I found a lump

23 Oct, 2014

I found a lump under my right nipple.

My first thought was, “Oh, God, no…”

My next thought was, “There is no way in Hell…”

Then they dam broke and the thoughts flooded in:

  • “Now you will really be able to relate to you friends’ journeys.”
  • “But I already cared deeply about them. I didn’t need to experience it too.”
  • “No, this has to be something else, the odds are different for men.”
  • “But I have male friends with breast cancer.”
  • “Still, the odds are in my favor.”
  • “But maybe I was drawn to breast cancer for this very reason.”
  • “Shit.”
  • “I know exactly what treatment for this looks like.”
  • “I’m nowhere near as tough as my friends who have gone through this.”
  • “I’m glad I got health insurance last year.”
  • “I’m glad I have life insurance. I wish it was worth more.”
  • “No one is going to believe me.”
  • “Maybe it will go away.”
  • “I’m scared.”

This wasn’t discovered with a self-breast exam. I found it because there was a sharp pain above my nipple. It was sensitive to the touch, I could feel it when I stretched, I could feel it when I rolled over on it as I slept. Then I stopped sleeping because it bothered my head more than my chest.

Fear would bully me all night long. After one very restless night I sat down on the couch with Jamie and just blurted out, “I think I have breast cancer.”

She didn’t laugh at me, she just listened. It was what I needed. I decided to give it another week to see if it was something glandular that would simply go away.

It didn’t.

In the midst of this scare I was trying to get my article on Metastatic Breast Cancer finished for the local paper, finishing plans for the American Cancer Society 5k fundraiser that I was helping with, and wrapping up the portraits and stories for the Reveal Mission that would be exhibited at BSU. One afternoon I sat recording a story of one of my friends and I just blurted out that I had found a lump. She responded by asking me why we were working on her story when I should be focused on my health. I promised her I would make steps that day.

I called my wife’s doctor first. I know, that doesn’t make much sense, but when we found a lump in Jamie’s breast years ago when she was breastfeeding he was who we went to. He diagnosed it as a swollen milk gland, patted us on the back for being vigilant, and didn’t even charge us for the office visit. He has been her (thus our) doctor for 25+ years. I figured he knew a lot about breasts.

His office gave me a referal to a specialist and they called me the next day. I was surprised to find out that the first available opening was two months out. Honestly, what is the good of early detection if you can’t get in to see a doctor for 60 days? I’ve seen how fast some tumors grow.

It was at this point I knew I needed advice. I have made myself available to help share the stories of women with breast cancer. These women have become close friends. They have trusted me with their journeys and I knew that I had to, wanted to, needed to reciprocate with my own healthcare journey.

All of them gave me the same, basic advice. “You have to be your own advocate. Do not wait 60 days on this. Get seen now.”

I listened. I called one of the breast cancer centers and tried to set up an appointment. I was informed that I needed a referral. Even though I had avoided him at the beginning, I called my doctor. He saw me that same day.

In retrospect I wish I had called him first. The reality is, he knows me. When he came into the room he asked good questions, he examined me and my nipple, and then we had a good talk.

I told him what I already knew – my nipple is sore, and that is good, because most breast cancer tumors aren’t painful. My nipple still looks the same, it hasn’t changed, is normal color, hasn’t inverted, and isn’t expressing fluid or blood – and all of these things are good. I know the typical breast cancer signs too well.

And then he told me what he knew – that because of the work that I do, because of my friendships, because of what I do know, that he knew I (and thus, he) wouldn’t be satisfied until we had proof this wasn’t a serious issue. He ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound.

Then he looked me in the eyes and said, “Chad, I could send you across the street for emergency tests right now. Yet I know your heart and I don’t think you want to take the place of someone else who may need those emergency scans today.”

That felt right. If he thought I could wait two weeks for the diagnostic scans, I would peacefully wait as well.

He never once made me feel stupid for feeling scared. He didn’t belittle my pain. He didn’t shame me for relating to the stories I have grown so close to. He did, however, offer this statement on my way out of the exam room, “And for goodness sake, you are already empathetic enough with breast cancer survivors. You don’t need to go through the same thing yourself for them to accept you any more!” That made me smile. It didn’t, however, make the pain go away. Though I waited another 12 days for the scans, my symptoms didn’t change.

This health scare has given me a different perspective. Now I truly know what it feels like to find a lump. I have felt the breath of breast cancer raising the hair on the back of my neck. I know what it feels like to wait, in fear. I know what the difference is between a screening mammogram that is done just to make sure there is nothing suspicious in the breast tissue, and a diagnostic mammogram that is done because something has already been found.

