Breast Cancer and Personal Decisions

9 03 2012

Breast cancer touches all of us, either by way of a personal battle, or that of someone we love, a family member or friend, or even a friend of a friend. It’s a concern, even a fear, we hold in our hearts and minds every day especially on the day of our mammograms and the long, scary wait for our results.   My mother had two radical mastectomies about 30 years apart. A number of close friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer and my husband and I have had the honor of photographing quite a few women who have shared their journey with us by way of pre surgical and/or  post surgical pictures.  I’m such a strong believer in empowering women to make their own informed decisions in life about what is best for them.  I still can’t imagine how these brave and amazing women absorb the news they have breast cancer and are still able, within just days, to analyze and make the critical decisions on the course of their battle plan.

I’d like to periodically post some of the stories women have shared with us regarding their decision to have pictures taken as a result their diagnosis.  Some people won’t understand why anyone would decide to take photographs and others will ‘get it.’  It doesn’t matter what you think or even what I think about this.  What matters is what it means to the women making the decision.  If our photography has been helpful in some way to the breast cancer survivors we’ve photographed, then I want other woman to know we are here for them.

Twelve years ago or more we got a phone call from a woman stating she needed to get in immediately for a photo shoot and she didn’t have time for or want a consultation first.   She’d just seen one of our ads and decided on the spot that she wanted to have some artistic pictures taken of her breasts.  She went on to explain in an understandably shaky voice that she was scheduled for a double mastectomy in three days and needed to get in for pictures before her surgery.   The following day she was at our studio and shared a bit of her story with my husband Darrell.  She is just a tiny person and she explained how she’d always liked her breasts, that along with all the other bigger issues confronting her now, she was also grieving at the prospect of losing this part of her body that made her feel pretty, feminine, attractive.    She and Darrell sat there for probably 30-minutes just talking and crying a bit before beginning the shoot.  While she’d specifically stated she wanted the pictures to focus on her breasts, Darrell wanted to get some pictures of other parts of her body so that she’d know she was beautiful in so many ways and that that wasn’t going to change.  During the shoot, he asked permission to take a specific picture of her back and buttocks to which she agreed though with more of a, ‘if you really want to attitude.’  He took the picture and a Polaroid as well of the same pose so she could have positive feedback immediately.  Seeing the Polaroid she commented, “Yeah, it’s nice. Kind of arsty fartsy though!”  And that was that.

Two days later, she and her husband came by to look at her proof sheets from the shoot.  While she was momentarily out of the room her husband turned directly to us, staring pointedly into our eyes and said, “Thank you so much.  My wife has barely spoken since getting the diagnosis and she certainly hasn’t smile.  After her photo shoot when she got home I asked her how it went and she looked up at me with a smile and told me, “I’m ready now.  I’m going to go upstairs, light some candles, and get in the bathtub with a glass of wine.”  We weren’t quite sure how the photo shoot had that impact, but we were so grateful that in some way we’d helped her to get to that point.

Remember that “artsy fartsy” picture?  It’s a beautiful art piece now, still hanging over their bed or at least it was when we were at their home one time for dinner.