The breast surgeon looked me calmly in the eye and reported that I had not one but three small lumps in my left breast. She suggested that in making the decision to have it removed, it would be reasonable to opt for having a bilateral mastectomy. I decided then and there to do both. Driving away from the appointment on that gray-sky January day, hurrying back to work, I remember saying to myself, this is me going into shock.
As the shock spread to other body parts, including my brain, over the next few weeks, I recognized that I was shut down, in no condition to start researching the options for breast reconstruction prior to the looming mastectomy. Still I tried. I went to a support group. I surfed the net. I met with a plastic surgeon on the day of an ice storm, skidding into the frozen parking lot after the office opened late. I was sure I didn’t want silicone breast implants. I came firmly to my low-tech decision: I would not embark on being a plastic surgery patient with reconstruction until I recovered from the cancer surgery.
During the next two flat-chested years, I did recover my physical fitness, and I faced my existential dilemma head on. The feminist, humanist, Buddhist part of me truly believed that I was worth more than my body parts, that I didn’t need breasts. I adopted the Downton Abbey look. I tried prosthetics - hot, sliding around and uncomfortable - and eventually skipped them entirely. I wore colorful scarves to minimize other people’s discomfort. I secretly enjoyed swimming miles at the pool without the extra ballast and I got back to relaxing in the hot tub. I looked for other women like me and never saw a single one. Men politely made a lot of eye contact. I convinced myself that everyone looked but no one really cared whether I had breasts or not.
One sunny day I took the ferry to Fire Island with my friend and we happened upon a big party tent where there were preparations for an event. The handsome gay guy at the front table ignored my friend as we passed by gawking, but smiled and offered me a free pass to the back of the tent, where he said I could pick out a costume. Puzzling as I was on the windy ride back - what was that about? - a plausible explanation blew into my thoughts: he didn’t know whether I was a male on my way to becoming a female, or a female on my way to becoming a male. It was really the only time I felt someone’s sympathy towards me in public, someone willing to recognize and connect with me about the profound difficulty of it all.
The difficulty increased rather than faded. I answered a follow-up questionnaire at the breast surgeon’s office, with a simple remark “I am sad without breasts.” It triggered a call from the Social Worker - and when I met with her I burst into tears. Something about femininity and my identity with my own self. I started to research reconstruction options. What had been unthinkable two years earlier, the DIEP procedure suddenly looked obviously smart. My own tissue moved from belly to breast, help with my body, nothing artificial. I called seven different plastic surgery practices before I found Dr. Bank and Dr. Korn. Mollie Sugarman, the Clinical Director of their Patient Empowerment Program, helped me talk it through. I scheduled the procedure on the same day I interviewed them.
The reconstruction surgery is now six months in my rear-view mirror. The deep relief and satisfaction I feel is worth every ounce of pain and trepidation I experienced. I’m still a feminist and a humanist and a rebel, but now I have beautifully conforming and lovely breasts, a surprisingly flat stomach, and I am no longer in shock.
I am a strong advocate for yearly mammograms. It saves lives; I am proof of this.
No one can prepare themselves for any type of illness, especially cancer. My breast cancer, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, was discovered in December 2016 during my annual mammogram and confirmed by a biopsy in my right breast. A month later, a more aggressive form was discovered in my left breast. Decisions had to be made quickly, and while tears fell and anger swelled in my heart, I needed to move forward with treatment. For the first time in my life, I understood that I would need to embrace the idea of allowing my family, friends, and doctors to support me over this hurdle. Of course, all accompanied by a good glass of rose every night.
I went accompanied to my breast surgeon's office, pre-op appointments, plastic surgeon, and finally made one of the most difficult decisions of my life, assisted by the advice of all of these wonderful people. I concluded eventually that the best treatment for me was a bilateral mastectomy with DIEP flaps. I was continuously blessed with unwavering support from my family, friends, doctors, and sometimes just strangers. I find joy in my life today, more than ever, because I was fortunate enough to have many strong shoulders to lean on and many powerful arms to embrace me.
My smile today is the affirmation that a good glass of wine, hope, and support from all will keep you buoyant in this journey called life and all that it throws at you.
Hi, I'm Susy. I see the mark on my body of something difficult that happened to me, but that did not change my way of being. I am a very happy and positive woman and I like that all those people who are around me are so as well. I walk hand in hand with God and I thank him for being who I am. Cancer made me stronger and more human every day. I am always ready to help those who need it. I love life and I love myself and from this I learned a life lesson, thanks to God.
