THIS is breast cancer awareness, people

This. the-scar-project

Not this. nfl-watch-nike-breast-cancer-awareness-week

This. emily

This is breast cancer awareness.

The SCAR Project is in town. My town. I went yesterday. What an experience.

I was dilly-dallying around about going and trying to convince myself that I am too busy to take time out of my jam-packed schedule. Truth is, I was a little nervous about going. I was nervous about  seeing the incredibly powerful images and then confronting the emotions they would inevitable bring to the surface. I’m 3 1/2 years out from my diagnosis, yet I know that at any given moment, cancer can upend my “new normal” and bring me to my knees.

I suspected that seeing The SCAR Project images, full-size and in person, would upend me and bring me to my knees. They did.

I’ve seen the images online and in my copy of The SCAR Project book, one of my most-treasured gifts (thank you, Trevor). The book is available on Amazon.com; click here to order your copy.

Seeing them in person, however, is a completely different experience.

The exhibit is housed in a small gallery in the heart of Houston. On my short walk to the gallery I passed this lovely shrine in someone’s front yard.20131023-155312.jpg

I certainly hope I didn’t offend by snapping a quick photo. I don’t see things like this in the ‘burbs where I live.

Nestled into a quaint neighborhood surrounded by bustling businesses, Gremillion & Co Fine Art, Inc., is spartanly understated. The lush greenery surrounding the modern-but-not-out-there building and the pieces of sculpture flanking the gallery speak to the idea of popping inside for a quick fill of art in the middle of the day. 20131023-155031.jpg

I gotta come back in the spring and see this wisteria in bloom.

20131023-155200.jpgSome of the sculptures surrounding the building.

20131023-155147.jpg

This gate leads into a little courtyard to the side of the gallery; a serene spot in the middle of the city. 20131023-155130.jpg

Enough stalling. Time to go inside.

There’s a sign on the gallery door that requests that visitors keep their conversations to a minimum and in a whisper because of the gripping, emotional response people have had to the photographs. While some not so intimately acquainted with the beast that is breast cancer might find this intriguing and perhaps even titillating, it did not have that effect on me. I felt certain my initial misgivings about witnessing the photos were true.

A small table filled with programs and copies of The SCAR Project book stands in the entrance. A cut-out window just behind revealed a man eating lunch, and I realized that man was David Jay, founder and photographer of The SCAR Project. I asked the docent if that was indeed him, and she nodded. I told her that I’m a survivor who greatly admires his work. She said, I thought you might be a survivor.

How did she know? What caused her to suspect? Perhaps the majority of visitors to the exhibit are. Or perhaps she read the fear and trepidation in my eyes. Either way, she smiled sympathetically and stepped away. Next thing I know, David Jay is standing right beside me, saying hello. Wow. I told him how much I admire his work and how grateful I am for him telling the real story. Not the “prettied-up, pink ribbon” story. He nodded and said, “That’s why the subtitle of this project is ‘Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon.'” Amen, brother.

In the exhibit program, Jay is quoted as saying, “Still, through all of this, there is beauty. Soul. Courage. These are the things which cannot be taken away.”

Jay told me that he never envisioned working on this project, but that after a friend was diagnosed, the project was born. His mission: to show what breast cancer really looks like, especially in young women; to fundraise for research; and most importantly, to empower the women who have been affected and to hopefully allow them to see the beauty, strength, and resilience in the aftermath.

“For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with body-image issues. Losing my breasts and developing thick, red scars across my chest only made matters worse. I could not bear to look at myself in the mirror. I hope that being a part of The SCAR Project will help me to see something beautiful for a change. Maybe it will help me appreciate my body….It has, after all, created and sustained two new lives; it has fought cancer and won. It’s time I started giving it, and myself, much deserved respect.  Maybe if my scars were viewed as art, it would help me to heal.” — Gabrielle, age 30

“The most important part of being photographed was that it made me feel beautiful. It was an opportunity for me to stand tall and strong with my scars and redefine my beauty for myself.” — Emily, age 32

“My challenge has been and continues to be to accept the sorrow, focus on the joy, and remember to share both with the ones I love. Survival is about more than breasts: it is about courage, strength, and the many other attributes that make a woman beautiful.” — Jill F, age 28

Barbie, age 36, served 18 years in the U.S. military before being diagnosed with breast cancer. 1376917173_SCAR-12

In her SCAR Project bio, she says that “a weapon, a FLAK jacket, and a Kevlar helmet didn’t protect from THIS enemy.” She goes on to say that “I am not going to ever get over breast cancer or move past it. I will love with it for the rest of my life. Remission is not a cure.”

Not surprisingly, scars are a recurrent theme among the women featured. “My scars are powerful lines that point to hope, faith, and love.” — Candice, age 30

“Our scars are there to remind us of the times in our lives that are important to remember and they paint a story of not just survival, but of living.” — Eliza, age 22

Some of the quotes by the women featured are so sad, yet so true:

“Cancer does not discriminate; it doesn’t care who you are.” — Jessica D, age 22

1376917209_SCAR-16“An East-Indian girl, I was a mother to a toddler who fed from cancerous breasts for 20 months. A wife to a husband who left because he feared what my cancer would do to his life. A sister to a man who didn’t know what to say, so said nothing.” — Sona, age 36

20131023-155412.jpg“Cancer took so many things from me, but the one thing I may never get over losing is my sense of security. Blood work and tumor markers allow me to live my life in 18-month intervals, but cancer is an unpredictable beast.” — Toni, age 28

