the other day someone contacted me to say that he has a friend recently diagnosed with breast cancer who would be interested in hearing more about our project, seeing some of the photographs and meeting us. and would it be okay if he gave her my email?
and this answer is the same, without pause, to *any* of you, whether i know you or not – YES.
right after the opening exhibit and panel discussion we held on october 1st, kate and i sat down with a branding expert, who asked us both difficult and easy questions about the direction of the project, our immediate plans, and our long term plans. when asked what our overarching, long term, biggest picture goal was – kate said:
“breast cancer runs in my family. if any of my three daughters are faced with the diagnosis, i want them to feel confident and comfortable making decisions about their treatment based on their survival and not their appearance. if i can help *anyone’s* daughter make a decision from that place, this will have all been worth it.”
i didn’t set out to write a what-we-are-thankful-as-an-organization blog post, but the timing of what i am thankful for in regard to this project is impossible to ignore. i am deeply, humbly thankful for the honor and the privilege of being sought out as a resource for a newly diagnosed woman. if there is anything at all i can do to help her in the struggles that she will inevitably face – by showing her photographs that we have taken in the project, or introducing her to the amazing women we have met and helping her build a network, or just having coffee with her and listening to her and being there – i will do it.
and i am SO thankful to be in the position of being able to do that for someone.
last month salon owner Jon Clifford of Accolades Salon/Spa invited the women who have participated in some of our shoots to come in for a day of pampering and dress ups. later that night they hit the stage at a hair show to represent his salon and our project, and to celebrate their beauty and strength.
the ladies got two standing ovations and absolutely lit up the stage. head over to our facebook page to see the photos, and while there please give us some Like.
in other news, we want to give you a head’s up that next week we will show you some exclusive photos and information from our Oct 1st exhibit for those of you who weren’t able to make it that night, or who were there but didn’t have access to it via QR readers, or who just want to see it again! we will take those pages live for a week, and then take them back down again, so watch for it.
thanks, as always, for your support!
it really does seem that asking people to look at the beauty of physical scars helps them to see the value of, and bring to the surface, their emotional scars. i believe that when you bring them to the surface, they are easier to deal with–whether you “deal with” them by fixing them, understanding them better, or merely learning to accept them.
there are so many ways to heal.
just a couple of months after launching this website and beginning this project, a friend of ours was diagnosed with breast cancer. i told her about what we were doing and that we are here for her if she needed to talk. she responded that after reading the site, she felt so much less alone. in that moment i felt that we had achieved any goals we ever set out to accomplish. we had made at least *one* person feel less alone, and more understood.
in the short week since our opening exhibit and discussion that took place on oct. 1, we have been responding to a humbling amount of new messages, feedback, interest, and support for our project. as big as it felt to us in the moment, we know it was just the start of a long and wonderful journey.
we are so grateful for all those who came to the event with open hearts, compassion, honesty, and support. we have been watching as some of you have connected, and we couldn’t be happier about it. we wanted so much for the night to be not only powerful and emotional, but hopeful. not sad. honest. engaging. i feel it was all those things, and the feedback i’ve gotten since oct. 1st is that many of you feel the same. what made it so in my eyes was a convergence of intelligent and loving people who came together to create a safe space for healing to exist. people were honest with each other, open. giving. the response i’ve gotten over and over is: it was so HONEST.
i want to thank every single one of you who made it to our event, and to those who volunteered and sponsored the night – you made it what it was and we are grateful indeed.
we now have sheets and sheets of paper with new ideas for what is next, and we will keep you informed as we plan it out. for now, i just wanted to say thank you, with all my heart.
there will be so much more, and we hope you are all there with us.
hi! we’ve been handing out postcards about our celebration on october 1st and we hope you can make it – we’re organizing a great night of discussion, photography, food, drinks and music.
we are so excited to dig deeper into the stories and images of what we’ve been doing all these months, and we hope you have set aside the evening to join us.
the event will be held at 110 N. 3rd street in downtown minneapolis, next door to the 112 eatery. this is a private loft, the studio of Carter Averbeck and Trompe Decorative Finishes. you will need to check in with a door person to get in, but please know that it is open to the public with or without a paper invitation. We will be accepting donations at the door. We will accept checks, cash and credit cards (we will have a laptop and a helper to put credit card donations through online.)
The evening will start at 6 pm with viewing of the photographs, QR links to the stories and more images of the survivors we have photographed, and music by DJ Joseph Pettini. We will also be featuring a panel discussion hosted by Jeff Kamin, creator and moderator of Books and Bars. One of the panelists is Kevyn Burger, a wonderful woman who very publicly went through the discovery and treatment of breast cancer. Following the discussion there will be a brief Q & A session with Of Scars founders Kate Kunkel and elli rader, and a set of live music by Venus de Mars.