Hola soy Susy. Veo la marca en mi cuerpo de algo difícil que me paso, pero eso no cambio mi forma de ser por que soy una mujer muy alegre y positiva y me gusta que todas aquellas personas que están seca de mi así lo sean, camino de la mano de Dios y le doy gracias por ser como soy, el cáncer me hizo cada dia más fuerte y humana siempre estoy dispuesta a ayudar a quien lo necesita, amo la vida y me amo a mi misma y del cancel aprendí una lección de vida gracias a Dios.
Very thankful for talented doctors who helped me stay me.
I thank God every single day for crossing our paths and asking for health for them and their family.
Jestem bardzo wdzięczna za utalentowanych lekarzy, którzy pomogli mi zostac sobą.
Każdego dnia dziękuję Bogu za skrzyzowanie naszych ścieżek z prośbą o zdrowie dla nich i ich rodzin.
I love to smile. I love to laugh. I love life and I am a happy person.
On October 29th 2020, the smile was wiped right from my face by one devastating phone call. It was the doctor who had performed my breast biopsy.
“You have cancer”.
My smile? Gone. In its place, terror, panic and shock. The first thought that ran through my head was ”I can’t die.”
I have kids. My three beautiful daughters. The amazing relationships we share, both individually and as a pack, was something that I was not willing to lose. The youngest is a freshman in college. She must not be derailed, I thought. My thoughts turned to weddings, grandchildren, and graduations. I thought of my best friend and life partner. We had a plan. We had goals. We were on the track to our retirement and relocating to a warmer and more relaxing way of life. I have always been a strong person. I have control of my life, my emotions.
For the first time in my life I needed to reach out for support and strength. My family grabbed my hand and held on throughout. The love and support I received from the love of my life, my daughters, family, and friends was incredible and the greatest gift. My sister in law is in the medical field and connected me with fellowship trained breast surgical oncologist, Dr. Melissa Fana. Dr. Fana met with me, informed me of my diagnosis and presented all my options, calmed me and ultimately empowered me to have control of my situation. But, most of all, she made me feel like family. Dr. Fana’s compassion is so apparent. It is evident that she loves her career and her patients.
Together we chose Dr. Jonathan Bank as my plastic surgeon. My daughter and I met with Dr. Bank and I am pretty sure I had a deer in the headlights look in my eyes. Dr. Bank gave me the greatest gift at that moment without even knowing it. The gift of laughter. We have had many laughs throughout this whole experience which many might think of as odd but for me it was just what the doctor ordered. He also empowered me. We discussed my diagnosis, my fears, my wishes and together we made a plan. Again, I felt like family. Both doctors treated me not just as a patient, but as family. They embraced and supported my choices, which is all anyone in this situation could ask for from a doctor.
The cancer was first located in my right breast through a routine mammogram and sonogram. It was confirmed through a biopsy. My choices were lumpectomy followed by radiation and hormone therapy for five to ten years, or a mastectomy with a small percentage for the need for radiation and hormone therapy. I have always been very wholistic and knew that taking medication everyday was going to be a struggle. Furthermore, I was not looking forward to the rest of my life worrying twice a year if the cancer would return. My family and I decided that the mastectomy was the right choice for me. Not only did I choose to have one breast removed but I chose to have a double mastectomy. I did not want to ever go through this experience again. Dr. Bank put a bow on my decision by presenting me with the option of DIEP Breast reconstruction. It meant using my own belly fat to reconstruct my breast after surgery. This option was the perfect choice for me and provided me with relief. I knew I was in the most amazing hands with Dr. Fana and Dr. Bank.
Recovery was difficult for me physically, but even more so mentally and emotionally. After the shock of diagnosis and ridding my body of this horrible disease, the reality of the whole situation took over. I believe I went through the whole spectrum of emotions: shock, anger, fear and depression.I feared death where I had never previously had. I feared the unknown where I had always had a plan.
Today I sit and compose this memoir in my sunny dining room four months after my surgery and I can truly say I feel at peace. I look at my body in the mirror and love what I see. I feel strong, grateful, and happy. My doctors not only gave me my health and my beautiful reconstructed body, but they gave me my life back. They gave me the ultimate gift. The return of my smile.
I am blessed by the love and support of my incredible family, friends and my two new lifelines and friends, Dr. Fana and Dr. Bank. Words cannot express my sincere gratitude; I hope my smile can.
