In November of 2011 I stumbled upon a portrait on a professional photographers’ website that gave me pause. It was a portrait of a woman who had undergone a mastectomy of her right breast.
I made this comment underneath the picture, “Very raw and vulnerable, and still very feminine and beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.”
I think the woman is brave. I think the woman found a way to deal with shame that can come from breast cancer and its aftermath. I think the woman is a fighter. I think the woman is delicate. Of all the breasts in the world it was this altered pair that nurtured a new compassion in me.
I began to process the people in my own life who had battled breast cancer. I’m remiss to say that I held back on the support that I could have offered. I could talk to a friend about a mole that he needed to have removed from his shoulder, but talking to a woman about her breasts seemed off limits to a conservative, Christian, male, who worked as a local pastor. And though it can be good to make decisions based on modesty, as well as religious and cultural sensitivities, I’ve been more concerned that my lack of being able to discuss my friends’ reality only helped keep them covered in shame.
I asked myself these questions, “Am I holding back? Are my friends withdrawing on purpose? And if we are, why? Who are we helping by keeping quiet and covered?”
As a result of encouragement from my friends with scars I’ve started helping others tell their Scar Stories. Some of these are women who are Breast Cancer Survivors and Warriors – we had our first Art Show in October of 2012 in downtown Boise. I also record the story of other types of Survivors. I hope that their stories educate and inspire you.
I went back to the website where I’d found that original picture. I posted a new comment, a request to the photographer who lives in Portugal.
“Could I get permission to use this photo on a blog article about photographing people with scars? This image has really impacted me.”
He responded the following day.
“Dear Chad. You have my permission to use this photo on the blog for noble causes, such as the image conveys. Thank you for your selection.”
And then in a personal message to me included,
“The person in this fotografia is my wife.”