The SCAR Project

Listen up, people: this is really important.

If you’re not familiar with The SCAR Project, I am happy to introduce you. I’ll be honest: there are some photos that may disturb you, because the photos show “large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors,” and present a “raw, unflinching face of early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women,” according to the project’s website. While the photos are indeed raw and unflinching themselves, I challenge you to man up and look at them anyway. They’re very tastefully done, no train-wreck gore or gratuitously scary stuff. Get past the cover model who is visibly pregnant and sporting a single-mastectomy scar on her chest. Her belly is beautiful, as it contains a newly forming life, and her scar is a badge of honor.

The project’s acronym stands for “Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.”

I like that little double entendre. Well, let’s be honest: I like most double entendres, but this one in particular speaks to me. As does the project’s media slogan: “Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon.”

And how.

one of the many "pink ribbon" cards I've received

I’m all for the pink-it-up attitude that the Susan G Komen for the Cure and other organizations espouse. While I think it’s a little weird to see the pink ribbon and “awareness campaign” on products ranging from golf balls to toilet paper and all parts in between, and while I question how much all this awareness really does to actually fight the dreaded disease, I am grateful that Suzy Goodman Komen was the kind of woman who wanted to make a difference, even though she would not be a survivor. Because of her and her family, most notably her sister Nancy G. Brinker, breast cancer went from a shameful secret shrouded in secrecy to the glamour disease du jour.

I’m not interested in getting into the debate in the BC community over how much good the Komen organization has actually done. I completely understand the frustration felt by women with Stage IV BC over the lack of research done on their end of this vicious disease. According to Brinker’s book, Promise Me, the Komen organization has contributed some $1.5 billion to research and community programs, but it seems that precious little reaches the metastatic BC demographic.  I understand, and I struggle to see the connection between awareness and finding a cure. Regardless of funds and allocation, however, I’m grateful that in the 25+ years that Komen has been around, the global breast cancer movement has worked to eradicate the shame that used to accompany a BC diagnosis.  The SCAR Project is following suit.

As I’ve mentioned before, Bestselling author Barbara Delinsky also lost a loved one to BC. Delinsky was 8 years old when her mom died from BC, yet according to her book Uplift, she was in her teens before she learned that her mom had breast cancer, and it was years before her dad could say cancer, and even longer before he could say breast.

One of the women featured in Uplift, Elinor Farber, lost her mom to BC, too, and said when her mom was diagnosed 45 years ago, there were no mammograms, and mastectomies were just short of a butchering. Farber reports that her mom lived more than 30 years after her surgery, but never once spoke of her condition. “Mom endured everything without the support of friends and neighbors, who were not told. My sister and I were both told of my mom’s condition in hushed tones, and we were sworn to secrecy.”

We’ve come a long way.

But not until The SCAR Project have people been forced to see–I mean really see–the impact of breast cancer.

The project focuses on women aged 18 to 35, a demographic in the breast cancer community that is not well represented. Although it’s estimated that more than 100,00 women younger than 40 will be diagnosed with BC this year, and although BC is the #1 cause of death of women aged 18 to 40, the younger members of the pink ribbon club don’t get a lot of press.

When I was diagnosed last April at the tender young age of 40, I quickly learned just how little press we young-uns get. All of the literature I received from my darling breast surgeon featured grey-haired grannies. Not a single image in any literature showed anyone within 20 years of my age. My darling breast surgeon, who is younger than me, agreed that the lit needs a major overhaul, and she teased me about being the one to get the ball rolling. Sure thing. Now that I’m finally off the antibiotics and over the post-mastectomy infection, I’m on it.

Sadly, I’m too old for The SCAR Project; otherwise, I would sign up right this second to be a SCAR model. Well, not right this second but after living in the gym for several months and eating nothing but salad. No dressing. Kidding. After countless doctor visits and multiple hospital stays, I’ve long shed any modesty about disrobing, and I’ve been known to show my scars in all their glory to anyone who asks. The nurses in my various doctors’ offices don’t even offer me the paper gown anymore, because they know I won’t use it.  Save a tree, people; I’m over it. In fact, I may contact photographer David Jay and tell him I’m overage but have an abundance of scars. Way more than the women on the SCAR website. No that it’s a contest or anything.


Like Komen, the initial goal of The SCAR Project was to raise awareness and money. But it became so much more. Jay explains that he was not prepared for something so beautiful:

“For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their sexuality, identity, and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them, and the strength to move forward with pride.”

Yeah! Go girls! This model from The SCAR Project looks like the epitome of a fierce survivor. While no doubt she’s battle-weary and has seen things and faced trials she never thought possible, the mere fact that she participated in The SCAR Project tells me that she is indeed moving forward with pride.

I’m not quite there yet, personally, with reclaiming all that has been lost to my cancer, but after seeing the women in The SCAR Project, I’m a whole lot closer.

20 Comments on “The SCAR Project”

  1. Ed says:

    Not that it’s a contest indeed! You’ve certainly been through plenty and do have the scars to prove it. That is a very cool project with potential to really kickstart a dialogue.

  2. David Benbow says:

    I just looked at the SCAR Project photos. Just one word: Inspirational.

  3. Barb Fernald says:

    What beautiful and incredible photos from the SCAR Project. I looked at them all, twice. I had not heard of this project and am glad you wrote about it. I remember my cousin, a few months after her second mastectomy, asking me if I wanted to see her scars. I did not know how to respond other than to say yes, though I wasn’t sure that I meant it. When she took of her shirt, my first thought was that her scars were not scary like I was afraid they would be. They didn’t look like regular skin, but they did look like something that had healed. I was looking at the site of healing. The other thing I noticed was how beautiful the line of her shoulders looked. If someone asked me, now, to look at their mastectomy scars, or any other scars, I would not hesitate to say yes and I wouldn’t be afraid. From my cousin, from the SCAR Project, from you, I know that our beauty comes from so much more than our breasts.