I also recognize that my journey is quite different from that of my friends. I don’t think that as a man I would be shamed by a diagnosis of breast cancer as some men have been. This is due to the fact that I’ve been educated in this area and know that it isn’t just a ‘woman’s’ disease. I wouldn’t have the same emotions to deal with if I had surgery and lost breast tissue and a nipple as many of my female friends have. I wouldn’t have to deal with the decisions around reconstruction, modesty or scarring. If anything men’s scars are considered badges of honor.

Even so, I don’t need no stinking badges.

Today was my scheduled appointment for a mammogram and an ultrasound. I have a lifelong friend who is a nurse in the clinic and she made time to sit with me and answer my questions and walk me through what to expect.

She explained that at worst I would know today that if they found something they didn’t like. It was even possible they might be able to fit me in for a biopsy this afternoon if needed.

She introduced me to the technician who would perform my mammogram. I asked her if we could call it a man-o-gram and she was happy to comply. As she was clamping me in I told her that I had always wanted to witness one of these procedures, but I hadn’t expected to be quite this close. I was surprised by how much she manhandled me, but then maybe that is normal when a person doesn’t have a lot of breast tissue. It was awkward fitting into the machine, but I think I was much more focused on getting results than having any concern for how the procedure felt.

hairynippleShe invited me back to her screen to show me the comparisons between my left and right breast images. She showed me the blood vessels, the lymph nodes, and the position of the small bb she had taped to my right nipple before we took the scans. While the tissue under my right nipple is a little different than that on the left, it didn’t look like a drastic difference. It also didn’t show anything that looked like a lump or a mass. She left the room to consult with the radiologist and returned within a few minutes.

My man-o-gram images were clear enough that the radiologist didn’t feel the need to do an ultrasound. They diagnosed me with gynecomastia.

Before you are concerned that they are going to send me back to Jamie’s gynecologist, let me define the condition. Gynecomastia is a painful swelling in breast tissue in men caused from changes in hormones. So no, I don’t have breast cancer, but I guess I am in man-o-pause. It will probably just go away. If it doesn’t, I’ll go back and see my own doctor.

This afternoon I sent a message to the survivor who pressed me to take action when I was interviewing her. When I explained that I am just a hormonal man with sensitive nipples she responded that I should be wary of hot flashes and be grateful for nipple sensitivity. She no longer has hers.

I am grateful to have gotten results back today, and positive ones at that. I know there were others sitting in the waiting room with me today that won’t be feeling the same way tonight.

The Reveal Mission at BSU

12 Oct, 2014

Reveal_WebBanner_reception
It is the eve of my biggest art show to date. I have an amazing venue to share the Reveal Mission on the Boise State Campus. I have an amazing backing in the University at the request of the Association of BSU Students. I have a reception on Wed night that BSU is hosting (yes, that means they are paying for the Mediterranean hors d’oeuvres that will be served). The advertisements are up all over campus, created by the campus art department. The Reveal Mission art show is now on metal prints, not needing any framing; it is easy to transport, and even easier to hang. Needless to say, I am very excited!

Despite what should be considered an epic win, what I experienced yesterday at a gathering of my Reveal Mission colleagues was more important to me than anything that will happen the rest of this month. In the afternoon we gathered at the home of one of the participants from the first show from two years ago. She and her partner opened their home so we could do a pre-show for all of the new Reveal Mission participants. It was their idea and it was simply marvelous – it so captured the heart of what this project is all about!

The main reason that Jamie and I started this project was so that our friends who had experienced breast cancer would have the full freedom to share their stories without shame. Yesterday, getting to experience these breast cancer warriors and survivors interact with each other and significantly share their stories was extremely meaningful and fulfilling.

What I have experienced in these past three years is that every person’s journey through breast cancer is significant. Each of these individuals have unique challenges and perspectives. Each one of them deserve to be listened to. Each of their stories deserves to be championed.

It has been very significant to me that these champions have allowed to use my camera to capture a portrait of their reality. This whole concept was so outside my grid when I started the project I really didn’t know what to expect. My concept of bodies, body image, breasts, scars and transformation has been radically changed since when I started this journey. Each person that has allowed me into their sacred space has given me a gift. I only hope that what I am offering back is valuable to them as well.

I also love to capture their stories in words. I’ll admit that when I read great writers I wince at my own writing limitations. However, I love seeing the response when one of these survivors reads my retelling of their journeys and feels a sense of validation. Though I always feel convicted for leaving out any details of their journey, I know that the art of rendering down a chapter of their life into a single page so that it can be absorbed by a captivated audience, is what storytelling is all about. When these survivors feel validated, when they know they’ve been listened too, when they know their story is being shared with honor, and when they know their vulnerability is making a difference, then I know that together we have won.

It is also very significant when one of these survivors decides to write their own story for the Reveal Mission themselves. When this happens I celebrate that they have found their voice that drowns out the lies that Shame has been whispering to them.

