Before we go any further, check out Beautifulself.org and consider how you can help them (see image below) - this charitable organization is transformative for cancer survivors - more on that in a few:
Photoshoot - 1940's Femme Fetale More below...
Those pictures up there are part of a transforming experience that I undertook just this week in New Jersey with a charitable organization called Beautiful Self. The two ladies who run this are a powerhouse. Michelle and Jillian were true angels - from when I walked in at 8:30am, I knew I was in for the time of my life.
A friend of mine had told me to sign up to take part in this and when I did I had been warned it would be a 6-8 month wait but something opened up and I was able to grab it and go this week instead of months from now. I am so lucky.
I had posted like twice on Instagram that I love the 1940's. Once in a story and once in a post. As soon as we got started on my hair and makeup, Jillian confided that I would be getting done up like a 1940's pin up model / movie star and I almost burst into tears. Me, I am not a crier but I was about to be hysterical. It was pre-make up so it was okay to weep!
It might sound corny, but the only way I can explain my day on Tuesday April 17 is to say that it introduced me to my pinup queen, dame, tough, fuck cancer persona.
I knew she was in there - I was writing about how tough I was before and about my golden girls and their tough love but here I was rocking it, smoldering before the cameras like this was my JOB. And who knows, after all of the confidence these pictures hit me with, I might push myself to become a covergirl. I half flat, slightly older, pouchy stomach with scoliosis and lots of body hair but LET'S GO! Anything is possible :). Consider this photo gallery up there my head shots and consider me your model for whatever - mastectomy clothes, underwear, bathing suits, fashion... (as you can tell, I am still on a high).
Something about the way I look in these pictures shows me who I really am.
Something about those 3 pictures captures my soul - something about who I am and what I am.
I know I am a survivor, a "fighter" - I also know I am lucky and hopeful that the conventional treatments PLUS clinical trial PLUS nutrition PLUS exercise PLUS weight loss PLUS "no stress" etc etc will keep working and keep me healthy.
I am a mom and a share-r at times, an oversharer. I walk around trying to think about others while also thinking about myself. More to come on how I want to do this on a larger scale for other people touched by cancer (hint it has something to do with my
#careeraftercancer Work Readiness for Cancer Survivors initiative.
These photos, though, make me look like a freaking movie star. Hey, why not. "I am ready for my close up Mr DeMille..."
This is what I do in the time between.
So check below to see ME - way out of my comfort zone but then again who of us who have been diagnosed with cancer can even remember what a comfort zone is or where it is?
I have already shared some pictures showing my scar on both my instagram and my blog that are (to me) breathtaking and I guess contemplative and some have said it shows that I am “resigned” or “tough”.
I cherish those descriptors and I love it - because as soon as I heard the words “you have cancer” at 39 years old with a husband who hadn’t been “there” for me, 2 kids aged 6 and 9 that took up my whole life force and energy I really did have to get resigned to it ASAP because there was no “no thank you” option.
It was live and growing and I wanted it OUT in any way possible and did not even consider doing a lumpectomy but asked (or demanded ... those who know me know when I want something, I do not take no for an answer) for the mastectomy.
I have shared this before but when I woke up from surgery, I was so scared - not before surgery at all - but afterwards, I was afraid to look at my body - this new body that would be "half". The breast (yes just the one) I used to feed my daughter, the "pillow" both kids had laid their heads on multiple times per night (lol) the weight and feel of the breast - I knew it was gone, I could see the bandages but I would not look at my body for some time.
Then, once I “healed” I began to wear a prosthetic and avoid the half bloated and bald body in the mirror.
I was ashamed and disgusted by how I looked and the fact that I got sick. At some point, though, I realized that I needed to love this body .... this body that survived childbirth (one natural, one c-section) and 2 D&C’s in between as well as cancer and all of its requirements like mastectomy, lymph node removal, 8 rounds of chemo, 33 rounds of radiations, gaining 50-80 pounds, losing the weight, walking my 40 miles per week, etc etc...So I do - I love my body and these special photos by #behindthescars taken by the amazing photographer Sophie Mayanne tell that story.
I look at these 20 pictures and I see a beautiful dare I say “sexy” confident woman who is not half but whole and I share it for you, those of you who find yourselves the 1 in 8 and fear looking in the mirror now that you feel half - to know that someday you will know that you are whole too.
PS: I do feel a bit funny posting these as a 41 (to be 42, God willing) mom of 2 but I do think it’s important to share that breast cancer is not a pretty pink disease but you can still feel pretty and beautiful after being mutilated, poisoned and burnt :).
One of the worst things I have ever had to do is tell my kids I had cancer. As a parent, you just know you cannot show fear. It is funnily enough why I thought I never wanted to have kids - I used to fly to Italy for the weekend and would always look at moms with young children and feel so bad for them because when the plane hit turbulence, they could not show fear without freaking the fuck out of their kids. I could, though, because I was just a party of 1 thanks so much.
In fact, this summer, we flew as a family for the first time (not only was I against flying with children but I also could not afford to do it anyway so win, win…) well we finally went to Disney and thankfully, the plane ride was pretty smooth and no children were frightened on the flight. Though, all things considered, a thing like a bumpy plane ride is not something that can scare my kids. Or me, for that matter.
We faced something much, much scarier with me being diagnosed with cancer and though we present it as though it is over (and I guess it is), I still have that voice way down deep in my head that says, “What if…” but my soul and heart says, “No way!”
Obviously, no one can see the future and breast cancer and any cancer really is something that is never just “done” - no matter what, I carry with me this tiny fear and these big “issues” in terms of medications, ovary suppression, menopause, reduced cognitive abilities, fatigue etc etc but if you read my past blogs and know me at all, I think you know I am leery to ever complain. I just do. I don’t complain.
