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.”