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?
I know I already wrote about how I am a Unicorn but this is a bit more about options and how I made my choices.
I knew when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my right boob that I wanted it chopped off. The doctors tried to tell me to wait to see if a lumpectomy was an option but I just knew it had to go. Ultimately, I did need a mastectomy as the tumor was 5.6cm and dispersed throughout the breast not in one spot only.
I also knew I did not want to reconstruct. This is a very personal decision.
I only knew flat was an option to me because I was too stubborn to have additional surgeries. I wanted it over and done with and knee reconstruction would cause more surgery and or more complications.
I had to meet with a plastic surgeon anyway despite knowing I did not want to have an implant.
That meeting was fun - the nurse told me I was nuts to not want to reconstruct (I’m paraphrasing) but she thought especially because I was so young that I would miss the breast.
Well, I don’t miss it. I’m half flat no longer using prosthetics AND posing topless to prove it - let me just tell you I have never been the type of person to be nude anywhere but you know the normal places and circumstances. I’ll be 42 this year and I never thought I would pose naked anywhere - but I also never thought I would get cancer soooo
I’m just happy in my skin I love my body scars and all- do you?
I’m so lucky to be alive and to have a supportive husband who just doesn’t care that I only have one boob. I forget why people stare at me when I’m out as I’m more than lopsided I’m just bone on the right side.
I wish I had been this kind to my body before - I never appreciated or loved myself as much as I do now: I pose for these pics smiling so other women know that even with just my one tit I’m still happy feel as though I am sexy and womanly despite only having one breast.
What have you done to appreciate your body no matter what it has going for it or missing from it? After 2 children and yo yo-ing weight and just general abusing myself with junk food stress and anxiety I am now as close to who I truly am in my soul one boob and all.
Photo credit: Sophie Mayanne - Behind the Scars Project
I am a unicorn. I had breast cancer in my right breast and I cut it off. Well, not me, my surgeon. I knew right away I did not want to reconstruct. I wanted to just get the cancer out and be able to "bounce" back to my "normal life" as soon as possible.
For me, normal meant being one boobed. I had no idea what that really meant, though, and I spent time hiding it with a prosthetic and now I just free boob it - there's only one of them but I am still ME and I pose topless now to share my feeling of being in my skin, body positive and confident... If only I could have felt that way even with the other boob but better late than never!
Super Mom BC Eradicator - connect with me via the icons above :). Thanks! XOXO LISA (my secret identity ... )