If all we had been working towards was the sharing that happened yesterday, then this past three years would have been worth every single moment. Yet the incredible thing is that there is more. Tomorrow, I have 17 friends that have chosen to share their stories publicly. Their statements will be accessible from October 13th through the end of the month. I hope that you will attend. I hope that you will see. I hope that you will listen.
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Prayer and the Reveal Mission

01 Oct, 2014

Yesterday an article about the Reveal Mission appeared in a local magazine near my home. The editor of the magazine is breast cancer survivor herself and wanted to highlight our project. We chose some magazine friendly images and she wrote the article herself.

It is coming up on three years that I have made myself available to the breast cancer world. I began by learning to listen, to provide a safe place for women and their families to talk about diagnosis, treatments, and their newest chapters of life. This journey started with a portrait, a woman with a single breast mastectomy shared by her husband, a professional photographer in Portugal. The image and their story was captivating. It encouraged me to pursue my own friends who had faced this disease. What I learned is that many of them wanted to be able to share their stories but didn’t know how to, or felt ashamed because society oversexualizes breasts, or maybe they just needed encouragement, permission, and a venue to be able to do so.

Years of professional, pastoral ministry benefit me when it comes to listening to these stories. Yet it is obvious to me that I’m not the same as when I was behind my church office desk. Now I am not expected to have answers, to come up with solutions, to offer any fix, to give religious platitudes, provide scripture, or try and make God look good in very difficult circumstances. (I can’t speak for any other ministers, this has just been my own reality.) This has taken a lot of pressure off of me. There are no ‘right or wrong’ answers when it comes to breast cancer, but there sure are a lot of decisions to make:

  • Which surgeon, oncologist, and plastic surgeon to use
  • Which tests to have performed
  • Whether or not to be included in a medical research trial
  • Having a lumpectomy or a mastectomy
  • Removing the affected breast or both
  • Whether or not to go through chemotherapy
  • Whether or not to install a port
  • Whether or not to have radiation
  • Whether or not to take follow up drugs that affect hormones
  • Whether or not to force your body into menopause
  • How to combat side effects from different medicines
  • What do do when something isn’t working
  • Whether or not to wear a prosthetic
  • Whether or not to have breast reconstruction
  • When to get reconstruction surgery
  • Where to get the muscles and skin to complete breast reconstruction
  • How far to stretch the expanders
  • What size and type of implants
  • Whether or not to have nipple reconstruction
  • Where to get the skin for the new areolas and nipples
  • Whether or not to use micropigmentation/medical tattooing instead of nipple surgery
  • Whether or not to be involved with the Reveal Mission

I have friends that have made different decisions with each of the above processes. I can stand with all of them because surviving isn’t a black and white world. There is no preferred course and this is no magic cure.

So when I received an email this morning, from a man who read the article in the Eagle magazine and had a solution for me, I was undone. He belongs to a local church and helps lead their healing-prayer team.

healinghandsI read his message over and over. He was kind with his words. He complimented me on my photography and mentioned that I must obviously care for these women. But then his next comment exposed his real reason for writing me, These women do not have to suffer through chemotherapy, etc. I see many people healed of cancer through Jesus. Then he listed Bible verses, an example of a physical healing, and a link to a video for me to watch.

Though possibly not intended his message came across as this – “If you really care about these women, you would just send them our way so we can lay hands on them and cast out their disease.

I’m struggling to write him a kind response.

Here is what I know – my faith, is not in crisis. Though I have many fewer answers than I used to pretend that I had, I am still very much a man of faith.

I even have the benefit of having experienced and witnessed physical healings, some in my own family. My grandmother had pancreatic cancer and was given four months to live when I was a small boy. My grandfather – an alcoholic and very wayward Catholic – fell to his knees when he got the news and told God he would never drink again if he healed my grandmother. Why his desperate prayer was heeded I don’t know but my Grandfather never drank again (though he did lose two legs to diabetes and ultimately his life before he was 70), and my grandmother lived to see my youngest son at the age I was when she was diagnosed to die, some thirty years later.

If there was some sort of healthy pattern in my Grandpa’s prayer I would follow it.

If there was some real guarantee by the man who sent me the email I would happily advertise his church and prayer team, but the reality is, there isn’t. For as many healings as that church wants to claim, there are twice as many ailments and just as many deaths.

Faith isn’t a cure.

Yet faith still empowers me.

No, I don’t make it a habit of ‘laying on of hands’ when I meet with a woman who has breast cancer. In fact, since I am often taking pictures of them revealing their scars I am careful not to touch them at all. But I also don’t hesitate on giving them one of my hands to grip during the middle of a procedure or exam. And I get a lot of chest to chest hugs (though many of them don’t have the nerve endings to feel it any longer). And the last time one of them kissed me it was from her deathbed and I don’t think that I’ve ever received such a holy kiss.

