October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For the past four years, I have had the pleasure of working with a local hospital to honor breast cancer survivors. Twelve survivors are selected each year to participate in the “Faces of Breast Cancer” project. I photograph them. Then the images are used in a calendar (which makes it debut in October) that is given to newly diagnosed patients as a means of support, comfort and encouragement. The portraits are also installed in the hallways of the hospital, along with the brave, honest and wise words written by the survivors themselves.
I am currently in the middle of photographing the women for the 2008 calendar. I spent time last night looking at some of my favorites from last year. We asked the survivors to bring with them to the photo session someone or some people who had been by their side throughout their ordeal.
Needless to say, this project has been a huge inspiration for me.
“My daughters were present with gentle support, care and encouragement when I needed that, but continued to involve me in the busy chaos of day-to-day living when I wanted life to just be ‘normal’ again. My diagnosis is an unwelcome inheritance – their risk is now increased. I must teach them to be vigilant for symptoms and get their checkups. My advice to others is to pay attention to your body. Listen to your intuition and get checked. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, seek out someone who will let you talk and let you be quiet. Let it be about you for awhile, but stay involved in things that matter to you.”
My family was upset when I was first diagnosed. My confidence in a positive outcome helped them take it in stride. They were there en masse for my surgery, including the new baby. A week later my mother-in-law died. Cancer and a death in the family made us all realize we weren’t exempt from anything. My daughter insisted on going to my doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments. She sat with me through the ‘bad’ days. The entire family remained optimistic and upbeat and gave me flowers after each chemo treatment. Everyone, including the babies, did the Race for the Cure for me that summer.”
“My diagnosis has made me get my priorities straight. I have learned to let go of the little things that aren’t important. It has helped me to remember that everyone has different challenges and that there is a reason this happened. There is something for me to learn from this. Everyone wants to help and sometimes it’s difficult for them (or me) to know what I need. Sometimes I need to talk and other times I need to be alone. My advice is to look for cues – listen and observe to learn what you need. Sometimes I get tired of being told what a great attitude I have – sometimes I need permission to say how crummy this is and how awful I feel.”
“We were dealt a ‘double whammy’ because my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer just six weeks before my diagnosis. Our initial reaction was shock and sadness but we were strong for each other. We don’t have any close friends or family in the area but knew there were prayers and good thoughts coming to us from all our family and friends scattered across the globe. My daughter from Colorado and brother-in-law from California put their busy lives on hold to come and care for us. The outpouring of kindness from everyone has been a most humbling experience. It is important to stay in touch with family members or friends who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. A visit, phone call, email or card can make the sun shine on a rainy day.”