Embracing my scar

Carly Simon expressed it best when she said “I just want to show off my scar proudly and not be afraid of it”.  I longed to reach that day in my journey, which began when I was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 8, 2010.  Since it had already spread into my lymph nodes a mastectomy was the only option presented.  Things moved so quickly that reconstruction was never investigated.  I did chemo, radiation, and began Tamoxifen.

Artwork by Chantal Hughes. Photography by ilo photo
Artwork by Chantal Hughes. Photography by ilo photo

In March 2012, I found out I have the BRCA 2 gene mutation. I made the decision to have a second mastectomy.  Looking in the mirror after the surgery, I realized my body was changed and this was the new me.  It took some getting used to, but I realized that I was not broken; rather, I was whole.  I wanted to show off my scar proudly.  I had done a photo shoot while in treatment, but had kept the pictures for myself.  My scars looked so raw and somehow I looked unfinished.  I now wanted something that would show people that I am still here.  A Rethink Peer Support volunteer who was brave enough to show her scar to the world through art inspired me.  I approached Chantal Hughes, an artist I’ve known for a few years and she was excited for the opportunity.  She began to brainstorm ideas that would incorporate my scars into a work of art instead of hiding or camouflaging them.

The day of the photo shoot I was nervous.  What if, despite her incredible talent, the scars would always look raw?  Chantal painted me in the photographer’s studio.  For 2 hours I sat there shirtless being painted. When Chantal finished, I went to look in the mirror. I was in awe.  My scars were beautiful!  I felt like a living example of the proverb: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”.

For the next hour Dana Fiorito of ilo photo made me feel like I was on America’s Next Top Model.  She had me turning this way and that, hair up and hair down (which was wonderful since I have hair again).  She took my vision and ran with it, expanding on it.  She challenged me to be brave enough to allow her to shoot my face and I went with it.  I put my trust in her and gave into the experience.  My stomach and the weight I’ve gained while on Tamoxifen embarrassed me, and yet she had me feeling like a warrior.

That afternoon I showed my husband the artwork and he was blown away.  The expression on his face was priceless.  The butterflies peered out from under my t-shirt and I had never felt more like a warrior in my life.  I almost didn’t want to wash them off.  At first I did not want my face in the photos, I wanted to remain anonymous. When I saw the wonderfully supportive reaction the faceless photo of me began to receive on facebook, I began to change my mind.  Although it began as an anonymous piece of artwork, the experience was so incredible and transformative I have decided to own it.  This is me, this is the butterfly I’ve turned into. I can now show off my scar and no longer be afraid of it – I can fully embrace it!

– Michelle B

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