I am still haunted by the memory of the phone call from my mother telling me in a trembling voice that my sister Joanne, still in her thirties, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Following a prolonged heroic battle to survive she was to eventually die from that disease. Two decades later I anxiously faced a surgeon in an antiseptic hospital waiting room as he uttered the dreaded words, "Your wife has breast cancer."
In my career as a physician I have many times had the sobering responsibility of delivering the news of a cancer diagnosis to patients and their loved ones. However, I was not prepared for the overwhelming effect that breast cancer in two close family members would have on my life. I began to see the disease in a new light. I learned that anxiety about survival, initially the most important worry, can give way later to a new unease both in the survivor and her partner. The woman may begin to cover her nakedness fearing a spouse's averted glance, or turn away from the reflection in a mirror that unremittingly reminds her of fears of diminished femininity. A partner withdraws a hand to avoid touching a scar where once was a graceful curve. Lovers draw apart, an absent breast now a barrier to their intimacy. A fiancé quietly turns his back and walks out of a cancer survivor's life. These fears about body image, femininity and sexuality are understandable in a society that is bombarded by media messages of centerfolds, push-up bras and silicone implants - messages that erroneously imply that a perfect breast is the requisite icon of the feminine essence.
With the support of my wife Stephanie, now almost a ten year survivor and one of the women in the book, I undertook this photographic project hoping to show that a woman's fundamental nature in not dependent on anything external; the loss of part or all of her breast is not a threat to her being. The short narratives, written by the women and their partners, are included as an important part of the message. With no substantive editing they come right from the subjects' hearts, printed as written. The beautiful poems were created especially for this book.
In my other career, that of fine art photographer, I have been photographing women for a decade and a half, but it wasn't until I started this project that I began to understand the many elements that make a woman's image complete. Now it is my hope that these pictures, poems and personal vignettes will reveal the persistence of a woman's beauty, strength and femaleness in all of its complexity, even after the transforming experience of breast cancer.
by Art Myers