It’s not about the after picture...
It’s about the relief you feel when, even if just for a moment, you can breathe again.
When the heavy feeling of impending loss is lifted and the thrill of being “done” takes over.
It’s about the revelation of a scarred, yet stronger version of you.
The after picture is a reminder of the journey; that the dark moments of sadness, anger, and fear will subside and make way for the recovery and rediscovery that lies ahead.
It’s about the moment of empowerment when you realize that imperfection is better than just okay... it’s beautiful.
Here I am… the face of possibility and promise. This is just me along the way. While I do believe a lot of things, my greatest certainty is that I will always be moving forward with purpose. I will constantly be seeking faith to do the right thing, be it improbable or in this case, extraordinary. I vow to be vigilantly aware of my body’s needs and tend to them with resolve and without question. I will always pray that my family recognizes that much of this endeavor was for them and that they regard my experience as a very important lesson. If I could somehow take on this mysterious, onerous task, I know they can find the courage to do the same.
I will not ever claim to have done this as a solitary act. Brilliant and compassionate medical experts guided me along the way because almighty God placed them there. I can explain it in no other terms. By placing my life in His hands, I found myself under the skillful care of others.
I am plainly smiling in this pose and if I had to choose a way to tell my story, this would be it. My surgeon selected it, because understanding me as well as he does, and being so gently tuned into my feelings, he sees that above all, I am content. He understands that I have been confident and decisive from the start. He respects my commitment to the supreme vocation of caring for my emotional, spiritual and physical self. Because I have surely earned the right to express this in my own words, I can safely say that he hung the stars in my night sky.
So I am wearing a pretty relaxed look, reacting to the craziness of it all. It’s obviously an image of me, unashamed and proud enough to act silly. You see laughter here, and maybe bravery. But it’s the hidden stuff that really matters in this moment. For example, there is a precious sense of peace. It happened when I allowed myself the freedom to let go when I could have sought control. There is the fiercely awarded privilege of being capable of protecting my wellbeing and securing my future. There is also the absolute truth that my traveling this course was not haphazard. I trust that I was simply born for this responsibility. It was planted in my soul and I guess also in my genes. I was supposed to listen carefully to hear the inner voice that drew me here. Then there is above all, profound gratitude. It is no small favor that I leapt into an abyss with a healthy mind and body and God-given strength.
It is not unusual to find me out seeking the healing powers of water, calm or stormy. I stroll deserted beaches for snapshots of breathtaking sunsets. I follow my instincts to locate beauty and serenity. Along the way, there have been lonely times, a few unknowns and probably elements of danger. I did it all anyway. These days, I am complete with the visible flaws that prove there is risk in searching, but victory in discovery. I acknowledge the divine grace it takes to be wherever destiny leads me. I cherish reminders of places I have walked and scenes that may never be again. So, I take a picture. It is in a spirit of hope and with an incredibly grateful heart, that I offer this one to you.
My name is Katica. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a woman, it was the most devastating news to hear that I had to have a mastectomy, to remove my left breast. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. I thank God for reconstruction surgery. It took something life changing and gave me a new outlook on life.
When I look at myself in the mirror, I see the woman I was before - before breast cancer changed my life. I see a warrior. A woman of strength. A survivor of life. Reconstruction and plastic surgery has giving me my self-esteem, as well as loving for my body again. I am grateful for modern medicine and the gift of life.
Mon non: Katica. L’année 2019. J'étais diagnostiquer cancer du sein. Etre une femme c'est très douloureuse. J' étais soumettre à une opération Chirurgicale dans mon sein. L'extime de moi - même c'étais dévaster. Avant la nouvelle du cancer, j'étais très forte, ferme et pleine d'énergie, en regardant dans le miroir je perdre la satisfaction d'etre fière.
Mais Je remercie DIEU pour me faire vivre encore et pour le Chirurgie plastique dans mon sein qui me donne la fierté d' être mutuellement attachés par l' affection d'amour de mon corps. Je suis très reconnaissante pour reconstruction du Moderne Medecine et le cadeau de vivre.
Before – I felt like I was going to die.
But now, after – look at me – everything I say,
I am just laughing. I am just happy.
Kane no, metee nka sԑ merebewu.
Nanso seisei deԑ, ԑno akyi - hwԑ me- nea mԑka biara,
Na mereserew. M’ani agye kԑkԑ.