“I lost all of my hair, looked like ET, got my boob hacked off along with 9 lymph nodes, got zapped by so much radiation my skin burned and bled, and will need to cut open my stomach and relocate my fat and muscles to my chest. I think sometimes I am so good at putting on a pretty face and acting all put-together that people don’t realize the extent of everything that breast cancer survivors go through. My scars and words are only half the story. They don’t show the emotional and private struggles that are continuously present.” — Vanessa, age 25

Something else Vanessa said really resonated with me: “I’ve never wanted to be the center of attention, or to be regarded as ‘special’ or ‘brave.’ I don’t need to be pitied or felt sorry for. In life, there’s a beautiful balance of happiness and sadness, awareness and unawareness, acceptance and rejection, blessings and misfortunes. These dualities are the moments that define life.”

Not all of The SCAR Project women survived. David Jay tells the story of Jennifer, age 27, who could not travel to New York for her photo shoot because her cancer had spread to her liver. She wanted to do it, though, and asked Jay if his studio had wheelchair access because she could no longer walk up the stairs. Jay told her, “Just come, I’ll carry you up the stairs if I have to.” She never made it to New York.

Each of the women featured in The SCAR Project has an important story to tell. Each has experienced things that profoundly and permanently changed them. Each faced the terrifying reality of cancer at a young age.

This wall of images represents each woman’s story and each woman’s struggles. It is moving beyond words.  Not just for those of us diagnosed with the disease, but for all of us as human beings.20131023-155333.jpg

As I left the exhibit, I saw David Jay outside, on his cell phone. I waved to him as I walked past to my car. Pulling out of the garage, I thought, I should ask him to sign my program. But I didn’t want to interrupt his phone call. What to do? What to do? Interrupt him. Ask him.

So I did. 20131024-122627.jpg

For more information, go to http://www.thescarproject.org. Follow The SCAR Project on Facebook and Twitter (@thescarproject). Watch the Emmy-winning documentary Baring It All and purchase The SCAR Project book.

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16 Comments on “THIS is breast cancer awareness, people”

  1. billgncs says:

    cancer is a horrible thing, but I see these pictures as proud and defiant, and beautiful.

  2. Jan Hasak says:

    Wow, Nancy! Wow! I am so glad you got to see this exhibit for yourself and am thankful you are sharing it with your readers. The women portrayed are indeed beautiful, in a haunting, yet affirming way. I can’t describe it. I take comfort from words from doctors (who’ve seen lots of mastectomies) telling me what a good job my surgeon did on my double mastectomy. I never had reconstruction and always thought how ugly my torso is without built-in breasts. But then when I heard my doctors’ words and now see these photos, I am heartened and feel doubly glad to be affirmed in my decision to forgo further surgeries–and to be alive! xo

  3. AnneMarie says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share. I feel like I was with you….

    Thank you for being on the side of the truth. Love You tons!

    AnneMarie

  4. Bruce Kramer says:

    Pink, you continue to raise the question: Why can’t we look at the reality where the real courage and beauty lie? Thank you for this. One of the gifts for me has been your writing.

  5. mmr says:

    So glad you got to meet him too! And glad you had the presence of mind to get the program signed– wish I had done that. Funny about your turning around and going back to have it signed. I almost drove by when I saw the Scar Project stakes, then flipped my car around and went in, “crashed” the party, and met him. We only live once, my friend. And for many of us it isn’t long enough to wish we’d done something different.

  6. David Benbow says:

    I never stop being moved by these incredible photos and stories. I’m glad you made the time to go there and took the time to write about it.

  7. Thank you for sharing your experience, Nancy. I met David Jay at a screening ages ago, but have never seen the exhibit in person. It fills me up with an aching as I read the quotes from these women. You’ve presented it so well in your post. ~Catherine

  8. Eddie says:

    The SCAR Project clearly illustrates the fact that true beauty comes from within. We humans are so very fragile, which makes such displays of strength achingly beautiful. How is it that some of us can struggle to face life when we have little adversity yet these women can not only survive cancer but thrive despite (in spite perhaps?) of it? My heart aches with love and pride for people I have never met. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Linda Grier says:

    Thanks for bringing us along with you to this exhibition, through the power of your words.

  10. Editor says:

    Oh Nancy. Thank you so much for this important piece. I felt like I was there with you.
    Your post resonates with me because just this week someone reported my blog post to Facebook; the pictures were considered offensive or pornographic I guess – a reconstructed bruised breast (my own) and a tattoo of a lotus flower where a nipple used to be. And here I was thinking the cancer was the most offensive, beastly thing . . .

  11. Wendy Langley says:

    Very moving. I just mentioned and showed parts of this to Lester. All the while, thinking of the missing photo of his mother’s breast, with her very expectant “skin-sparing” approach. Empty but for the broken promise of future reconstruction and life after diagnosis. Sobering to say the least.

  12. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing the photos and your experience of the Scar project, even taking us on the beautiful walk there. Your post moved me to tears. I’m going to share the link to your post on my facebook page. xoxo

  13. Mandi says:

    I am glad he is doing this project. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  14. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Nancy,
    A very powerful post. I hope to see this exhibit at some point. Like Ann Marie said, I felt like I was right there with you. Thank you. xoxo

  15. Thank you for sharing this Nancy.

  16. […] powerful account by the Pink Underbelly of her visit to the Scar project exhibition in her home town. Meanwhile, in the UK, Ismena, who is […]


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