A few times per year, we are asked this question:
“Why do you do what you do?”
The truth is, this project was never meant to be a long-term deal. It began as a simple, photographic exploration born of conversations I’d had with my mother, as she went through her diagnosis and surgery. Those first few photographs were incredibly personal. And they were incredibly universal. So we took more. We talked to people who’d walked this road. We listened a lot. And we learned something very important.
Breast Cancer Awareness is not a month. In our culture, we like our messages easy. We compartmentalize. We watch as newscasters lead with ten-second summaries of major world events, and end with thirty-second feel-good pieces involving comical viral YouTube videos. We don’t want to be aware, really. It’s scary, and it hurts.
Real awareness means understanding, and understanding is a decision. If you really want to know what’s going on with anyone–or anything–you have to stop, and absorb, and listen (please listen), and respond. It seems so common sense, but those behaviors are in direct opposition to our quick-decision marketing culture.
I’ve said it before in interviews and on our podcast, but breast cancer amplifies the experience of being a person–and particularly of being a woman–in our culture. We are expected to be healthy, and perfectly sound of body and mind. We are expected to hold it together. We are expected to believe that our bodies define our femininity (or masculinity). We are medicalized and sexualized and idealized and minimized. We are not told that it’s okay to fall apart, sometimes. We are not told that we’re greater than the sum of our parts. We are not given the message that our bodies are only the tiniest part of our human experience, and the most fallible. We are not reminded that this is our greatest strength.
Real awareness is huge. Breast cancer awareness isn’t about pink stuff. We know people get cancer. But until it touches our lives personally, we don’t see the human part of that story. We need to ask ourselves what happens in the wake of that diagnosis: What happens to relationships? To mental health? To future plans? What does that all mean?
Real awareness is about people, and anytime we open ourselves to understanding the complexity and beauty of the people around us, we get to learn about ourselves.
This project teaches me so, so much. Somehow, we managed to stumble upon a project that asks people to take a minute to stop and think. And somehow, that’s healing to so many people.
See that woman in the photograph? She shared one of the scariest and most vulnerable times in her life with us. How gutsy is that? And then, nearly a year later, she came back for the “after” pic. You can see it tonight. She’s got a scar, it’s true, but she’s also got life in her eyes that will sparkle right into your heart. It’s beautiful.
And I hope that when you see it, you’ll find an awareness of your beautiful, strong self, with all of your sparkles and scars. That’s why we do what we do.