My first day home from having a double mastectomy, I took a long walk. Laying down and resting wasn't on my mind. I felt so many emotions, and felt that I was robbed of so many things. My breasts, most importantly. Taking the walk was my way of moving forward instead of sitting around waiting. I wanted immediate change. I couldn't wait to get my expanders and eventually my "perky" new breasts my breast surgeon suggested I would have. I soon learned that achieving this would be a struggle, and I realized that I had to be patient. My implants eventually gave me a chest again, but they weren't the perky breasts I had hoped for. More like round, hard disfigured balls sitting on my chest.
Fast forward to two years later, I was planning on having a revision but was stopped dead in my tracks. What was thought to be a pimple on my chest, was not. It was cancer again, or cancer that never left. I was told I was now Stage IV. I needed to remove more tissue from my chest despite me already having a mastectomy. I would have radiation following chemotherapy. I remember not recognizing my own cries, sounding almost animal-like and feeling immeasurable grief and anger. I again took a long walk, cried my eyes out and felt hopeless.
I researched and learned about DIEP flap surgery which was my chance to have breasts again. What an amazing and complicated surgery which could make breasts out of my own tissue. One body part I would not miss, would be my belly! My belly had been a part of my body I always tried to hide. I hated looking at it and even touching it. Even when I exercised frequently, it was clear I would never wear a bikini again. After my diagnosis, the weight piled on, and my saggy belly became more of an eyesore.
After aggressive treatment, I didn't wait long. This was my chance to proceed with the DIEP flap reconstruction surgery, while I was in remission. My mom and others were concerned that the DIEP flap reconstructive surgery was risky. But I didn't care, because I would have breasts again.
The day of my surgery I felt relaxed. I closed my eyes and envisioned myself laying on a tropical beach, with a drink in my hand, wearing a bikini with my new breasts and flat tummy. I could say goodbye to high neck clothing and goodbye to my close friend, my silicone prosthesis. Although I knew this surgery would create new scars, it didn't seem to matter. When they rolled me down the corridor to the operating room, I felt like a celebrity! The hospital staff showered me with well wishes, winks, and compliments for my glittery eyeshadow and bright lipstick.
This was a new beginning for me. Maybe it was my chance... my chance to really sparkle, shine and survive!
Every decision that led me to this moment, was made with you in my heart and mind.
At the age of 22, I learned I inherited the BRCA2 genetic mutation. From that moment, I knew I would take all preventative measures possible to give my future family the best chance of having a healthy mother, one who did everything she could to be there for her children, despite her genetic predisposition.
Here I am today, 30 years old, 6 months post-op following a bilateral mastectomy, and nearly 3 months pregnant with you - my third child.
My hope for you is that you always take pride in who you are, have confidence in your skin, and know you are special, no matter what scars you may develop along the way.
Beauty and light come from within and I will spend my life instilling positive values in you, so you too feel empowered to take control of your future.
I love you always,
I got this!!!
That was the first thing that came to my mind when I was told I had breast cancer. Fear wasn’t gonna set in... it wasn’t allowed. I had my angels with me, and it wasn’t my young boys or my husband who was sick... it was me, and I got this!!
Strange as it was, I knew what was going to happen when I had my routine mammo and sono. I knew that it was going to be cancer and it was going to be early enough that I could do something about it. It would be a long bumpy road but I’d be OK. I’d survive and be able to talk about it.
That something was drastic in the sense of a double mastectomy with implants and lymph node testing. More scars to add to my existing scars from all my surgeries from the injuries that I got while on the job.
See, I was a police officer... NYPD and then in Suffolk County. I left NYPD for the Suffolk County police academy in 2002 right after 9/11. Yes, I was working that day right over the Brooklyn Bridge... I thought I was afraid that day, but then they told me that I was going over to ground zero. There I was in lower Manhattan for two days with no radio communication and a dead cell phone covered in ash which to me was human remains with asbestos mixed in. A smell that still haunts me to this day. I was in a city I didn’t recognize but swore to protect, and I did everything I could to bring closure to victims’ families not knowing that it could possibly cost me my life one day.
That day finally did catch up with me... 19 years later. Knowing what I know now I’d still do it all over again. My procedures happened so quickly I didn’t have time to process what was actually happening. I had a young cousin who passed away from breast cancer, leaving behind a newborn baby girl. I heard of people that had family members that had it, and horror stories that it comes back, they don’t always get it all out, or how sick you get when you are on chemo. The more I thought about it, the more fear was setting in but I’m stronger than that.
