David Jay began The SCAR Project when he learned his friend Paulina had been diagnosed with breast cancer. From that difficult beginning, he created a photography series that shines a bright light on the physical reality of breast cancer. He also shows that within the world of the “C” word, there is hope, strength and incredible bravery.
Who are these women? They are mothers, friends, partners. They are all less than 40 years old. Here they share not only their photos but their thoughts and experiences of cancer and of working with David Jay. These are their words. I changed nothing, not even punctuation.
I hope people will share these photos and words everywhere, because every single one of these women has a story worth sharing. I also know, many of you reading this will not be able to post these photos, because these photos are “not safe for work.” These are in no way traditional nudes and if the female breast is the reason a woman’s body cannot be openly shown online or in other media, what happens when that woman’s breasts are no longer there?
I breastfed my five and a half month-old daughter just hours before being diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the same day I found out I had the breast cancer gene, BRCA1. I was 32 years old.
Even though the cancer was detected only in the right breast, I opted for a bilateral mastectomy because I was at such high risk of getting the cancer in both breasts eventually. I also knew a lumpectomy would not be my best defense against this out of control attacker. Within five weeks I had my breasts removed. The final pathology showed 9cm of DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ, and no invasive cancer. Because of my aggressive approach, the doctors did not suggest chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone therapy.
I decided against reconstructive surgery and I don’t think I’ll change my mind. The breasts I was born with and lived with for 32 years had to be taken in order to save my life. I don’t feel the need to get new breasts.
The next place for my thoughts and concerns was ovarian cancer. Because of my gene carrying status, I have a 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer, and the risks increase when I am 35. My husband and I decided we really wanted another child and didn’t want to lose the opportunity during my remaining “safe” period. We conceived and I gave birth to a baby boy.
I decided against reconstructive surgery and I don’t think I’ll change my mind. The breasts I was born with and lived with for 32 years had to be taken in order to save my life. I don’t feel the need to get new breasts. This is the real me. The idea of sharing my own scars to show how breast cancer has impacted another young woman was very compelling. But to be honest, the most important part of the experience of being photographed for The SCAR Project was that it made me feel beautiful. It was an opportunity for me to stand tall and strong with my scars and redefine my beauty for myself. Each time I look at my photo I feel something different, but always I am proud of who I am.
Today I continue to struggle with side effects and residual effects of having, fighting, dealing with, conquering and surviving infiltrating ductal carcinoma breast cancer. It is something that I think about every day of my life. By participating in The SCAR Project, my hope is that every person can have an up close look at the scars of breast cancer. Put yourself in my shoes for a brief moment. Then encourage, educate, and support everyone around you for a cure. A world with a cure. Now.
As a 32 year-old mother of 22 month-old and a newborn, I discovered a lump while breastfeeding. This took me on a momentous, terrifying journey that I now feel I am finally reaching the other side of two years later.
Breast cancer, in fact any cancer, sounded like a very foreign, deathly concept, and it took quite a while to get my head around the fact that early stage breast cancer is curable, even though (or because) the treatment is harsh on the body. Also that I, an extremely fit, youthful, healthy individual can get this! It’s knocked a lot of the health arrogance out of me. Even while I do yoga, rowed surfboats for years, do not smoke or drink and eat very well I can still get cancer!
I also am surprised at how unbothered I am by my mastectomy. I still feel ‘female’, sexy and attractive.
It has changed my view of life completely. Before I had breast cancer, I associated cancer with death. I could not imagine what a mastectomy looked like, but guessed looked ugly. I now realize that breast cancer is sadly common, but luckily curable if caught early enough. I also am surprised at how unbothered I am by my mastectomy. I still feel ‘female’, sexy and attractive. It’s something that has not hugely affected my mojo! I want the rest of the world to accept my new normal, and I want other women to be able to see what the scar looks like and see it’s not as bad as they may imagine, in fact its fine! Maybe it’s easier for me to say this than a woman with large boobs.
The SCAR Project aims to promote awareness of life after breast cancer – and the strength and LIFE in the women who survive it. Also it is about demystifying the physical scars left, and even celebrating them as war wounds from a heroic battle. It’s an inspiring and positive message that breaks down paradigms about beauty and breast cancer. I hope it helps other women with breast cancer surgery scars become more comfortable with their ‘new normal’.
I was born with cerebral palsy. By the time I turned 36 years old in February 2010, both of my caregivers, my parents, had already died. I never expected to face another struggle so soon, but in May 2010 a breast cancer diagnosis struck. All I could really say was, “Seriously?”
Often marginalized, women with disabilities must be included in the dialogue and awareness surrounding breast cancer. Our lives depend on it.
As I endured the loss of my right breast, I prayed for strength. My chemotherapy journey was a trying time also. The SCAR Project images helped to pull me through breast cancer treatment at a time when I felt I could take no more. There was one issue I had with the images though. None of the pictures represented my experience. I didn’t see women with any obvious, visible disability. Feeling certain that he needed to represent physical disability in a photo, I contacted David Jay. After all, women with disabilities get breast cancer too. I didn’t relish baring my body and soul to his lens, but I felt called to do so.
