Scar Stories

14 May, 2012

I mentioned in an earlier post that last November I stumbled upon a book titled, The Scar Project” about 50 women under 35 years old who had suffered from breast cancer.  I didn’t really stumble upon the book; I was looking for it. What I actually had stumbled upon was a portrait on a professional photographers’ website that gave me pause. It was a portrait of a woman who had undergone a mastectomy of her right breast.

I made this comment underneath the picture, “Very raw and vulnerable, and still very feminine and beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.”

I think the woman is brave. I think the woman found a way to deal with shame that can come from breast cancer and its aftermath. I think the woman is a fighter. I think the woman is delicate. Of all the breasts in the world it was this pair that nurtured a new compassion in me.

I later Googled breast cancer images and found The Scar Project. The book is phenomenal, emotional and healing. When my copy came I looked again through all of the portraits but couldn’t wait to get to the back of the book where the stories were located. It is more than a documentary on breast cancer; in fact it is almost the opposite. Breast cancer is one of those big umbrella terms that envelopes a large area, but what this book shares is that each of these women’s journeys with breast cancer had been extremely personal, unique and life-changing.

What really captured my heart was not the cancer part of their journey but their recovery. Many of the women describe in their story why they decided to be a part of the project:

Paulina – Demystify the physical scars left and even celebrate them as war wounds from a heroic battle

Toni – To let others know they were not alone

Heather – To tell her story and encourage other young women to stay on top of their health

Emily – It made me feel beautiful and to redefine what beauty is

Vanesaa – “I can just be me. No covering up or masking the truth. No pretending that everything is fine. Here I am. This is me now. This is my life.”

Marcy – “I am surviving Cancer and that is my Absolute Reality.”

Gabrielle – “Maybe if my scars were viewed as art it would help me to heal.”

Jolene – I wanted my family to look at this and never forget the fight that I fought for my life.

Katie – A day came when I could stand naked in front of the mirror and not see my mutilated chest. After a few months a new normal unexpectedly arrived, skinny dipping at four in the morning, surrounded by friends, head full of hair, laughing myself horse, impervious to my scars.

Nikki – it made me feel beautiful, powerful and sexy after I thought my mastectomy had taken those feelings from me.

Tamara – I’ve always been open to telling people about my cancer experience, now I get to show them.

Sylvia – I wanted the world to know that although cancer had changed by body, I refused to let it cripple my spirit.

I began to process the people in my own life who had battled breast cancer. I’m remiss to say that I think I held back on the support that I could have offered. I could talk to a friend about a mole that he needed to have removed from his back, but talking to a woman about her breasts seemed off limits to a conservative, Christian, male, who worked as a local pastor. And though it can be good to make decisions based on modesty, and religious and cultural sensitivities, I’ve been more concerned that my lack of being able to discuss my friends’ reality only helped keep them covered in shame.

Am I holding back? Are my friends? And if we are, why? Who are we helping by keeping quiet and covered?

I’m reading a book right now called “Shame Interrupted.” It is speaking loudly to me, as are the brave stories and portraits of these breast cancer survivors.

I’ve started helping others tell their Scar Stories as well. Some of these are published on my blog, some could be published on their own websites. I’m not trying to compete with The Scar Project – their objective is to find women under 35 who have dealt with breast cancer. Volume 1 was amazing and I know they are working on the next volume. Yet I don’t want to wait until their photographer comes to my hometown to interview my friends and neighbors. I also don’t want to be limited to breast cancer, a specific age range, or any type of cancer for that matter. I want to help people share their stories of their scars whether they are physical, emotional or spiritual. I hope you will help me connect to the people who need the freedom that these women have found.

The casting call has been made. Now it is up to you.

I went back to the website last week where I’d found that original picture. I posted a new comment, a request to the photographer who lives in Portugal.

“Could I get permission to use this photo on a blog article about photographing people with scars? This image has really impacted me. Thank you”

He responded the following day.

“Dear Chad. You have my permission to use this photo on the blog for noble causes, such as the image conveys. Thank you for your selection.”

And then in a personal message to me included,

“The person in this fotografia is my wife.”

Pinging is currently not allowed5 Responses

  1. Alice says:

    Chad, this is a great service you are doing for breast cancer survivors. I think the folks who helped us the most ( 18 year survivor , stage 4, both breasts) were the ones , who just boldly said" We are with you in this and then stayed" It was certainly not easy and I think scary for the folks who walked through it with us. The person who literally saved my life , was not my dr. but my husband. and our daughter , Rebekah. No matter how scared, down and tired I got, Jon just continued to fight and tell me cancer was a speed bump in our life! Event hough Bekah was a little girl ( age 5 when I was diagnosed) she was a bundle of joy , who got me up every morning. On days when I would get the most gut wrenching news from the doctors, Bekah would say" Mama lets go watch the ducks in the park. " Her little life forced me to get up, suit up and smile. I decided that no matter what the day brought, that I could rake leaves , bake cookies, take walks , read with her and LIVE. It seemed I was not fighting death. I was fighting to LIVE. Such a huge difference. Not ever once, did Jon and I talk about what would happen if I died.
    God led us to do a treatment that did not include chemo and radiation , so in many ways , we felt very alone. But as always, when God does call us to do something , He sends warriors to fight with us. I am forever grateful to my sisters and our friends who stood and stood and kept standing. Thanks for doing this Chad. It is awesome to show warriors of cancer , not victims. Being a victim. was just not something I could do!

  2. Judi Estes says:

    Chad, I loved seeing the book that inspired you but really love your heart in wanting to use your God given talents to free people from heart hurts. Those are much more harmful than physical scars. You are on the right track so keep pressing on. Thanks for a wonderful Mother's Day for all 3 of us Mom's. Love you, Mom

  3. ladygbd says:

    I am not a survivor of breast cancer but a survivor of PTSD.
    The verbal assaults of my past pummeled my breasts with shame.
    I can relate to and love Katie's summary – accepting your invitation, Chad, has been an important part of my freedom.
    My healing continues even as I witness such loving words by her husband – "noble."
    Noble indeed.

    "People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering." -St. Augustine

  4. Lori Bjerkander says:

    Chad, I came back and read this again, not sure why, but I am moved to tears, and not sure why that is either. I have thought a lot of our conversation and the fear and excitement of being part of your project. I know that my illness helped shape who I am today and as I expressed to you that day , freed me in a lot of ways. But, today as I stood naked in front of the mirror I cringed just a little. The sight of my breast stills brings me sadness and I don't want that to be the case. My breast, deformed as it is, does not define who I am as a women. I would hope that the stories you tell would help others to get that. As I told you, my scars tell my story, but it is not a sad story, parts are I suppose, but more than that it is a story of God's mercy on me and of survival. I am thankful that you were open to have a change of heart and you are willing to be a story teller for us who carry so many scars. I love you for that Mr. Estes and the softness that you so freely express. I think you have a story to tell about your scars, I'm not sure all of that story has been told yet. I hope I am privileged enough to hear it :) Lori

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