I got through and saw way too much and I have way too much to offer and to do on this earth still, and it’s not gonna get me. Surgery was the only option, not radiation and certainly not medication. I was definitely making the best decision for ME.
I met the most amazing doctors who got me through one of the most difficult times in my life. The compassion and care they have for their patients is indescribable. From my breast surgeon to my plastic surgeon to my physical therapist. A truly remarkable team that when I had my moments of weakness and shed tears, they had a way of showing me they actually cared and brought me back up. They got to know the real Christine, not just patient Christine. Of course, I have my family and my besties and friends who make up the best support team ever...for without them I truly could’ve easily crumbled at times but there was something that my doctors had. It was a certain understanding, and assurance that only they knew.
COVID of course made things even more difficult for me throughout this. Not being able to give hugs to or get from my doctors when I could’ve really used one. Being at my appointments alone for the most part. But the worst was when my husband, my best friend, the love of my life, dropped me off at the ER entrance of the hospital and couldn’t walk me inlet alone be there when I woke up in recovery when I had my double mastectomy - now that killed me. I walked in a sobbing mess it was just me and the security guard. I kept ruining face masks from all my tears I shed, and he tried to make me laugh because I kept putting them on backwards.
When I had my next procedure he remembered me from that first encounter. He was so glad that I was OK and just coming in for reconstruction. Being alone and being afraid was a huge challenge for me. It was something different. It was a challenge I have never faced before. This wasn’t me walking into a crime scene. It wasn’t I’m looking for a perpetrator who committed a heinous crime. It was me facing a surgery that was going to keep me alive. Keep me here for my children, my husband, and my family and friends... and you know what? I got this!! I did have it. I found a strength I didn’t know existed and I survived.
I was 20 years old when I had my daughter. After that my breasts were never the same. I felt like they looked like the breasts of a 90-year-old woman. I was always self-conscious of how I looked naked. Buying clothes was never fun for me anymore. I couldn't wear fun shirts like halter tops or off the shoulder. I started sleeping in a bra every night to help secure my breasts. I always felt uncomfortable at doctor exams.
Now I feel like a sexy woman again. I feel free. I go without a bra, I'm comfortable in my own skin I stare at myself in the mirror and love what I see. I feel beautiful again.
It is never a phone call I have ever wanted to hear.
"Your results are in; you have been diagnosed with breast cancer."
That is where my life journey has taken me and has taught me what I had to do. Life has taught me that what was meant to kill you, can at times just build you. Surely, I am the living proof of that.
The importance of my support team became clear to me, and they would make my recovery journey the best possible. My husband Andrew and my forever doctors and surgeons were everything to me. They were literally my earth angels. The unknown can be paralyzing. But knowing that I was accompanied by the most compassionate team, my path was easier to travel. I completely embrace my situation, and with my strong faith in God my journey was made easier.
I have accomplished a lot after my reconstruction. My smile is bigger, my attitude is greater. My confidence is above and beyond. My scars will always be a reminder to me of my dedication to recovery, and of the artistry behind the surgery that has made me who I am today. They remind me that behind my story there is joy, love, happiness, and a second chance.
Ih a neva ah fone call mi hab evah waah tuh hear.
"Your results a eena Yuh ave bin diagnosed wid breast cancer. "
Dat a weh fi mi life journey hav tek mi an hav taught mi wahmi did hav tuh duh. Life hav taught mi dat wah did mean tuh kill yuh can attimes jus build yuh. Surely, mia di dehliv proof ah dat.
Di importance ah fi mi support team became clear tuh mi Andem wud mek fi mi recovery journey di bess possible. Fi mi usband Andrew an fi mi fi eva doctors an surgeons did everyting tuh mi. Dem did literally fi mi earth angels. Di unknown can bi paralyzing. Buh knowing dat mi did ah accompanied by di most compassionate team Fi mi path did easier tuh travel. Mi completely embrace fi mi situation An wid fi mi chrang faith eena jahfi mi journey did mek easier.
Mi hab accomplished wul heap afta fi mi reconstruction. Fi mi skin teeth a bigga Fi mi attitude a greater. Fi mi confidence a buv an beyond. Fi mi scars will eva deh bi ah reminder tuh mi ah fi mi dedication tuh recovery, an addiartistry backa di surgery dat hav mek mi ahuu mia todeh. Dem remind mi dat backa fi mi story deh a joy Luv happiness An ah second bly.
