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
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