one morning she was a little slower than normal and was momentarily taken by surprise by her youngest, liveliest son, who was currently in the guise of an elite assassin. Armed with a Nerf gun fully loaded with its foam-tipped bullets and safety catch off, she heard the sharp click and felt the ping before she could remove herself from its line of fire. Zap! The bullet had hit its intended target spot on. Mum had been got.

The tiny assassin fled the scene of the crime with a drop-and-roll maneuver that James Bond would have been proud of, his mission had been accomplished.

What had actually been shot at, with perfect aim and precision, was one of her brand new, still settling themselves in, and already much-loved nipples. As Susan looked downwards she already knew all was not well. She called for her husband – who as luck would have it was a paramedic – not long recovered from a long night shift, but fortunately home that day. He quickly came to the bedroom to find his wife attempting to reposition the much-longed-for nipple.

Her husband, being the more medically minded of the couple, knew what he had to do. Susan insisted she didn’t want to go back to the specialist, stating that after such a long time with treatment upon treatment you only went to the hospital when you absolutely had to. Between Susan and her husband, they lovingly and ever so carefully repositioned the nipple and he steri-stripped that little bud right back into place as best he could. Disaster, they hoped, had been diverted.

A while later, back at the hospital for the follow-up appointment with the surgeon who had performed Susan’s procedure, Susan removed her top. She stood absolutely still, staring frontwards, hardly able to breathe. There followed a great deal of frowning and quizzical examinations of her breasts. Susan and her husband avoided eye contact with each other and the consultant. Susan held her breath for what seemed like an age. The surgeon finally gave his verdict; he wasn’t happy with the alignment of the nipples and felt at least one should be redone. He did question how one nipple seemed somewhat misplaced and couldn’t quite understand how it had come about.

Susan countered that she was in fact delighted with the results, and there was really no need to spend any more time on her breasts. After all, she was happy, healthy, and getting on with life; that was what mattered. Susan also pointed out that nobody had perfect breasts anyway; a little uniqueness added to the authenticity, and she shared a knowing smile with her husband.

They then left the hospital for the last time.

About Might Make You Smile

Might Make You Smile is a collection of short stories based on real events from real people living with or recovering from cancer. Written by Brenda Burling, with help from people all over the UK, Might Make You Smile is far from your typical book about cancer.  Mainly because the focus here isn’t on the disease; it’s on the people. Might Make You Smile tells the stories that you don’t often hear. From getting funny looks on your commute because your eyebrows are green, to losing your wig and even getting your nipple shot off with a foam dart; Might Make You Smile really does cover everything. Often funny and always heartwarming, Might Make You Smile is the book that demonstrates that even The Big C comes with a sense of humour.

Talking about the inspiration for the book, Brenda said: “The idea for Might Make You Smile came to me whilst listening to friends telling me of their experiences during cancer treatments,” Brenda says. “When a very close friend was diagnosed at the end of 2015 I knew I had to write the book. I had no idea how the concept would work other than a gut instinct and the desire to make anyone affected by cancer feel connected through sharing the experiences of others.”

10% of proceeds from sales of Might Make You Smile will be donated to the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity and Brenda is excited to be helping a cause close to so many with this book. “The Helen Rollason Cancer Charity has helped so many people I have spoken to and Brafternoon was closely linked to the charity too”. Brafternoon – a support group close to Brenda’s hometown in Essex – has been huge supporter of the project. Brenda has been involved with the group since finding out about them whilst helping a friend. “I already knew Anita, but discovered she also ran the Brafternoon support group and I took my friend along. Whilst there I announced my idea to the group explaining I’d already got some stories and would they be interested in contributing? Again the response was amazing.”

About the Author

Brenda Burling is a prolific author, columnist, and guest speaker who also manages to find time to regularly write a blog. She lives with her family and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Steve on the Essex / Hertfordshire border; an area she feels has helped to bring about some of her best work.

Might Make You Smile is Brenda’s fourth book to be published and the first to be published by Matthew James. The idea for Might Make You Smile was inspired by the struggles of so many loved ones and close friends, who have battled cancer.

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