So while I am always desperately in prayer for each of my friends, if forced to make a choice I will opt for acts of love and being physically and emotionally present rather than emphasizing a particular theology and repeating religious words. But then, that is how I experience the life and story of Jesus.

Our Great Big American God

28 Jul, 2014

These days I don’t review as many books as I have in recent years. After reading 50+ books a year for a couple of years I found myself burnt out. I’d built up a good reputation in the publishing world and even moved into the top tier of the Amazon book reviewers. I had a constant stream of Christian books being delivered to my doorstep without me having to request them. One author even asked me to write a blurb for the front of her book, along with other well known ‘names.’ I was enthralled with myself. I read her book, wrote a few well-worded sentences, and sent it to her and her publisher. When my promised, published copy came in the mail my name, and statement, had been left out. I realized it hurt too much, and that this silly reviewing game was more about sales and popularity than it was about the message of the books.

I divorced myself from my marriage with these publishers and instead found a job where I actually earned money to review fiction and literature. While I wasn’t going to make a fortune or get famous, I still appreciated getting paid to read the latest Stephen King novel and interpret it for my Christian culture audience. The job lasted a couple of years until that website folded. Since then I have only reviewed items that really interested or inspired me- which sadly to say, hasn’t been many.

About a month ago I saw that author and blogger Matthew Paul Turner had a new book coming out. I’ve got to know MPT a bit through the years. It was actually his first, big release, “Churched” that started me reviewing Christian books. I had heard him interviewed on a podcast in 2008 and personally connected with his stories of growing up churched. I pre-ordered his book and when it arrived a few weeks later I stayed up late reading it all in one sitting. The review I wrote wasn’t all that spectacular (I compared the book to an Oreo cookie), but since I laughed through the book, and gave it to my kids so they could understand my churched upbringing, I thought I’d message MPT and find out what else out there was worth reading. He gave me some great connections and I was off and running.

In 2010 MPT followed up his collection of stories about growing up in the church with a follow up book about his time in college and in the Christian music industry. The book was titled “Hear No Evil” and my review is still listed as “The Most Helpful” on Amazon’s website (6 out of 7 readers of my review agree!). Both of these books offers insight into my generation’s maturity through Christianity, fundamentalism, and pop culture. Did I mention his books are funny?

americangodSo even though I’m in semi-retirement from the Christian book reviewing circles, upon my request MPT graciously sent me an electronic copy of his latest book, “Our Great Big American God.”

Good Heavens, I read this one again in the space of 24 hours!

Dear God, when did Matthew grow up?

Instead of the Christian, biographical stories of his own past (as he did in Churched and Hear No Evil) in his newest book Matthew Paul Turner refocuses his attention to the biography of God since the time he crossed the Atlantic to establish Himself in His new Promised Land. America was the land of opportunity and God needed a fresh start from His messy history in Europe.

We often hear broad, sweeping generalities from pontificating politicians and preachers pounding pulpits that the United States needs to return to the God of our forefathers and/or we need to return our nation back to God as it had been originally established. But upon honest reflection, do we really know what that means? The question Turner asks in his book is, “Who is the God of American Christianity?”

Turner has done his due diligence to research the journey of the American God starting from the Puritan perspective and the Calvinist influence of the early colonists. His chapter on Jonathan Edwards, who Turner believes is ‘one of the most misunderstood individuals in American history,’ is worth the purchase price of the book alone.

Turner then covers George Whitefield and the Great Awakening and some of the perceptions of our country’s Founding Fathers. While he doesn’t attempt to answer the question of whether or not the birth of America was divinely inspired, he does a good job of painting the historic worldview of that time and how it has affected us ever since.

Preachers, theologians and the laity don’t interpret God in a box, nor do they use just scripture. Their views of economics, poverty, social justice, war, slavery, civil rights, feminism, sexuality and politics color the way they see God, and the way they see God affects the way they approach economics, poverty, social justice, war, slavery, civil rights, feminism, sexuality and politics. Turners addresses these factors as his chapters take us through America’s movement away from a Calvinistic God, mostly because of the influence of Methodist ministers. Already the American religious culture redefined God to be something significantly significantly different than their one forefathers.

Is this the God we should return to? Turner reminds us (again with thought provoking research) that at this time of American history we were still a country that supported slavery, which was backed up by some of our most revered, Christian-American heroes. From their perspective they had the Bible on their side. Turner explains, “How a Christian views and understands that Bible will dictate not only his or her worldview but, more importantly, how they interact with the worldviews of other people.” And this really does become a crux in the matter of knowing who God is, as our history with Him has been to subject to our interpretation of scripture. Again, Turner – “Much of America’s big God isn’t about God at all; it’s about the Bible. For many Christians, the Bible is God – the Word in Flesh, translated into English, and printed on pretty paper.” And yet, as we read our own history we have to face how many times our interpretation of Scripture (and thus our interaction with God) has changed over, and over, and over again.