I have never been afraid to walk alone. My life’s journey has taught me that you just have to do what you have to do. Go forth boldly and keep your head together. Fortunately, life has also given me the most amazing people to make sure when I can’t - I don’t have to walk alone at all.
It became clear to me a long time ago that humor, seeing the irony of a situation, and being able to appropriately make light in a funny way, is a gift. One that I like to give, but one that I really appreciate receiving. Laughter is medicine in its own right. So to be able to connect with my surgeon in that way added a level of comfort that is precious. I understand that when faced with certain circumstances there is very little to find amusing. But when Dr. Bank, would casually toss out that one liner or some absurd comparison, the shot of endorphins I would receive from laughing proved that laughter really is the best medicine.
There are parts of this journey that you must walk alone. The unknown can be paralyzing. But knowing that I was accompanied by the most compassionate and supportive team made the path easier to navigate. The unknown became more familiar and the road more manageable.
Having them guide me meant it was easier to find something to laugh about and to feel real relief. This last part of this journey will be for me to navigate. I have been given direction and support. My mind is clear because I had a doctor who cares for my soul as well as my body and his confident leadership has seen me to the other side. With the fear, uncertainty, and pain behind me I am free to learn the new me with clarity. I am left feeling such profound gratitude. I am humbled by the hospital and doctor office staff who have cared for me. Their service is invaluable and their compassion is remarkable. I am filled with admiration and respect for their exceptional human skills. I am grateful for the surgical precision and his artistic eye. But if I could only thank him for one thing it would be, thank you for making me laugh.
When I was diagnosed with BRCA2, they said I had options. But I did not feel that way. My diagnosis meant an extremely high percentage for developing breast cancer. That was not something I wanted to go through (or put my family through). A double mastectomy was my only option. It was logical and the science supported the decision. But it still sucked. I did not want to do it. I would have scars; I would not be "me". Would my husband still look at me the same way?
Now, almost two years after my surgery, I am proud of the decision that I initially did not feel was mine. I was proactive. I got this before it could get me. Is my body the same? No. But who cares. I am beautiful, I am strong, and I will be here and healthy for the people that I love.
“The Beauty of the Before and After”
Looking at these photos of me, I think about the beginning of my journey when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt scared, angry, sad and confused, wondering why me? After getting over the first phase of being diagnosed and learning to accept it, I became worried for my future health. Worried about what’s going to happen to me and will I survive this.
The second phase was deciding what to do next. Then I was referred to a breast surgeon to discuss my options for surgery, and her recommendations. We decided my best option would be to have a mastectomy with reconstruction. So I was referred to a breast reconstructive surgeon to discuss in detail the procedure required to have breast reconstructive surgery. When I left her office I was very nervous about everything because it all sounded so invasive.
Phase three - when I met the plastic surgeon in his office he examined me and thoroughly explained the details of my reconstructive surgery. Although I felt overwhelmed with everything, he gave me a feeling of ease and comfort. I was definitely worried and concerned about the outcome because as a woman I wanted my breast to be perfect. Weeks later, I had the mastectomy with the DIEP procedure which consists of removing the fat from my abdomen and using it to make my new breast. I felt really secure with this procedure because it was a way to make my breast feel and look more normal and natural.
Today, I look at these photos of myself in the different stages of my journey, and I have to say I am very happy and satisfied with the results of my breast reconstruction. My team has done outstanding work on me, and because of that, my life has change dramatically since the beginning of my journey.
I feel more confident and beautiful inside and out! Thanks for helping me return to my life as a woman, mother and wife!
Forty and (not so) fabulous… was not the case for me.
“You have breast cancer.”
These words still resonate in my mind. Mastectomy, chemo, radiation. Lost year of tears - treatment, doctors, three children were my light and a reason to fight, hope, pray, wish to see them grow.
Two years later… “you have breast cancer in the other breast”… Another mastectomy. Anger, tears. The light… no chemo, no radiation. But ten years of medication.
Twenty years later… implant recall, more surgery… fears, tears, anxiety.
Then the light… compassionate, kind, patient, caring doctors. Blessed.
“Your scars are what you've been through in your life - never be ashamed of them. They are your battle scars.”
Be proud of them. Behind every scar there is an untold story of survival.
Quaranta favolosi (non molto) anni... non era il mio caso.
"Hai il cancro al seno".
