This year in February, I posed for a photographer, Isis Charise working on taking photos of 800 women who have experienced breast cancer and have had a mastectomy styled as Greece Goddesses inspired by ancient art where we see statues of women that are broken but still beautiful.
Her initiative is part of a nonprofit and has been shown in galleries and also on television. You can learn more and donate to support her work here.
Me as a 40+ year old mom of 2 spent a lot of time topless this year in front of photographers - something I never expected to write or do or say. I found it important to represent that having to get rid of a diseased breast did not ruin my life. Being told by a nurse in the plastic surgeon's office (that I was required to meet with despite knowing I would not reconstruct) that I would regret not having a breast and that I was too young to spend the rest of my life "like that" definitely was a bit of a catalyst to get me sharing and being out there as a unicorn.
I was diagnosed at 39 years old and I have always maintained that deciding to reconstruct or not is a very personal decision and there is no right answer. Period. There is just what you in your heart want and need to feel whole. For me, having one breast was more than ok but it is not so for everyone.
That being said, I still woke up from my surgery petrified of looking at myself and wore a prosthetic for a while to balance out my boob situation. One day, though, I woke up, donated my prosthetics and got about the business of being one boobed. It was a process, despite knowing I did not want to reconstruct, it still took me time to appreciate and love my body. I was going to say "again" but the truth is I never loved my body ever - as a woman, it is hard to embrace yourself when you constantly judge yourself.
In 2018, I sat for photos with Jessica Leigh Photographers through a nonprofit called The Magic Hour an initiative for photography of cancer survivors. I posed topless showing just my scar. Then I posed for the Behind the Scars project with Sophie Mayanne, a London based photographer, and those photos have been all over social media and also on Elle Magazine's website, too.
Also in 2018, I posed for these photos - and many women have said that this process with Isis is the ultimate of accepting your body and I have to agree. She made me feel safe and beautiful and this is the only photo series where I am completely bare and not covering my remaining boob.
It was scary at first as I am definitely a puritan in terms of nakedness and though I did slowly find myself falling in love with my body the idea of showing my breast was petrifying and I both was excited for and scared to death to see these photos.
Here I am, as a Goddess, topless - please do not tell my parents! Thanks!
What have you done that you never thought you would after a life changing diagnosis? Do you love and appreciate your body for all that you survived- scars and all?
Photos from Sophie Mayanne and Behind the Scars - shared via Elle Magazine:
I blogged every day of October last year and this year although I felt I did not do much I did get featured in Elle (thanks Sophie Mayanne and Behind the Scars) and did cut the ribbon at the Making Strides Walk for my city and you know just kept trucking through what was a time of disquiet in my soul and heart...
Now here we are in November - pinktober is over but hopefully some of the lessons remain like how metastatic breast cancer kills 114 people per day but only gets 7% of the money raised for all things “pink” oh and also that breast cancer is not pink or sexy or fun - it, like all cancers and diseases, is a thief, a curse and a constant thorn in the side of all who have ever been told, “you have cancer.”
But on to gratitude- this is the month of my cancerversary - I was diagnosed in November 2016... it feels like it was 2006 though to me - it feels like sooo much has happened in these (almost) 2 years.
I will NEVER thank cancer for anything but I will begin my journey of gratitude today this November 1st on a very important thing — HEALTH.
I am grateful for my health. Now, what did I just say? Health? Me? Someone who probably could not get life insurance if I tried? I’m happy for health?
Well, let me tell you right now my big secret of how I keep smiling every day - I CLAIM my health in my faith, in my heart, in my life, in every aspect of my life I am healthy, I am cured and I believe that until the day that God forbid I am told otherwise.
Despite stage 3 breast cancer and all of its treatments and side effects including a radical right mastectomy, lymph node extraction, 8 rounds of chemo (during which I worked full time and was a mom - kind of - I lost the job but kept the kids so yeah!) and 33 rounds of radiation. From going bald and feeling so ashamed and not wanting anyone to know I was sick to having a blog (or 3) with more than 2000-3000 readers per week and serialization in Cancer Health Magazine website and other sites and news outlets oh and being in Elle with my naked chest out for the world to see - me who wouldn’t wear a bathing suit once I became a mom is now just like hello would you like to see the space where my right tit used to be - sure!!
And of course I also have continued therapies for hormone positive cancer - I went into medically induced menopause in February 2017 at 40 years old - my mom kept her cycle until like 58 so that is 18 years earlier than I should have stopped my cycles and damn does my body know it - so daily anastrazole pills, every 3 month lupron shot and now in a few days a prophylactic removal of ovaries, fallopian tubes (hopefully laproscopic) and a d&c to test the lining of my uterus and other parts, just to be safe.