I never expected to laugh so freely. Avoiding laughter didn’t work–I tried that. David, in his compassion, gave me permission to laugh. What a wonderful gift to my heart!! I was alive, grateful, and free while sitting in a wheelchair. It was a powerful moment in my life. Even today, the experience brings tears to my eyes. Often marginalized, women with disabilities must be included in the dialogue and awareness surrounding breast cancer. Our lives depend on it. We are represented in a very visible way in The SCAR Project. I will be forever grateful.
I was first diagnosed with cystosarcoma phyllodes when I was only 17 years old. At that time, none of my doctors had ever even heard of it. Cystosarcoma phyllodes account for less than 1% of all breast tumors and they are also part of the sarcoma family. It recurred three times until I finally had my double mastectomy in February of 2009 at the age of 23 and at that time we learned that it had metastasized and I was diagnosed as stage IV.
Whether it is with boobs, without boobs, with hair, or without, there is beauty in everything!
I wanted to shoot for The SCAR Project because it seemed like an amazing opportunity to make a difference and help young women become more aware about breast cancer. It was also something very emotional for me. It helped me embrace my scars and realize that they are something beautiful and they are forever a part of me. I also see it as something to leave this world after I’m gone. Something for my family to look at and never forget the fight that I fought for my life. Thank you for giving me, and all of the other amazing women I’ve met on this journey the opportunity to create something beautiful in the midst of something that most people would say is ugly. This project is an inspiration to others to realize that life is beautiful. Whether it is with boobs, without boobs, with hair, or without, there is beauty in everything!
Who knew that young women could get breast cancer? I didn’t! I thought that you had to be at least 40 to be diagnosed with breast cancer. That was the impression that I received from the media.
In 2004, I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer at age 26. Young women can and do get breast cancer! Who is this 90 year old woman that the doctor just sent in the room to console me? I can’t relate! The only similarities that we share are the fact that we are women and have been diagnosed with breast cancer. That is it! I needed age appropriate support. I don’t think this is the person who can help me. Can she speak on the side effects that I will have from the meds, the ones that only happen to young women, because some of the meds have opposite side effects on younger women? Can she tell me how to explain my mastectomy scars to my future intimate partners? Does she have fears of infertility? Does she have a 9 year old daughter at home who will have to watch her health decline? Does she know where to get a jazzy wig, once my hair begins to fall out? I don’t want one of those sickly looking cancer wigs!
Does she know where to get a jazzy wig, once my hair begins to fall out? I don’t want one of those sickly looking cancer wigs!
At that time, I had a lot of questions and no answers, Fast forward to 2012 and I am happy to announce that I currently have no evidence of disease. I am unhappy to announce that I have had every possible side effect to my treatment. You can always find me at the doctor’s office, lab or pharmacy. I am currently on 20 pills a day to manage the side effects of treatment. This will be my normal routine for the duration of my life. This year, 8 years after my diagnosis, I have finally become brave enough to show my mastectomy scars. Up until this point, my boyfriend had never seen my bare breast. I was so ashamed of my scars. I thought they were hideous, so I refrained from showing them. The night before my SCAR project photo shoot, I pulled up my shirt and flashed my boyfriend. I figured, since I was about to show the world, I may as well show him too.
The responses from The SCAR Project photo shoot have been amazing. So many people have told me that they were unaware that young women were being diagnosed with breast cancer. This was a clear indicator of why the world needs to hear our story. During my journey, I have lost many friends to breast cancer and I saw firsthand the void in services for young women. Last year, I decided to do my part to help out. I founded Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes. We grant wishes to young women, 40 and under, who have been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. We define terminal as having 1 year or less to live. Our hope is to grant one final wish to a group of young women who the world didn’t know existed.
At age 25, my life flickered before me. I could not help but feel that a part of my youth had been taken from me.
I refused to let it cripple my spirit. Life has been simply amazing.
The scars that remain symbolize the pain and the beauty of my experience. The SCAR Project challenged and intrigued me at the same time. It was so bold, so revealing, and yet so strangely beautiful. Faced with my mortality, I wanted to capture a piece of me that could live on forever, even if I could not. I wanted the world to know that although cancer had changed my body, I refused to let it cripple my spirit. Life has been simply amazing.
I was 1 when they found out I was deaf. 1. I tried to talk but no sound came out. They thought I was trying to chew gum. My mom tried to bang a pot near me, I didn’t turn. Severe to profoundly deaf. 1. I was 15 when I realized what gay meant and that it applied to me. I didn’t want to be gay. I was not normal. I was already a deaf freak with no friends because I could not communicate. Now God wanted me to be gay? He’s asking too much. 15. I was 17 when my left breast changed. 17. I was in the hallway near my bedroom of my childhood home when I felt it. It got hard, and weird but no real lump. I kept walking and pumped up the volume to my Mariah Carey cd. 17.
