Wellsy and the girls – that was how singer/performer Deb Wells was known in the theatre business.
“The girls” were her G-cup sized breasts, her “very substantial” asset.
So a double mastectomy after a cancer diagnosis came as a particular body blow for the Blackheathen.
She sorely missed her breasts: “My psychologist said it’s like having a limb removed and it is. It’s a whole chunk of your body that’s gone and, in my case, a large chunk.”
And she also found the scars awful.
“They were so ugly. I couldn’t look at myself. I would dry them [after a shower] by feel.”
Looking to replace ugliness with beauty, she enlisted the help of a friend to design a tattoo which is now emblazoned across her chest, thanks to 19 hours in a Springwood tattoo parlour.
She has also recorded “the journey of my breasts” in a book, the proceeds of which will go to Cancer Wellness Support.
Where Once Were Breasts is Ms Wells’ attempt to offer hope to other cancer patients.
“The message of the book is that it doesn’t have to be the end. Cancer doesn’t have to be the end and a mastectomy doesn’t have to be the end,” she said.
The book is about finding the courage to do something post-cancer – like having a full chest tattoo done. “This book says, ‘give it a go’.”
Ms Wells, who has performed in major productions of The Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Oliver among others, said her breasts had “governed my career.”
They were so substantial she even missed out on a role in Les Miserables because she didn’t really look like a starving peasant.
After her breasts were removed, she had reconstruction surgery, not very successfully, and later wore padded inserts. Now her chest is a blaze of colour.
“The project started last year when I decided to endow my very ugly scars with artwork and I thought maybe I should document it photographically. And then I thought if I could do a book I could donate the proceeds of the sales to Cancer Wellness.”
Ms Wells loves her new look: “It renewed my self-esteem. I feel like a different person.”
She said she was so grateful to a number of friends who had offered help with the book and website.
Where Once Were Breasts will be launched at the Cancer Wellness Support centre at 104-5 Railway Parade, Leura, on Friday, March 22 at 6pm. The book will be available on the night or at www.whereoncewerebreasts.com.