Ten days after my diagnosis, I started chemotherapy. I decided to take some sexy photos before my mastectomy. I never intended to show them to anyone. These photos were just for me. I wanted to capture and freeze this time in my life — my confidence and my body — before I entered the unknown.
All of my hair fell out about three weeks later. My right breast was removed. I had daily radiation treatments to my bare chest wall for eight weeks. I had to bare my chest to doctors, nurses, medical students and surgeons on a weekly basis. This was the most humbling experience of my life.
I spent an entire year without my right breast. I barely felt alive, let alone beautiful. My fingernails blackened, my eyebrows diminished, I stared at myself in the mirror – bald and lopsided – and the only thing I could do was remind myself that “pretty is as pretty does,” but I sure didn’t feel pretty. Breast cancer stole my pretty until I stumbled upon www.keep-a-breast.org.
I had been searching online for a photographer that would be willing to take photos of me with a single breast but was not impressed with what I was finding. I was interested in a snapshot of this time … single photo where I could see a glimmer of the old confident me would suffice. I was just about to let that wish go when I found Keep A Breast.
Keep A Breast made plaster molds of women’s busts and auctioned them off to raise funds for breast cancer awareness. I thought this was just fantastic. I emailed right away and days before my reconstructive surgery, I had a plaster mold made of my torso by the Co-founder of the organization, Shaney jo Darden. When the mold was complete, she took a photo of me with my cast, and we hugged goodbye.
Several months later she invited me to the Roxy Headquarters for their annual Think Pink event and, to my surprise, presented me with my beautifully painted cast in front of the entire company. The cast was inscribed, “No Gain, No Loss, Only Change.” I cried when I first saw my form because it was the first time I had seen myself as beautiful since my diagnosis.
Seeing myself as a work of art, with my body immortalized, allowed me to appreciate the beauty of my body at that time: the balance of femininity and strength. The cast helped me see the juxtaposition of my two sides and life. It was time for me to embrace life and get my sexy back.
I opted for a modified micro-vascular DIEP flap reconstruction on my right breast. Basically, the doctors created a breast out of my stomach tissue. After this reconstruction, I finally felt balanced: both physically and mentally.
I slowly began dating and found myself in a long-term relationship with an amazing man who loved my scars. And everyday I wake up to see the man-made breast, the scar from my left hip to my right hip, tattooed nipple and I remind myself: THIS IS BEAUTY.
Ironically, in 2010 I helped start and run the support program that allowed me the opportunity to see the beauty in my form and myself six years ago. Partnering with the Young Survival Coalition in 2012, the Treasured Chest Program offers a variety of events throughout the country where breast cancer survivors can receive their own breast cast, meet other young breast cancer survivors and participate in other support activities.
The Young Survival Coalition/ Keep A Breast Foundation’s Treasured Chest Program is a free program that provides DIY Breast Casting Kits to any breast cancer survivor who would like to make a mold of their torso at any point in their breast cancer journey (before surgery, after lumpectomy/mastectomy or after reconstruction).
Through the Keep A Breast Foundation and Young Survival Coalition partnership, we have expanded our reach to more young women diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as our ability to offer education and support.
Please share our program in your community and help other women find their beauty.