Queste parole mi risuonano ancora nella mente. Mastectomia, chemio, radiazioni. Un anno perso di lacrime. Cure, medici e tre bambini erano la mia luce e un motivo per combattere, sperare, pregare, desiderare di vederli crescere.
Due anni dopo... "hai un cancro al seno nell'altro seno"... Un'altra mastectomia. Rabbia, lacrime. La luce... niente chemio, niente radiazioni. Ma dieci anni di farmaci.
Vent'anni dopo... richiamo dell'impianto, altra operazione... paure, lacrime, ansia.
Poi la luce... medici compassionevoli, gentili, pazienti, premurosi. Benedetti.
"Le tue cicatrici sono ciò che hai passato nella tua vita: non vergognartene mai. Sono le tue cicatrici di battaglia".
Sii orgogliosa di loro. Dietro ogni cicatrice c'è una storia non raccontata di sopravvivenza.
My dreams of becoming a mom came true when my daughter Arabella was born on June 8, 2018.
Our happiness was cut short when I was diagnosed with breast cancer one month later.
Arabella was five months old when I had my bilateral mastectomy and nine months old when I had reconstruction with implants. At times I got overwhelmed with my emotions of being a new mom and dealing with my pain as a result of my surgeries.
However, happiness was right around the corner, my husband and I found out we were expecting our second baby. Our son Joshua was born on March 6, 2020.
After my son was born my doctor and I figured out we did not remove all the breast tissue in my first surgery. Joshua was three months old and I was back in surgery, this time the plan was to remove my implants, get the remaining breast tissue out, and use my belly fat to reconstruct my breasts.
I wanted nothing in life but to have a baby. I was blessed with two amazing babies.
I felt cheated with breast cancer I did not get a chance to enjoy my babies the way I had always planed. I was in pain and discomfort from the multiple surgeries I had.
A month after my last surgery I felt amazing. I could not believe it. I had absolutely no pain or discomfort which I had for the past two years since my first surgery.
I am finally able to enjoy my two babies.
“You have breast cancer”. Most people remember the exact moment when they learned their diagnosis. I have no recollection of it at all. I do remember telling my two teenaged daughters. They were 15 and 16 at the time and much of my focus was on minimizing the negative effect this would have on them.
I was scared, of course. I was unsure of how long I’d had it and if it had spread to my lymph nodes. My older sister had gone through it two years earlier, so I knew a little about what to expect. Still, I think it’s nearly impossible to understand what the experience of recovering from breast cancer is like unless you or a loved one has gone through it.
Before the after is a scary time of unknowns and new experiences. I thought I’d have my surgery, go through chemo and then go back to my life as I knew it. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened for me. I had some negative side effects from chemo that prevented me from working at the job I loved any longer.
Before the after, I couldn’t imagine how my life would change. It is hard to admit, even to myself, that my breasts were such a large part of my identity. As a woman, a sexual and sensual being, the loss of my breasts was devastating. The OR nurses told me that my first words out of surgery were, “Do I still have boobs?” I had opted for reconstruction at the same time as my double mastectomy, so the answer was yes. But the loss of My breasts continues to be a challenge for me.
Before the after, I couldn’t imagine not working. I had worked since I was 16 and I really wasn’t ready to retire. But when I tried to show houses as a Realtor, I had difficulty walking and often lost my balance.
Before the after is a time of the unknown. It helped a lot to have the doctors who were treating me. I was afraid of the cancer, but I had complete confidence in my medical team.
Not all of us survive breast cancer. My sister didn’t. She passed away after a long, hard battle. Even with all the advances that science has made, we don’t know which category we’ll fall into. There is no rhyme or reason – only odds. Chances are likely or unlikely.
Before the after, some foreign cells are growing in our bodies, determining our futures, despite our best efforts. All we can do is try hard. Fight hard. Because our lives depend on it.
In the meantime, hold your loved ones closer. Say everything that needs to be said. Take one day at a time and count your blessings.
I receive a diagnosis
I have multiple tests
I face major surgery with two surgeons
I walk into an O.R. not knowing what I will look like afterwards
After the battle, the war begins!
Stitches, drains, physical therapy, radiation, treatment and a long road ahead!
One year later
I have never looked better!!!!
I look sexy.
I feel sexy.
I AM sexy!
Thanks to my team,
I am beautiful!!
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer two months after being asked to marry my soulmate.
Never have I thought my life would change in so many ways. So many questions I had to answer myself.
