STAGE 4, PHILADELPHIA
When I look at my post cancer body in the mirror, it takes me a minute to recognize myself. It is hard to believe my petite frame used to have dense D cup breasts. Now after 1 round of IVF, 8 rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, skin revision surgery, 25 rounds of radiation, exchange surgery and a oophorectomy, my petite frame is toting a smaller size chest, riddled with scars.
My journey that has taken me to this point was long and tumultuous. I remember when I first lost my hair due to chemotherapy side effects, it hurt a lot! I distinctly remember dunking my head under water and rubbing my head vigorously to help the process along. Once my hair was gone, I started to get self conscious about people seeing my bald head. I feared I might blind someone with the shade of white it was!
Genetic testing showed I was BRCA 1+ and learned my surgical route was going to be a bilateral mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy. This news hit me harder than losing my hair did. When I woke up from my bilateral mastectomy, I remember feeling broken and incomplete. I have always liked my breasts but I didn’t think losing them would hit me like it did. I felt like I wasn’t in my own body. It is a strange feeling to have an outer body experience that never ends.
I thought the loss of my breasts, hair, ovaries, and my chance to conceive naturally, meant the loss of my femininity. Just because I currently looked liked a 6th grade boy didn’t mean I was one. I was tired, angry and grieving the loss of the person I used to be.
What I didn’t realize was that I was grieving the loss of who I was, to make room for who I was becoming. And once I lost those body parts, I noticed that I also lost the chains that societal pressure binds me to. Binding me to the idea that I don’t fit into the conventional standards of what a woman should look like from a patriarchal society. I realized there are more important things to worry about and more important parts of a person to care about.
Cancer Can’t Dull My Sparkle
If you had asked me pre-cancer if I would ever pose naked, let alone show it to the world I would have fallen off my chair. I was so modest in my pre-cancer body. I was so insecure that I would pick apart my body till there was nothing I liked about it.
After my surgeries I hated my body even more. I thought I was defected and that my husband could never find me attractive ever again. I hated seeing myself without clothes and thought he did too. Every scar was a reminder of what had been taken from me and I was still angry. It wasn’t until this photo shoot that I was able to feel beautiful and comfortable in my body. My body had gone through a metamorphosis and this shoot was my debut.
Endure and Let Go
The day of my boudoir shoot I was feeling incredibly nervous. I had a million thoughts running through my head. Will this shoot ACTUALLY bring awareness to breast cancer? Will people care? Will I look empowered? Will I feel empowered or like a fraud? Am I a good role model for the breast cancer community? Will it look like I am trying too hard? Will it look like I’m not trying enough?
These questions and more kept creeping into my head. However, once the photographer started to paint my body with pink paint and glitter, all those questions and thoughts started to dissipate. She assured me that she would be the only one in the room and that I should enjoy my day of pampering.
I got my makeup done, put on my favorite wig, had a glass of wine (or a bottle), and once the music was on I started to shake my tail feather. She wanted me to have full creative control over the shoot and only captured what I wanted to be seen. She was great at guiding me and knowing the best angles for my body.
I thought I would be more insecure or find numerous flaws during the shoot, but I didn’t. I was feeling myself and it felt damn good. For the first time, probably in my entire life, I felt sexy. And trust me, coming from a 4’10 girl who has been referred to as “cute” her entire life, that’s saying a lot!
I was proud of my body and the war it had been through. I was proud of my attitude and how I was able to laugh at myself and smile again. And most importantly, I was proud of my spirit for being able to endure and let go of the anger and hate I had towards cancer. With each click of the camera, my anger melted away and my confidence bursted through. I think at one point I actually tried to twerk.
If you are a woman looking to feel empowered, sexy and feminine, I highly suggest dipping your toes into boudoir photography. It will give you a good excuse to buy that hot lace teddy you’ve been eyeing up. Not to mention, it makes a great gift for the hubby (wink).