And from there Turner takes us to the birth of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and the marriage of religion with marketing and presentation. We get to see D.L Moody and Billy Sunday at their best, and at their worst.

He also addresses the impact that dispensationalism view of scripture made on our culture by Darby and Scofield. Even though this theology is so relatively new, the concept and resulting focus on the End Times, and the creation of the Rapture is in some American circules presented as having been as old as Noah himself. A good portion of my friends still view God, the world, the nightly news, and the happenings in the mid-east through the Scofield footnotes found in an authorized King James Bible.

America’s God didn’t stop on our shores, instead once He established Himself here He decided He wanted to take the American version of Himself to other countries. Our missionaries have often taken more than just Jesus to foreign fields. Often our clothing, culture and politics have been almost as widely preached. Turner takes us back to observe this history and these decisions.

UncleSam06And before closing the book the author addresses the history and practices of the Moral Majority, the role of organized religion and a God who is consumed with American politics. He also gives an overview of the journey of Billy Graham (some of which was very new to me), including his split from some of his fundamentalist friends. He also includes the significance of the Pentecostal influence, which I found particularly interesting because of my own church history, and how it led to ‘health and wealth’ interpretations of the Gospel, and of God.

 

For those who enjoy Turner’s writing style they will be happy to know that Turner is still Turner. He hasn’t got over his personal frustration with Calvinism (but if you were chosen to survive it, how can you blame him?). His writing is fresh and makes this book about an interesting topic a very easy and enjoyable read. He also provides plenty of footnotes so those who would like to jump into the research themselves have a good place to start.

Turner leaves us with a couple of important questions, “Dear God, who are you in the context of America? Are we a Christian nation, and if so, what kind/brand of Christian nation is it?” And though we may have thought these answers were obvious with our rendering of a Great Big American God, the reading of the book may leave us as better and more honest Americans than before – even if God isn’t wearing our great grandfather’s Uncle Sam outfit.

More than ever it looks like the American Jesus needs a new public relations team.

“Our Great Big American God” is released on August 19th and is available now for pre-ordering. 

To Tattoo, or Not to Tattoo

03 Jul, 2014

I don’t have any tattoos. The biggest reason is that I hate pain – especially my own. I almost got a tattoo when I was in Scotland, but it would have required a lot of scotch, and since I was leading a missions group at the time it seemed wise not to imbibe. Instead I took the group to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which had nothing to do with body art, but was a festival of military bagpipe bands.

WANHG-ODThe other time I considered getting a tattoo was when I was staying in a mountain tribe in the Philippines. Some of the older ladies still didn’t wear shirts in the village but instead decorated their chest and arms with tattoos. These tribal tattoos are spectacular, yet the means to get these designs is using a bamboo stick to hammer ink into the skin using a sharp thorns that have been dipped in charcoal. It is so painful that it can take months to get a design finished. I wasn’t going to be in the village that long, it didn’t seem all that sanitary, and like I said, I don’t like pain. This hasn’t stopped me from being interested in viewing other people’s tattoos, and especially since I like hearing people’s stories, I don’t hesitate to ask people about their body art.

_DSC1214wLast month I connected with a woman who loves tattoos and has covered her body with them. When I told her about the Raw Beauty ME project she was interested in participating and sharing her story. Taking her portraits was a great experience. Instead of posing, Aliki just started sharing the stories of the various images on her body. As she talked, I’d snap the shutter. We were both very happy with the results. While I will wait to share the details of her story, part of what she experienced has been judgment from others regarding getting tattoos, even by those close to her. Honestly, after meeting her and hearing her story, I don’t understand.

Then again, after last week’s news, I do.

During a segment of The 700 Club, Televangelist Pat Robertson answered a question from a viewer about whether or not it was okay to get a tattoo if the art was of Jesus. “It doesn’t make it okay because it’s religious, believe me,” Robertson responded. “I mean, it could be a tattoo of some hoochie-cooch girl. It doesn’t really make any difference.”

To be honest, I had to look up what a ‘hoochie-choochie” girl is. Wikipedia tells me that it was a “sexually provocative belly dance that originated in 1876 and became wildly popular during the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893.” All this does is reaffirms to me that not only is Robertson old fashioned, he is also really, really old.

Robertson continues to muddy the waters, “Tattooing is heathen practice. It is not a Christian practice, to mar the body that [God] gave you. And you see people that have gone crazy on this, and their bodies are just filled with these things. It is a heathen practice, and it is prohibited in the Old Testament. So that fact that it’s Jesus doesn’t make a bit of difference.”