However, if I am being totally honest, my body and mind and experiences are no longer the same as it once was as it maybe could have been but I am still here, G*@damnit, so I cannot really give a fuck about it.
Instead, I just live. I live differently, but I was always a little different anyway. When I found out about magichour.org, I was intrigued but also not sure if I should sign up. They offer free photoshoots for patients, people in need, etc. I am a mom and my kids are now 10 and 7 so we have had professional photos done in the past. My daughter’s communion 3 years ago was the last time, though, that we did so.
When I look at those and other photos we have, I do not recognize myself in them, like at all.
This new post cancer me has chiseled out and become someone who I guess I used to know - my low high school weight, my cropped out hair, my wariness behind my eyes, my posture, oh and missing a freakin boob all make these old photos dated and all pre-cancer.
So, signing up for this when I was still swollen with excess weight, bald and not really sure how to look at myself in the mirror was not easy but I did it anyway. I thought it would help to have new memories, new professional photos of who mom is - this mom, not the old one who had pros and cons to her but the biggest pro of course was what I never appreciated - my health.
When my application was received, we got word that a local photographer was being contacted to connect with us. That local photographer was Jessica (I wrote about our shoot here).
The photos are amazing full stop. They show a family anew - this family, where the husband and wife actually appreciate and show love to one another and where the children know mom is not a superhero per se but a tough broad and even the loyal pup gets in on the action... See more below ->
PS: Don't tell my dad I am posing half naked on the internet - thanks bye!
I am not an exhibitionist. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in revealing clothing because I was no allowed to go anywhere; for instance, I had a 12am curfew until I left the country at 21 years old and often spent time at people's houses not at the club or anything like that. As I got older, I learned the art of clothing that fits and keeps things covered - I would often, though, show cleavage especially as my weight went up and it seemed those hills would detract / hide my stomach - I write about it here --> complicated-history-of-boobs-a-treatise-by-a-breast-cancer-patient.html.
I am still not an exhibitionist BUT I have done a few photo shoots over the last two days that might make your scratch your head and think otherwise.
On Sunday, an organization called The Magic Hour arranged for my family and I to have a photo session free of charge with Jessica Leigh Photography (www.photographybyjessicaleigh.com/ ). Jessica and I had spoken a few times in advance before the session and I just felt like I knew her in real life before she even showed up at my doorstep with tons of camera equipment and an easy, relaxed smile.
My children gravitated and warmed up to her immediately. She does something called "unscripted life sessions" and these photos are nothing like you see at Sears or Picture People or even other photographers I had worked with in the past. She does not "pose" you instead the photos are the real YOU.
For me, this new me, this pixie haired, one boobed, clinging on with all I got to being cured me is ALL ABOUT THIS. I wanted photos that reflected who we truly are as a family, what we learned from breast cancer and how we are just at home, together and that quiet strength that we all have honed specifically over the last 15 months.
You see, though I was the one diagnosed with cancer, we ALL had cancer. My son who told me he would visit me in the cemetery because "lots of people with cancer die", my daughter who was stoic and happy throughout the whole process until it was over and she let herself be afraid and need comfort, my husband who mustered up all of his strength and love for me even though at times before I was diagnosed we were anything but "love-y". Even the darn dog was effected.
So this past Sunday, Jessica arrived and immediately won every one of us over and got us doing our things - playing board games, cuddling on my bed and just individual action shots of the kids jumping on my bed - of course, what kid doesn't love to jump on their parents' beds!
We then did some individual shots of me that showcased my warrior battle scar from breast cancer. It was powerful and the shots were amazing. I cannot wait to see them! All of them!
Today, I had another photo shoot and this one was way more revealing than anything I have ever done before full stop. I had heard about The Grace Project (the-grace-project.org/) at the beginning of my "public" exposure as a blogger / advocate about breast cancer screenings and sharing my story. I immediately messaged the photographer to volunteer to be photographed. At the time, it seemed like it was a long shot to be asked to get photographed but already I could tell that it would be a powerful statement for me to make as a "young-ish" survivor in training who did not reconstruct for the women out there who feel that without their boob(s) that they are LESS THAN or who tried to reconstruct and had issues with infection or removal or even those who do not want their boobs anyway but still wonder about whether or not they are "beautiful".
I am lucky in that, despite being super dependent on my boobs for most of my life either in wearing low cut tops or using my cleavage to disguise my belly, I really do not miss having a pair of tits. The one is enough for me and if I had my way, I would have opted to take lefty off, too.
I am leaving my prosthetic behind more and more and just acclimating to this new body, this new shape and all that. I was honored when the photographer Charise Isis let me know she would be in New York and I jumped at the chance to be photographed by her. She is a powerhouse of a woman who shares "broken is still beautiful" as a belief system and documents women who have had mastectomies to survive breast cancer. She takes photos representing the women as Greek goddesses and my experience with her today in a penthouse-adjacent apartment near Times Square was a powerful, moving and empowering experience and I cannot wait to share the images with you in a few months when I get them.
So I am going way out of my comfort zone and doing things I never ever thought I would do but I know it is the right thing - I want to normalize this new normal for others who are going through it. Cancer sucks but saying that does not make it all better, it does not make the scars you see and those you can't see disappear. We are all in stages of repair and recovery as we wait in the time between.
To find out more about The Grace Project or to donate to her work at healing breast cancer warriors, click here the-grace-project.org
The Time Between Is, INC is a 501(c)(3) corporation - help us reach our goals of launching #balanceaftercancer
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