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.
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