Would I look normal to my husband?
How am I going to arrange a wedding enduring chemo and surgeries?
Am I going to be cured?
Did I have the strength to do it all, as I did before breast cancer?
I was experiencing so many emotions.
I totally amazed myself, I was stronger than ever!!!
Taking one step at a time, positive thinking and of course having the most wonderful individuals that loved me.
Yes, I arranged the most beautiful wedding which up to now my family talks about.
Cancer is a scary word but it does not have to break you apart. My scars are a symbol of a warrior and, of course, my husband loves them.
I beat it and I am ok, better than ok, and it does not define me.
My journey continues with new bumps along my way, but I feel strong.
How I look shouldn’t matter but it does and I embrace looking and feeling whole. Would I do it all again, yes.
I smile because I overcame it and my fears and apprehension and pain and discomfort.
I have a very beautiful chestnut tree, that was compromised by SuperStorm Sandy. Roots were immersed in salt water and this unique and outstanding tree has struggled and yet looks to have overcome and come through a bit different but stronger and a survivor nonetheless.
I relate to this tree, that quietly stands tall day in and out, never complaining, silently persevering.
It’s funny how when it all took place, I was a warrior in getting it done, and then after, sort of let it hit me - what just happened?
Now I think it’s not a fading memory, but it is the past and as I look forward for new adventures and experiences, I think it’s ok, it’s better than ok. No one really knows except me, my family and friends but to the outside world and inside my world, I am a strong and beautiful person.
I am so very glad that I rebuilt after remediating that big C. It has been nothing short of healing and ability to move forward - the only direction I am interested in going.
The sad look in his eyes made my heart race
An overwhelming heat fused through my entire body
Then exploded into a million pieces became numb
My puzzle unraveled
One second, one word
life changes forever.
Sharp numbness shattered my heart, my soul, weak, lacking control
Gravity takes over
My body fell limp.
Drowning in rolling tears, gasping for air uncontrollable fear has taken over
Why? Why me?
The most normal question that never has answer.
All unknown now
Travel through every thought, filters into pieces that have to be mended.
Reality is suddenly real.
Facing fears; finding inner strength.
Find the way to gather, take what is yours; put the puzzle back together.
Never leaving a piece behind.
Trying to be strong
Not showing tears of fear and exhaustion
The rise begins with the love and support from every corner
Listening and taking little pieces
Slowly putting it all back together.
Strength from within, for your family. For YOU.
One piece at a time.
Filling with positive.
is to communicate. Creating images is about making choices. Beginning with the choice of subject, of capture tool, of light, it goes on and on until the most important one is made: the crop. The crop is the thin space between the seen and unseen; it is in essence the storyteller’s editor. The choice made in this brilliant body of work by the renowned surgeon Dr. Jonathan Bank is to exhibit the interior triumph instead of the exterior result of surgery. The crop is used here as an emotional tool rather than a traditional compositional aesthetic tool. A physician can help us understand the procedural steps of a medical intervention, but we need an artist to describe the why, and rarely do we see both abilities in one person. These images testify to a grace and emotional intelligence that is so critical in the profession.
Often the most personal and challenging trials that we experience with our bodies are not shared publicly; they are shrouded in privacy and rarely given the platform to be seen through an empathic lens. By creating this opening, this crack to an otherwise impermeable space, profound meaning can be drawn for all. In the case of Dr. Bank’s work, the exhale is made visible in the final moment of a long ordeal. These images tell affirmative stories of survival that serve as mirrors onto which others can project their own experience and can potentially make a huge difference in the lives of others.
These images are captured at the very last stop on an arduous road towards health, the moment when one actually realizes they’ve arrived after a grueling journey. The presence that is so clearly felt when looking at the portraits is a testament to the space that the image maker holds for the subject, not just in the moments surrounding the capture, but the entirety of the process -- a process that governs the domain of self, a self in crisis. The vulnerability is of course present, but it is met with a sense of triumph. The emotional thread that connects this body of work is that of personal resilience and is supported by a unifying formal element of the warm grey wall that creates a sense of the collective community. All of these women share this singular space, and although they occupy the room at different times, they are connected by a different kind of space, one that is devoid of time.
The moments “in between” are often the most interesting spaces to explore in photographs. These moments make clear that nothing is static: the body, the feeling, the journey. No feeling is final. And this is ultimately why these images are about the most profound theme of all, hope.
New York City, May 30th, 2021