Finding Her Courage
Jennifer was the friend who I went to for input as I prepared to start the Reveal Mission. While I believed that an art show which showcased portraits and stories of women who had journeyed through breast cancer could be a valuable experience I wasn’t convinced that it would be accepted in my local community. Not only was Jennifer a survivor but she also worked for a cancer organization and had her finger on the pulse of breast cancer advocacy. We discussed the project at her son’s high school graduation party and she calmed my fears and assured me that there were women who would benefit from this kind of platform and exposure. Her green light was the reason that I moved forward.
What we didn’t talk about that day was whether or not she considered herself one of those women. Three months later I asked her the question. “I haven't come right out and asked you, but I wanted to know if you'd like to be a part of the project?”
She replied, “Gosh I am flattered. I am not sure… I will have to think about it. I am very insecure - I was before cancer. ...I don't have an issue flashing my chest to other survivors but I don't know about having it displayed. I need to think on it. When do you need a decision?”
A couple of weeks later she messaged me again.
“I have not been able to resolve this internal argument yet. I don't have an issue showing my "breasts" but I do have an issue showing the rest of me. I don't want people to know it is me. I think they need to see the scars and damage but I can't have them knowing it is me...
“Chad, It isn't my "chest", it is the rest of me. As a former model who struggled with my weight and diets it is difficult for me to see pictures of myself fully clothed right now. I have always been one to hide my curves/rolls etc. I have always wanted perfection.I can blame cancer for the messy look of my chest but I can't attach that to the rest of me. Yes, I know the side effects from my treatment are long term and go beyond just my breasts but others don't know that or understand it.
“Additionally, I have been able to show my battle scars to who I want and when I want. I don't mind if someone were to view just them and think "Oh that poor lady" but being someone who has lived my entire life in this town I don't think I can handle the idea of people knowing it is me they are feeling sorry for. Does that make sense? I want to be able to show the reality of what cancer does to a woman but I don't want people who know me feeling "bad" for me. The reality is that I have been to war with cancer and had my breasts amputated. I have the ability to decide who knows that - unlike the amputee who walks down the street with one arm or leg. I am happy to share that story with the masses if they can't tell it is me…”
Even with her misgivings Jennifer still agreed to get together with me, share her story, and possibly pose for portraits. Our plans were interrupted when her mom went through her own cancer battle (which thankfully she survived).
Over the next few years Jennifer became a huge supporter of the Reveal Mission helping connect women to the project. Our friendship grew and she pulled me into cancer advocacy work alongside her. She decided to move forward with the project and had an idea of using her license plate as a prop as a championship belt for the portrait. Still we continued to face setbacks when we tried to set a date to get it done.
Six years after our initial conversation she sent me a text.
“I keep waiting to be in shape to do my Reveal Mission pics. I have realized that my menopause belly is the reality of breast cancer’s long term impact on me and I should represent that in the photos and not be ashamed of it. My story is about body image due to breast cancer. Now I just need to find the courage to do it…”
It didn’t take long at all.
Courage is one of Jennifer’s strengths. It came out in the way she initially fought through breast cancer. It is present now a decade later as she still battles through those difficulties and confronts her realites. It is so obvious when you see her portraits.