*Disclaimer: these images are real, raw and can be shocking. Please use discretion in viewing.
Last week’s blog post was about The SCAR Project exhibit and the powerful message it encompasses. This week is dedicated to the women in
the portraits—their journey and the story behind their scars. I have had the amazing privilege to meet and get to know some of these incredible women. They are strong, beautiful and brave. But above all, these women are hopeful. Their immense passion for this cause and their willingness to openly bare their scars is truly inspiring. These young women and their portraits are a constant reminder to live every day sincerely.
The three women you’re about to meet are local breast cancer survivors whose portraits were taken for The SCAR Project…
*see Channel 5 & Channel 9's SCAR Project Interviews at the bottom of this post
VANESSA | 25
[caption id="attachment_996" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Vanessa Tiemeier | Cincinnati, OH "]
“Breast cancer is a part of my life but it does not define me. It will never be ALL that I am or ALL that I do. I don’t want to be part of the mold that breast cancer survivors have been confined to. It’s not always pink ribbons and charity runs. Breast cancer is often glamorized and commercialized.
In reality, there’s a duality of life and a human element that everyone can relate to. Yes, I have breast cancer, and yes, it is hard, and yes, it’s an ongoing challenge, BUT everyone has his own struggles. Some are hidden and not as public, but they are still very real. The secret hardships AND the public battles we all face are valid and important.
I was diagnosed at age 25 with stage 3A breast cancer. I underwent 20 weeks of dose dense chemotherapy, had a right modified radical mastectomy with node dissection, completed 25 treatments of radiation, and still have to have a left prophylactic mastectomy and bilateral tram-flap reconstructive surgery. I lost all my hair, looked like ET, got my boob hacked off along with nine lymph nodes in my armpit, got zapped so much that my skin burned and bled, and will need to cut open my stomach and relocate my fat and muscles to my chest. I think sometimes I am so good at putting on a pretty face and acting all put-together that some people don’t realize the extent of everything that breast cancer survivors go through.
My scars and my words are only half of the story. They don’t show the emotional and private struggles that are continuously present. They don’t show the burden that my family has willingly endured. They don’t show the lifestyle changes and imitations that come with breast cancer. But they don’t need to. I’ve never wanted to be the center of attention, or be regarded as “special” or “brave”. I don’t need to be pitied or felt sorry for. Instead it is my hope that people reconnect with themselves and reconsider what is truly important in their lives, and to celebrate it.
Breast cancer has forced me to step out of the box and to challenge myself, whether I want to or not. In life there’s a beautiful balance of happiness and sadness, awareness and unawareness, acceptance and rejection, blessings and misfortunes. These dualities are the moments that define life.
The SCAR Project embraces these every day, personal happenings of life, and through these photographs, beautifully portrays every woman’s unique situation. As part of The SCAR Project, I can “just be me”. No covering up or masking the truth. No pretending that everything is fine. Here I am. This is me now. This is my life.”
HEATHER | 31
[caption id="attachment_995" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Heather Salazar with her daughters | Dayton, OH"]
“Breast Cancer boldly came into our lives when I met a young woman, Alexis, who was battling stage IV breast cancer.
She was nearing the end of her battle and needed to find a home for her baby lest her daughter be placed in permanent foster care. I prayed about this and told my husband Steve that I thought we should adopt her. His first response was: What?? We already had three children, ages seven, four and one. Five weeks later we had a new baby.
Throughout the next year, we took Alexis to chemo, to doctor’s appointments, and to spend time with her baby. Alexis died one year later at the young age of 23.
Two years later, I found a lump in my breast but never in a million years thought it could be breast cancer. The biopsy came back positive and I was diagnosed at the age of 31.
All I could think about was seeing Lexis’s mom die from this terrible disease. Would my children grow up without a mother? Would Lexis lose two mothers to breast cancer? How could this be happening to our family?
How could both of my daughters have to worry about breast cancer?
In reality, I have met so many young mothers and their families who have to deal with breast cancer and so many young children growing up without their mothers because of this disease. When I look at my one daughter’s vibrant brown eyes and my other daughter’s pristine blue eyes, I realize we have to do whatever it takes to find a cure so they never have to deal with breast cancer.
As I know firsthand, breast cancer is NOT prejudiced; it doesn’t care if you are black or white, rich or poor, young or old, it can interrupt your life when you least expect it. We need to leave a legacy for our children’s children by curing breast cancer, and I really believe we are getting closer through research and advocacy.
I want to be a part of the cure for breast cancer. I believe in advocacy and I believe in the power of learning from each other’s stories. I think The SCAR Project is amazing and I believe the photos tell an amazing story.
I also want to encourage other young women to stay on top of their own health and to realize there is life after breast cancer. I cherish every moment, enjoy my family, love on my children, and try not to sweat the small stuff. By pouring your hearts and energy into The SCAR Project you are making a difference.”
DIANA | 32
[caption id="attachment_994" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Diana Featherstone | Dayton, OH"]
“Just one month prior to my diagnosis, we had moved to a new state…away from all our friends and family. We were just getting settled in our new neighborhood and now all of a sudden I became Cancer Girl. My husband lost his wife, my kids lost their mother and I lost myself during treatment. I’m finding my way back and reinventing myself along the way to fit with my new reality.
Breast cancer is a bully that isn’t choosy about whom it picks on. My family history is riddled with all kinds of cancer, but many women with breast cancer have no family history of disease.
Cancer is frightening disease that we still don’t fully understand. This lack of knowledge scares people into sending emails about the evils of artificial sweeteners, deodorant, air, water…you name it. As if it couldn’t be just random. That it couldn’t just happen out of the blue. Tell that to children fighting cancer who haven’t had nearly as much time to do damage to themselves as we have.
I don’t want to miss my kids growing up. I thought about that a lot while going through treatment. After going through the sleepless nights and toddlerhood, I will feel really cheated if I can’t see this through. I want to see what kind of people they become. Sometimes I look at them and I almost lost it because I miss them already. I want to survive this and I know they won’t understand if I don’t. They keep me fighting and I won’t go down easy.
Even though my hair is growing back and I’ve had reconstructive surgery, I will forever wear the physical and psychological scars of cancer. People want the best for you and they want to think that once you’re done with treatment, you’re done with the disease. Well, that’s just not true. I won’t ever be completely free of the fear of recurrence, but I’m hoping to distance myself as time goes by.
The SCAR Project gave me an opportunity to show the truth beneath it all. I’m hoping that medical technology can catch up so that if there is a “next time,” we’ll actually have a real cure to work with. My Aunt Patty had over ten years before her cancer came back. Just think of all of the advancements we can make in medicine in that time frame!”
STILL, THERE IS BEAUTY
Over twenty of these amazing women from all over—women who have survived breast cancer and were photographed for the project—will be here in Cincinnati for the exhibition. Please join us to meet them in person, be inspired and help make a difference.
Still, through all of this there is Beauty.
These are the things which cannot be taken away.
IN THE PRESS: CHANNEL 5 NEWS
IN THE PRESS: CHANNEL 9 NEWS