As part of our annual #NoLessAWoman campaign, this Breast Cancer Awareness Month we join with photographer David Jay whose stark portraits lay bare the often hidden side of human life.
A raw quality and realness in David’s images allow us to glimpse the humanity and strength of his subjects, as we observe in the portraits of young woman with breast cancer from his series, The SCAR Project (an acronym for Surviving Cancer Absolute Reality).
David has worked as a fashion photographer and began shooting The SCAR Project in 2005 after a close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 29 years old. In a constant effort to dispel any stigma surrounding mastectomies, David photographed the women at different stages of breast cancer, illuminating their beauty, strength and character. The project now includes 100 portraits.
We share five stories from The SCAR Project where the women candidly discuss their experiences with breast cancer. Some of the women are still alive; others have passed away since they had their portraits taken and recorded their memories. Be inspired by all of their stories and support their cause – and help us to raise awareness.
We are also proud to bring you the story of Shannon for the first time especially for this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with portraits shot by David. Shannon tells us about her diagnosis, subsequent mastectomy and her decision to forego breast reconstructive surgery.
Shannon has also written of her experiences with breast cancer and we share her words here.
My name is Shannon Montgomery and I have cancer.
That is not a sentence I ever imagined having to say, but on October 27, 2016, it became my reality. I had started a new job around 6 weeks before, was still breastfeeding my (then) 8-month-old daughter, caring for my 2.5-year old and just feeling on cloud nine. Everything was clicking into place in my personal life. Sure, there were the day to day struggles and life, but I was happy.
That day caused a total shift in my life.
Right around the time I started my new job, I got mastitis. I honestly thought it was because I was pumping more and direct breastfeeding less. No biggie. A round of antibiotics and the pain and swelling disappeared. However, there was still this lump.
Any woman who has breastfed or pumped knows that your boobs do CRAZY things while you are feeding a baby. I am a nurse. I chalked it up to residual inflammation and that it would eventually go away. So, I ignored it… for about 6 weeks.
I came home from work a few days prior to diagnosis and was playing on the floor of my infant’s nursery with both girls. I was lying flat on my back. I looked down and my right breast was a completely different shape than my left. When did that happen???
There is a reason that your doctor tells you to do your monthly self breast exams in the shower, arms raised, then arms down, then in front of a mirror, then lying down. It matters. I had ignored the warning signs. I never looked in the mirror and never did exams lying down. For me, mine really only was pronounced when I would lie flat on my back.
I was quickly poked, prodded, scanned, biopsied and informed that I had Stage 3, Triple Negative, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, High Grade. I. Had. Cancer…. What. The. Hell. I was 30! I had babies! It’s not possible! But it was and it is.
I have since undergone 16 rounds of 3 different types of IV chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, lymph node dissection, 28 round of radiation and I am back on another oral chemotherapy until the end of October 2017. The additional chemotherapy is because I still had active cancer cells seen on pathology at the time of my surgery. Chemo didn’t kill it all… lovely.
My children’s laughter is the most beautiful sound on the earth. I have realized that sometimes I just have to stop, breathe, and enjoy. While I still enjoy the hustle and bustle of life, it is not my end all, be all. Life is about the journey, not the destination. I am thankful I truly can appreciate what that means now.
I am part of a cancer support group through the Young Survivor’s Coalition called YSC Palmetto Pals. They have been my life line and source of strength through challenging times that only another survivor would understand. Our motto is “Survivor from Day One.” The moment you are diagnosed, you are already a survivor.
It is part of what helped to me to make the decision to stay flat. I am the only one in my support group that hasn’t reconstructed or tried to reconstruct at some point and I never will. Being an OR nurse for almost 4 years of my career has shown me the other side. Yes, many women have good results, but those that don’t may struggle for years with countless surgeries. I have heard the personal stories from my survivor sisters.
I was going to try and reconstruct, but I couldn’t get all of my doctors on the same page with a timeline. My plastic surgeon wanted to wait at least 6 to 8 weeks post- chemo to start surgery and my oncologist and breast surgeon both said I was safe for surgery at 2 to 3 weeks. I am grateful I didn’t wait. I still had multiple lymph nodes with cancer, as well as a tumor that was still active. Boobs aren’t worth dying over. (My actual comment was “I’d rather be alive and flat, than have great tits in a casket…”)
So, this is me now. Flat & Fabulous (just like the amazing online support group I am a part of). I am proud of my “battle hardened” body. I no longer see stretch marks or my C-section scar. I don’t linger on the cellulite or the extra weight that I am still carrying around from all the steroids they have pumped through my body. No hair? No problem. My body is AMAZING and I am PROUD of it and all it has accomplished in its short 31 years.
For some, cancer is a curse or a punishment. For me, it has been a blessing. I have learned to love and appreciate my body. I have learned to cherish the small moments that make life worth living. I have learned to accept help from others. My faith in Jesus is stronger than it has ever been. I lowered my walls and am enveloped in the love of an amazing church family. I appreciate my friends and my family more than I can ever explain.
Life is still throwing me curveballs that I never expected, but cancer has prepared me for anything. Bring it on life, bring it on.