My 8 year old asked me this morning, “Are you doing this procedure so the cancer does not come back.” I have some freaky smart children but I also balance the fact that they need to have some black and white in their life and not just shades of grey so I believe in my heart and soul that I am healthy. I do a lot - for the kids the house my husband me and my family and the 2 businesses I am running with some clients and everything and just trying to also spend time on me my friends and my creative pursuits.
I claim it, I believe it and I am grateful for it - so damn grateful because it could always be worse. So as I sit here smiling and laughing one thing I’m not doing is complaining - I don’t ask “why me?” I ask “why not me” - cancer does not discriminate and it does not care about risk factors and for the 1/3 of us breast cancer patients that become metastatic and for the many diagnosed stage 4 de novo I hope everyone tries to do more in any way they can... me, I’m sharing my story and hoping for awareness campaigns to become cure campaigns instead.
Who’s with me? What do we do next?
We only have so much time and yet...
The little things still chafe. The stresses, the worries, the thoughts of not enjoying the moment because the moment is just too much.
I balance so many things on my one boob - a budget that never meets up where it should, a family that just keeps moving one way when I want them to go the other … a new school year pressing down on us when I did not get enough of summer yet. I did not get enough.
I see people constantly getting bad news. News that their cancer is back or that it is incurable. People who are dying left and right. And it is almost October - the month of pink when everyone says, "Breast cancer..." but no one quite gets it.
I live in this time of in between - this world of I do not know - someone who once could only live in the world of certainties and knowledge, I now live in the world of what I do not know can't hurt me... yet.
And yet …
I am NED (as far as I know). That means that there is no evidence of disease in my body - I was given those words back in December 2016 after my mastectomy and lymph node extraction, despite having 5 / 25 lymph nodes test positive for cancer - I had a pet scan a few days before my mastectomy so I guess that was how they knew to say NED. I did chemo scared to death til a nurse told me kindly, "this is just being done as an extra - all of your cancer is gone."
No one really knows, though. Every time I open up my Facebook or my Instagram, there is more bad news. More friends and acquaintances and people I do not even know but feel I do through the blue screen, the small squares, getting bad news, facing death, kissing their kids and not knowing if it is the last time or now. And I am crying. Crying for them - for their children, for their unborn children, for their friends and families. And I know I cannot spiral - I cannot go down the road of "what if" or "how will it happen" I can only live in the moment. The moment of suspended time where as far as I know I am ok - but the what if is still there - I run from it but it follows me like a bad stalker.
The story of Rachel Bland, I can share - she is someone who shared her story even in the moments before her death at 40 years old, leaving behind a 3 year old son and family and friends. She is - was - a journalist and was part of a podcast out of the BBC that two of my insta "friends" are on (I put friends in quotes because although I feel I know them and maybe they know me, it is in the world of square boxes not in real life...) She was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to the nodes and in April 2018 was told it had returned in the opposite side of her body and chest... yesterday, she died. In 5 months she went from recurrence to incurable to death.
That is just the story I feel comfortable sharing because she was so vocal about cancer and what was happening to her body and what ultimately took her from this earth.
As a mom, it hurts me so much to think about the what ifs. But not just as a mom - as a person. All that I want to do - all that I am doing, the people who count on me, who love me , who hate me, who tolerate me, who can't stand me - every thing in relation to me in the orbit of this "post"-cancer apocalypse.
I try to keep in mind that life changes on a dime for everyone but sometimes as I straddle the worlds between "health" and "sick", I see it is not the same for all. Despite all of my fears, anxieties and worries before diagnosis, I never really thought of the "what if I am not here anymore..." It was not until Cancer that mortality hit me in the arse - hard.
So I let it out, I write it down and I try to get back to living. I have spent the last days of summer away on vacation, enjoying life AND working- it seems being busy is the best way to suppress the negatives. Now, as I face getting kids back to school tomorrow, back to routine, I just have to stay in the world of "TODAY" and not "what if".
How do you handle the world of what if? What do you do to help yourself not go down the road of negativity? Today, I will cry, just now, before the kids wake up and need my attention, before my conference calls are scheduled, as I work on various projects, I will weep. It might help... Does it help?
This is "life after cancer" … XOXO Supermom
Super Mom BC Eradicator - connect with me via the icons above :). Thanks! XOXO LISA (my secret identity ... )