Yep, another Old Testament law that is taken out of its cultural and historical setting and imposed on people today for the sake of biblical literalism. I think maybe Pat forgets that Jesus’ own, ressurected body has some significant markings and holes. I think he also conveniently forgets the Old Testament verses about ear piercings being a way to mark slaves (yet he doesn’t speak out against them). Heck, he even forgets the NEW TESTAMENT rule that women shouldn’t wear jewelry – yet I can Google photos of Pat’s own wife wearing gold earrings.

If I had my druthers, St. Peter would have a tattoo shop outside of the pearly gates, specifically set up for Pat Robertson’s arrival. He would have to get Galatians 5:1 tattooed on his forehead and on the back of his hand so that he and everyone else that came into contact with him and his brand of religion would be reminded, “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” That sounds like Heaven to me.

P.S. There are some really horrible ‘Jesus’ tattoos out there. I wish Pat would just take a stand against bad, religious art.

I Guess You’d Say I Have a Boob Job

20 Jun, 2014

thermograpyAs I’ve been documenting stories of breast cancer and body image I have heard many different realities when it comes to breasts.

I have friends with one breast, with no breasts, with reconstructed breasts, with enhanced breasts, with reduced breasts. I have friends with no nipples, with big nipples, with tattooed nipples, and with pierced nipples. I have friends whose husbands’ breast cup sizes are larger than theirs. I have friends whose natural breasts seem to defy the law of gravity. I have friends whose breasts aren’t perfectly symmetrical and have one breast larger than the other. I have friends whose breasts cause them physical pain because they are so heavy. I have male friends who have lost a breast to cancer.

I have friends who clutch at their neckline when they bend over because they don’t want anyone peering down their cleavage. I have other friends who would walk around topless if it wasn’t for public nudity laws. I know some men get breast reduction surgery because of the shame they feel. I have some friends who want to have surgery to change their breasts or another part of their body that causes them emotional pain, but don’t do it because of the pressure of what others will think. I’ve had some women almost shaking when they took off their shirts for portraits and I’ve had others want to know why I am facing the other way when they take off their blouse thinking I’m a prude.

I have friends who have chosen to breastfeed their babies and those who haven’t. I have friends who are ashamed at how their body has aged and/or changed with pregnancies. I have others that have come into a new sense of freedom and expression with their bodies since having children.

I’ve made friends with doctors who amputate breasts off a woman’s because of cancer, and I’ve made friends with doctors who put the most natural representation of breasts back on a woman’s chest.

I have friends who don’t know how to think of a woman’s body, even if it is their own, other than sexually. I have both male and female friends who are drawn to pornography to an extent that it has damaged their relationships. I also have friends who make a living by dancing with little or no clothes on.

I have friends who are models that love getting their kit off to take some fine-art photography. I have worked with other models who emphasize in their portfolios that they won’t do nudity.

I have taken photos of many different breasts, in many different stages of life and health. I have had breast photos sent to me from women who wanted me to have their images in order to share them with others when their story is relevant.

Later this year, I’ll be doing a series of blog posts about breasts. I’ll cover several different aspects of breast life, breast health, and breast surgeries. We will talk about non-sexual images of breasts and their value in culture and social media. We will cover our culture’s over-sexualization of breasts and what that has cost society. We will also discuss what role religious ideologies affect how women (and men) think about their (and their neighbor’s) bodies.

The purpose of all of this is to share stories that will help build understanding. And the purpose of that is to neutralize the paralyzing force of shame that affects so many.

If you have a story that you think would add to the discussion, if you’ve had some sort of surgery, want one, or decided not to – if you have been processing some of these issues in regards to your own body, I would love to hear from you! Maybe you are still in the middle of your figuring these things out and it would help to actually verbalize it out loud. Please send me a message if you would like to set up a time to have coffee and discuss your journey. If you don’t live near me we can use the phone, skype or you can write it out for me. Your participation can be anonymous, of course.

Finally, I have already been to a breast biopsy, bra fittings, reconstruction fills, radiation of the chest wall, and the insertion of drains into breast tissue. I am scheduled to attend a the final stage of a reconstruction surgery this fall. I would like to experience going to mammogram, if any one of my friends would like to squeeze me into their appointment.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for considering sharing your stories with me. And stay tuned!

This image above is from a special kind of photography called breast-thermography. They put the woman in a climate controlled room and then take digital images that capture breast temperature. What they are looking for is symmetry of heated areas between the two breasts. If they find a hotspot, or an irregular area, they will keep monitoring that area in the future as cancer tends to grow in heated tissue. While breast thermography is not a replacement for mammograms, it provides a different, non-invasive way to measure breast health.

Birthright for a Bowl of Porridge

19 Jun, 2014

central_wA church building is just a church building until you sell the one I grew up in. I don’t worship it as a temple, it is merely a museum for my childhood memories. It is the location I where I sang my first solo in a kids’ program. It encapsulates the pool where I was baptized as a teenager. It is the place I graduated from high school; the stage where I was married; the ministry where I first worked after graduating from college; the church where I dedicated my firstborn child.

