16 Oct The Importance of Photography for Someone Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
The afternoon sunlight shifts on the sandy dunes. My daughter is holding her camera while my son-in-law stands at attention with my granddaughter propped on his shoulders, keeping a look out for anyone who may come upon this scene. He looks at us, nods to indicate an all clear, and I proceed to strip naked.
Only a few weeks beforehand I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. One of my breasts, half of my best physical feature, was trying to kill me. In an attempt to process in my mind what my body was about to endure I decide to document my “before” body. Even with my breasts bruised from the biopsies only days before, I was determined.
I sit in that sand, letting my body feel the breeze blow through my hair and brush across the curve of my breasts, my last attempt to say goodbye to what soon will be removed. And my daughter photographs me.
The hardest part of finding out I had cancer wasn’t the fear of dying, it was the unknowing. I knew I didn’t want reconstruction. I knew I didn’t want to have both of my breasts removed which most doctors assure will make you happier being more “symmetrical”. I simply couldn’t comprehend why I would take something healthy away.
And in all of the rush to make a surgical decision the only thing I so deeply desired was to know what I would look like. What does someone with one breast look like? Will this take away my sense of femininity that so many insist is the case? Can a woman still feel sexy with one or no breasts?
Surprisingly it was pretty hard to find any photographs of one-breasted women. If you were to ask most people what comes to mind when you mention breast cancer, most will have no idea beyond a pink ribbon. Yet breast cancer for most means having their breast amputated from their body. It is not “a free boob job.”
All I wanted was a photo. For the most part, I came up empty handed.
After my mastectomy I planned to flood every outlet I could of an image that I so needed. It was only then that I realized why I couldn’t find one. Breast cancer is censored. If you want to see flat women it is easier to find images. Even more often reconstructed breasts have been bared for all to see, slap a tattoo on them and now the message is that cancer makes you a badass. But a one-breasted woman like myself – what I needed most, is taboo. How can women be educated about health decisions if she is not given the information she needs?
Which leads me to here, nearly a year after my mastectomy, feeling so much more beautiful, stunning, alive. A one breasted warrior woman, sitting in the same pose on the dunes, taking an “after” photograph – transformed.
I wish I could have told the “before” Melissa that she had nothing to fear. When I look at myself in my “after” photo I see more than I could have ever dreamed. I see a powerful image that I so needed a year ago. I am grateful for cancer because it gave me so much more than it took.