  4. Kayte says:

    grrrrr! I love it when you get feisty, Nance. I like knowing more about the political angle too. thanks for sharing this.

  5. Thanks for posting on the SCAR Project. It’s an eye -opening and confronting study to be sure.

    I would like to take up one issue though fromm your post. You say.. “I’m not interested in getting into the debate in the BC community over how much good the Komen organization has actually done. I completely understand the frustration felt by women with Stage IV BC over the lack of research done on their end of this vicious disease.”….

    The trouble is by refusing to entertain a debate about the activities of one of the largest breast cancer organizations, I’m not sure that you do “completely understand” the plight of women with Stage IV cancer.

    I do however invite you to check out my blog if you’d like to know more, and perhaps read Gayle Sulik’s work at A bit of healthy debate is what the breast cancer movement needs if we’re going to stand a chance of ever moving the fight to eradication forward, and indeed stemming the mortality statistics, 90% of which come from Stage IV diagnosis.

    • Anna, I am the queen of dashing off a quick post and moving on to the next task, so while I won’t say I’m careless, I will admit that sometimes I don’t choose the exact best verbage for a particular situation. In saying I’m not interested in engaging in debate, what I meant to convey was that I don’t want to get distracted by that bc my focus for that post was on the SCAR Project. I was trying to convey, but didn’t do a good job, that I see why Stage IV women are upset with and perhaps hostile toward Komen’s lack of funding for research on late-stage disease. I actually agree with them and would be hoppin’ mad about it if I had metastatic BC and saw how Komen allocates funds. I do read your blog and am humbled by the depth of your knowledge and the scope of your message. You do a great job of getting the word out, on whatever the topic is. I should have taken more time to choose my words more carefully on this important topic.

      • Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. You know it’s funny, after I posted the comment, I went and reread your post and kind of came to the same conclusion i.e. that it was probably more an issue of sentence construction, and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that too! Anyway I’m glad that we’ve found each others blogs, and I’m looking forward to engaging in more discussion, and perhaps even spirited but respectful debate, from time to time. I know we all want the same thing, it’s just a question of how best to get there. I’m just glad that the conversation about BCmets IS happening, and that through dialogue in the blogs and other forums, we’re beginning to develop a better understanding of how better to integrate the needs of the BC mets community into the mainstream breast cancer movement. Thanks for hearing me on this.

  6. P.S. In inviting you to check out my blog, I am specifically thinking of this post as to what we can all do to better advocate for women with Stage IV breast cancer.

  7. Gayle Sulik says:

    The Scar Project is really incredible. It is much more political than the pinkification projects though, since it is focusing on showing a reality that often gets covered up in the mainstream. It is a very different kind of awareness, and one that we need to see if we are going to understand some of the important implications of breast cancer treatment.

  8. Gayle Sulik says:

    I also wanted to mention that Komen and the hundreds of other breast cancer advocacy organizations in the 1980s and 1990s that were devoted to getting breast cancer moved into the light and onto the public health agenda were crucial in helping to increase federal funding for breast cancer research and removing the stigma around the words “I have cancer.” This is commendable, and was necessary following decades of shame. Absolutely. But now, I think projects like Scar and others that have a more political tone remind us that it’s time to look at what can be done to go beyond mere visibility and fundraising to move toward actions that would result in the eradication of the epidemic. #Cancerrebels Rock!!

    • Gayle, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I agree that it’s time to see what can be done to end this epedimic. I am grateful to have a community of like-minded women who are united in the fight.

  9. Patti Ross says:

    Important. Inspirational. Provocative. Thanks for sharing!

  10. […] why I’m so grateful for things like The SCAR Project and for women like Deborah Lattimore. Like the women who were photographed for The SCAR Project, […]

  11. mlissabeth says:

    I appreciate and identlfy with your thoughts about The SCAR Project, and the pink ribbon, and Komen for the Cure. Like you, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40, a week before my first scheduled mammogram. I accidently found my tumor myself. Seven years later, I am finally free of the all but yearly doctor visits, daily medication, and mostly free of the fear of reoccurence. I am also a twenty year survivor of melanoma, with scars on the opposite side of my body from my breast cancer. When I found the SCAR project, I too wanted to take part, and was disappointed that I had ‘aged out.’ I think we need more awareness of longer term survivors and the issues that they face, along with the awareness that you consider. Again, thanks for your post.

    • Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. Crazy, but I’m a melanoma survivor, too. Mine was on my right foot, and while the scar is ugly, it’s in a spot that makes it easy to hide it. I love that you’re a 7-year survivor–that give me so much hope!

  12. Kristin says:

    I am be-yond honored that, out of all the SCAR Project photos there are, you chose mine to feature in your blog. The experience with David Jay was amazing. He was so easy to work with and made me feel so comfortable when he was getting the shot. I know you said you were over his age cut, but if anyone else out there isn’t, DO IT! I’m happy that you are recovering from your surgeries and wish you the best of health in the future!

  13. Kristin, I’m the one who’s honored! Thank you for commenting. I feel like I’m in the presence of a celebrity!

  14. […] images in David Jay’s The Scar Project. I’ve written about this amazing body of work here and here. The photographs are raw and real, just like cancer […]

  15. […] Scorchy’s triumphant tangle with Facebook over its asinine decision to censor photos from The SCAR Project and from Facebook users themselves post-mastectomy. Scorchy took umbrage with that dumb policy and […]

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