Unfortunately there is no option for adding the building to the local historical society. It has been sold and more than likely the buildings will be razed and the property become another car lot. So much of this land, of this heritage, had already been sold off through the years. I guess this final portion was inevitable.

But what was hardest for me today was reading the glowing letter about how selling the property benefited the congregation.

“Wait till you hear the best part. The way we will be operating from this day forward will be as a debt free ministry. You see, the sale of the old campus will pay off any debt that we have and at the same time provide us seed money for our new beginning as a free and clear ministry. The words borrow, debt, mortgage, and bridge loan will never apply to us again… Exciting times of debt free ministry are about to become a reality for our wonderful church family.”

I get it, the campus was sold, and the current congregation gets to pay off the debts and erase years of what some have considered mismanagement. But this bankruptcy wasn’t just financial. The disappointment, and the deserved bereavement for the thousands who invested years of their life and their love at this place should be acknowledged. But to do so would mean humbling. To do so would mean having empathy for those who left instead of the decades long practice of writing them off.

A debt free ministry? Not by a long shot.

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Yes, All Women

27 May, 2014

I really like Twitter. It provides the Everyday Joe an opportunity to share news, to provide commentary, and with the help of the right hash-tags, gives them the opportunity to be heard.

I used to use Twitter more often for my own voice, but once my storytelling projects picked up the pace, time for interaction in the Twitterverse substantially decreased. However, I still use is as my main source of hearing breaking news from different sources, and people, from around the world.

For instance, if news breaks in my hometown of Boise, my phone alerts me with that Twitter feed. If significant news happens in the US, my phone vibrates almost immediately. If something happens on a global scale, because of Twitter, I am one of the first to know.

Twitter also connects friends. And with a select few, when they post something on Twitter, I am alerted. This weekend my phone vibrated off the hook.

The first message I saw from her said,

Because when you leave an abuser the only question anyone asks is “Did he hit you” as if he is entitled to everything but. #YesAllWomen

Whoa. I know her story, but I’m not used to seeing her be so public with it.

She wasn’t done.

Because when my estranged husband put a GPS unit on my car to stalk me, cops wouldn’t help me because car had a joint title #YesAllWomen

Because even when I was 8 months pregnant I was sexually harassed in public by a man who wanted to “ride you till you pop”#YesAllWomen

Because of the look the manager and asst. manager gave each other when they hired me for my first job #Iknowwhatthatwas #YesAllWomen

Because I look under my car for someone hiding under it waiting to slash my ankles and hold my key in my fist just in case #YesAllWomen

And that wasn’t all of them.

I sent her a text and asked for the background. She told me that due to the videos that the killer in Santa Barbara, California had left before he went on a killing spree last week that people were rising up in response to his misogynistic views.

I logged on to Twitter. What I experienced was amazing. As I read through the tweets with the hashtag #YesAllWomen I heard the voices and stories of our daughters, our sisters, our wives and our female friends. It was sobering. It is different than my experience as a male in our society. Soberingly different.

Here are a few.

Because we should be teaching boys and men NOT to rape, not girls and women how to avoid rape. Blame rapists, not victims. #YesAllWomen

Women are taught to arm themselves against men. Men are taught that she’s just playing “hard to get”. #yesallwomen

Because “Text me and let me know you got home safe” is standard, necessary and normal. #YesAllWomen

As a tween I took a self defense class, learned that yelling “fire” was more effective than yelling “rape.” #YesAllWomen

because the cops told me my stalker would have to actually break 1 of my bones or kill me before they could really do anything #yesallwomen

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them – Magaret Atwood #yesallwomen

When women survive domestic violence, people ask, “Why stay? Why didn’t you leave?” rather than, “Why did the abuser abuse?”#YesAllWomen

Because every single woman you know has been sexually harassed. Every single one. #YesAllWomen

Though #notallmen do it, all women are harassed, groped, cat-called,insulted, followed,threatened. Every woman you know. #yesallwomen.

He shamed her into getting a boob job and then afterwards told her how much they disgusted him. #YesAllWomen

#YesAllWomen isn’t about pointing out “all the faults in men,” it’s about women sharing their lived experience. #notallmen get that.

If, as a man, you’re offended by #YesAllWomen, you might have bigger problems than a hashtag.

Just a few. Of thousands, and thousands, and thousands of messages…

I so hope for a different world for my daughters. I so hope for different kind of respect and treatment for women from my sons.

I really like Twitter. It provides the Everyday Mary an opportunity to share their reality. But oh how I hope their reality changes, for #YesAllWomen

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A Veteran Named Lew

23 May, 2014

matiI spent all morning at a coffee shop with a photographer named Mati. We met at the 2014 Boise Squared Photography contest. She found me on the pedestrian bridge over the Boise River right after I had finished my first Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep portrait session. I was in desperate need to process my feelings with another person. I needed a good cry. Mati, even though at the time still a stranger, just hugged me and listened.