I was 21 when my breast leaked discharge. 21. Ok, I was certainly an alien from another world. Deaf, gay, abnormal breasts… wtf. The doctor said it was normal without even checking it under a slide. 21.
So I leaked and leaked until I was 28. Five doctors later all telling me I’m normal (I’m deaf, gay, with a drippy boob, you want to tell me I’m normal???) The leaking stopped. That must mean its ok. 28.
I was 29 when I finally felt a lump… THE lump. Oh lawd, I have too much on my plate. My foster baby is screaming for attention, my newly adopted daughter from India, languageless is climbing the walls. Seriously, it has to be a cyst. I check the internet. 80% chance its a cyst. Do cysts grow 4 cm in one week? Well cancer can’t possibly grow that fast so it must be. Gut can be heard over the kids (deaf ears or not), “YOU FOOL ITS CANCER!!!”
I let that sinking feeling sink in. I’m too busy for this. I go warm a bottle. Two months later the “cyst” isn’t going away, the kids aren’t going away either. They need me. So… I schedule a mammogram. I knew it was cancer. It wouldn’t stop telling me it was cancer. Despite my own doctor, mammogram specialist, and my own mother telling me I’m fine that I’m a hypochondriac… it told me it was cancer.
Therefore, baby in one arm, chasing after my little Indian trying to teach her sign language, I went on a relay service twice a day, for two months, to beg my doctors for a biopsy. I begged, and begged. I had health insurance, the good kind. I was a teacher after all. They would not give it to me. Why? Why? I tied up their phone lines. You have no idea how hard it is for a single mom of two kids to call and beg a doctor for a biopsy twice a day for an hour or so a day. They said it was impossible for me to have breast cancer. I was too young. They treated me like I was stupid. They were stupid.
I gave up. The kids needed me. Then the baby moved, I lost my job, I moved back to New York. Grieving the loss of a child and giving up on breast cancer. 29.
I tried two more doctors, then gave up. I heard a whisper… I listened to it. I was 30 now after all, I must be old enough to have breast cancer right? Dr. Kelly, checked my right breast. I still did not say a word as he moved around the table. I held my breath. He barely touched me and jumped back, wild eyed. Why was this strange doctor freaking out when everyone else was just rolling their eyes at me and kicking me out of their offices? hmm? Hmmm??? So he says, “You need to go get a mammogram! Urgently!”
I don’t respond to his excited nature. I just slowly sit up, now its my turn to roll my eyes and I say quietly for the last time, “I want… a … biopsy.” He says ok. Wait, what did he say??? Ok, I’m deaf remember. I say, “Are you serious?!” I finally perk up. I grab his slip and run out of the office.
Surely its not cancer. They won’t call me. Gut needs to shut up. They called me. I screamed. I guess mere days after my 30th birthday I was allowed to have breast cancer after all. But unfortunately, it was stage III. Holy shit. Sorry for my swearing. Now I’m sad, now I’m mad, now… I fight! 30.
Me not normal? Pffffth. Unique. I love being unique. It has me on a unique and crazy adventure. Today I’m 32, living it up. My scars are only powerful lines that point to hope, faith, and love. They show me where my Pink sisters are, they show me that I’m more beautiful than I was before and that I’m no freak. They show me that cancer cannot triumph even the most road-weary. They show me that life is much deeper than that new car. Anyone who dares to love my broken ears, my 50 something odd inches of scars, is what this life is worth living and fighting for…
An acquaintance of mine once asked me, bluntly, “How did you keep a positive attitude during your life crisis?” They proposed I offer some of my blog writing on the subject, “You know, I want to know how it was for you when you first found out you had cancer, it was like a death notice, right?” They wanted the dirt on how I made it through…and, how I got to be who I am now. But, you know, just a blurb…. Actually, I think a lot of people want to know about that. If you haven’t been through it, then you don’t know how you would react.
But, I still stopped, had a moment of clarity, and with this weird stillness in a sea of loud noise of worry and confusion in my head, I decided to live.
There is some mystery and fascination to it. With the news of Cancer, your mind floods with emotions and what-ifs, and with flashes of what is important, how to proceed, what does it all mean, and why? Although I liked to joke that I wished that I had found God, and that I all I had was just stupid cancer, and suffering. Selecting to remove a body part, then thinking of the way that that body part ties in with your self image and self worth, whether it should, and how you didn’t realize how important it was to you…and how you thought you weren’t the kind of girl that would hold value in that. It’s a lot to mull over.
They were right about the fact that I did maintain a positive attitude, a positive approach and outlook. I was in survival mode. The weird thing about it, that I haven’t told anyone, is that after I got off the phone with the nurse who gave me the diagnosis. I actually made a conscious decision to live. Certainly my diagnosis was a favorable one with great possibility of positive outcome – no terminal diagnosis at all. But, I still stopped, had a moment of clarity, and with this weird stillness in a sea of loud noise of worry and confusion in my head, I decided to live.