When I was diagnosed with breast cancer as a young woman of 29, it was easy to despair at the perceived loss of my figure and dating future. I had never seen a women depicted in our pop culture as a "mastectomy beauty." The gift of a lifetime came to me from the sisterhood of strangers who reached out to share their metamorphic journey from breast cancer victim to woman of substance.
As executive director of the University of California San Diago Cancer Center's Thrivers' Network, a cancer patients support program, I have met many breast cancer survivors who are truly phenomenal women. They exude beauty, strength and confident femininity. For years I envisioned a photo essay reflecting this spirit. In my original concept the photos would capture the women in elegant poses with leis and necklaces averting the eye from the imperfections while retaining the classic notion of beauty.
Then I met Art Myers.
He thought it was vital that the women openly expose their scars. this revelatory act would also make acceptance a visible and essential concomitant beauty. Art was passionate on this point. He had been dreaming of this project since his wife Stephanie's treatment for breast cancer.
He was right. We have all known that when a woman facing breast cancer asks her doctor to show her a picture of a woman who has had breast surgery, she is shown a photo from a textbook of a scarred disembodied torso in harsh clinic light. In this impersonal context, the loss of body parts and marks of the knife "are disfigurement."
This alienation from ourselves was a common experience for many of the women in this project. One by one we came to see our involvement as a way to change perception. This became our rallying point. We gained unity and strength in our determination to set the record straight. When I approached Dora, an eighty-three-year-old church-going great-grandmother and fifty-year survivor she immediately said "I will, I absolutely will! Nothing has changed in the past fifty years!"
The women in these photos have revealed the most private aspects of their lives. They have done so as a gift of mentoring and in hope for change.
The models come from varied backgrounds. They are a lawyer, nurse, secretary, professor, executive, activist, clerk, administrator, radiology technician, psychologist, school teacher, and homemaker. No one had posed nude before or even had the desire to do so. There was a common feeling of modesty, some being more shy than others. Most were skeptical of their ability to convey their sense of beauty to the camera. However, no one has regretted her participation and all are very proud of their photos. With the progression of this project I witnessed in these women an enhanced sense of self-esteem and pride in their bodies. There is now no secrecy shadowing the metamorphosis of their self image. Revealed are women of substance, the sisterhood. - Dani