Today was my chance to hear her story – to hear how she moved from being a designer to an iPhoneographer. It all happened because of her neighbor next door, Lew.

Lew was a retired Veteran – he spent his whole life in the military serving our nation. He married a woman that he didn’t really like. When asked why he shrugged and said, “Because, that is what you did in those days.” When she died he simply boxed up her belongings and put them in his basement. He was, from then on, alone.

Mati didn’t really like Lew. He made sexist comments that frustrated her. One day she was watering her lawn when he made one of those statements over the fence. She turned the hose on him and gave him a good drenching. It could have started a neighborhood war, instead it melted Lew’s heart and he laughed. He found a new respect for Mati.

One day Lew asked Mati a tough question, “When it comes time, will you pull the plug for me?” Mati agreed to be the family that Lew didn’t have. The reality is, she plugged in.

A week later Lew fell and broke his shoulder. Mati took him to the Veteran’s hospital for care. The doctor asked if he needed anything else while he was being treated. Though Lew said, “No,” Mati asked the doctor to look in his mouth. The doctor took only moments to give the diagnosis of what all of the Lew’s hand-rolled cigarettes had left. Lew had cancer.

Over the next year Mati and her husband Johnny cared for Lew. They went through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, recoveries, and finally hospice. Mati kept her promise to Lew and when he died she was holding his hand.

It has been three years but the tears are still so visible when Mati shares her story. The book that she created of the photos of Lew’s last year is touching, loving and haunting. It includes the backstory on the photos, sometimes with just a single word. It was that journey that moved her into the role of a soulful photojournalist with a minimalistic approach.

Lew left his house for Mati and Johnny. It was more of a project than an asset. They donated his belongings to a cancer charity and then gutted the home. They rebuilt it and now use it to provide an inexpensive place to stay for people who come to down for medical procedures.

They call it, “Lew’s Place.”
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Click here to see more of Mati’s photos of Lew.

 

The Birthday Surprise

13 May, 2014

Imagine, if you will, a photo of woman surrounded by three boys.  She is looking at a man a few feet away who is holding a gift bag. She is smiling at him. He is smiling at one of the boys. Two of the boys are looking at the youngest one, who appears surprised. You don’t know what their relationship is together, nor the reason for the photo. What you do know is that there is a story there, and even the hint of the story makes you smile.

The photo could have a title – The Birthday Surprise – which gives you a little more of a clue to the celebration, yet still you don’t know what is in the gift bag. You don’t know who it is from. You don’t even know who is having the birthday. It is a great, candid moment, frozen in time, yet without any background the smile stays on your face and never makes it to your heart, where this story belongs.

Words can tell what a picture leaves out.

* * *

Imagine, if you will, a story about this family. There are supposed to be four children, not three. The one missing is a little girl who often has purple hair. There is a dad, a step dad and an adult step brother, also not shown in this image.

The little girl shares a birthday with the youngest boy – they are twins. The following day will be their 11th birthday. She is no longer here to celebrate. She died of cancer a few, short months ago. This birthday, and all the subsequent ones, will have added emotions for the remaining twin and his family.

The man holding the gift bag isn’t family by blood or marriage. Somehow, though, he has come alongside the little girl during her sickness and supplied an amazing amount of resources to her and her family. She hosted a Christmas party in early December where she got to go on a shopping spree and buy presents for her whole family. This man, and his charitable organization, paid the bill allowing this little girl and over four hundred guests to have an incredible Christmas experience.

When the little girl breathed her last the man and his friends didn’t stop giving. Funeral expenses can be crippling, but they made sure the family didn’t have that burden on them as they were just struggling to breathe.

You could imagine that Ryan, for that is the man’s name, would move on to resource another family in medical need. Yet at the next, big function for Boise’s Got Faith, Ryan introduced Chaz, for that is the twin’s name, along with his family to all of the supporters.

Ryan wasn’t done taking care of Lula, for that is the little girl’s name. Lula wanted her brother to have a good celebration on their shared birthday and wanted to give him something special. Chaz loves baseball, so through Ryan and company, Lula got him season passes to the minor league baseball team near his home. He also will throw out the first pitch at a couple of times this upcoming season.

Now you know The Birthday Surprise.

Yet without the image below, your moistened eyes wouldn’t get to take in the surprise of Chaz’s hands flying to his face, the solid support of his two brothers, the delight of his mom, and the embodiment of Lula’s spirit on Ryan’s face and in the gift held in his hand.

And that is why we take pictures. And that is why we tell stories. Together they share life.

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Click here to donate to Boise’s Got Faith. All proceeds go straight into the lives of children battling cancer.

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