Please tell everyone you know about this event!
two days ago, after many hours of shooting for this project, i took a few minutes to sit in my kitchen and just cry.
i cried for the women who didn’t win their battle with cancer. i cried for their families. i cried with fear of the odds that i would face this in my own body. i cried out of awe and pride at the women who fought the battle and came out stronger, still fighting – because beating cancer isn’t the only thing on the agenda. they have life altering decisions to make about how to rebuild their bodies, rebuild their lives, rebuild their relationships, and fit back into the puzzle. i cried out of gratitude and absolute admiration at the grace and courage it has taken for the women we have met to come and stand in front of our cameras and not only show us their scars, but be willing to show everyone their scars.
our single goal in starting this project was simple, and we achieved it the moment we started: to start a conversation about what the scars mean and why they are beautiful, and why we should embrace them rather than hide them, worry about them, or be embarrassed by them. we achieved the goal the first day, and we continue to set new goals and try to reach new audiences with every new reader and supporter that finds us.
somewhere along the way, a new perspective clicked into view for me about how important the role of men can be in the healing process. we have talked with many women and in almost every story, there has been a man somewhere in the picture to love, support, carry, soothe, and respect her – whether it was the boyfriend of a best friend, or a father, a son, a husband. to whatever extent we do or don’t admit it, and forgive me for opening up an ages old and epic debate – men have an impact on how we feel about our own beauty and strength.
we started collecting some of the stories as told by the men who have weighed in on our project and some of the men the survivors we have worked with have introduced us to, and we will be sharing many of them to feed the conversation we have started.
the first of these is in interview form with josh “danger” berg, a friend and supporter of the project and grandson of norma hirte, a 20 year breast cancer survivor. josh was one of the men in her life who accepted and loved norma unconditionally, and found an opportunity to look her in the eye, express that acceptance and love, and put her at ease.
q: what is your grandmother’s name?
a: norma engen hirte, she had her maiden name changed to her middle name after marrying my grandfather. but everyone just called her grammy or sometimes i would indulge in calling her gram or gram cracker.
q: do you remember when your grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer? how old were you?
a: it was the summer of 1988 so i was 10 years old.
q: do you remember any specific details about that time in her life?
a: that year was her and my grandfathers’ ruby anniversary, we got a new dog named… ruby. my uncle pete, mom, brother ryan and i all lived with my grandparents at the time. she had her own very successful catering business on top of running a large household. she still always found time to help me with my english homework.
q: how close were you and your grandma? what parts of her are part of your daily life? what did you learn from her?
a: we were very close. my grandmother and i kept no secrets. having been raised in a traditional norwegian-american farmstead there were some things we didn’t talk about… but it was still known. i got my manners from my grandmother; along with wicked ballroom dancing and polka skills, a bunch of cooking techniques and her coolness under pressure.
q: was it discussed with the rest of the family, was it explained to you, or was it kept secret or quiet?
a: i don’t know if it was necessarily kept secret but it was one of those things we came to not talk about. i visited my grammy in the hospital and got to hold her hand shortly after surgery. i remember strongly the sight and smell of iodine and how it discolored her skin.
q: what kind of treatment did your grandma have, do you know, or do you remember?
a: she went through aggressive chemo treatment and a single mastectomy.
q: did your grandma survive breast cancer?
a: yes, she was a 20 year survivor when she passed away of a brain aneurism.
q: you were faced with an opportunity to express support – kind of a pivotal moment for Gram, even though you weren’t aware at the time what your reaction would mean for her – can you describe what happened?
a: my son and i had moved in with her after a life event and i had found her bra pad in with my laundry out of the dryer. i took it to her and she looked really embarrassed i had seen it. i looked her in the eye and told her she doesn’t have to be embarrassed around me about that. i got to tell her then how strong i felt she was for having survived such a difficult thing. the survival rate wasn’t very good back then and i remember how harsh her treatments were. i had always felt proud of how valiantly she fought that battle.
q: what did you think it was? did you understand what it was, or what it was for?
a: yep, i knew. i had seen it before and grammy had a catalogue of products like it i saw when getting the mail one time.
q: what do you think that moment meant to her, at the time? what was her reaction? how did it help you understand what she was going through? was she able to answer your questions openly?
a: i hope that she was able to know that i accepted what happened a long time ago and that i never thought it to be anything she should be ashamed of. it helped me understand that even though the event had happened nearly twenty years prior, her mastectomy still was a source of pain for her. we always talked openly when we discussed things like this and it was a learning and strengthening event for us. she was more comfortable speaking about her surgery around me.
q: what is your perception of how breast cancer affects women?
a: i think ultimately it comes down to who is affected. some of the survivors i know of weren’t prepared for the after effects of their surgery and it is something they feel the need to hide completely. others i know have taken ownership of what happened and they count themselves proud survivors of a battle that some aren’t able to win still.
q: what do you think about the scars of breast cancer survivors?
a: i think that everyone has scars, either internally or externally. i think that those scars help paint the portrait of your life. for instance, i have several scars from my more rough and tumble years and a few from my world famous cycling accident a few years back. when people ask me about my scars, memories come flooding back to life as though i had lived that experience yesterday. i think that there is a great power in the scars of the survivors of breast cancer. you have the ability to remember the strength you felt when you found that you defeated a very powerful opponent. i can only hope if i ever have a similar battle that i can do so with the courage and determination that my grandmother showed me.
q: how do you think your grandma would feel about the of scars project, if she were here to see it today?
a: haha, my grammy was very demure; i don’t know if she would have approved but i know she would have loved the spirit that you have. and until the day she was taken from us she supported every survivor or woman going through treatment like a rock. i think she would have secretly loved it though.
As we went into our shoot with Ann (see also the previous post about Ann and Frida the wig) we were reading through the notes in her file. We send each of the models some questions to help us understand how she feels about herself, her surgery, her process, her body. her image. One of the things we ask is for them to circle words from a list of adjectives that help describe the way they feel about themselves.
We read Ann’s list and were just beside ourselves when we found that she had done the exercise but then went one step further by writing in her own list of words.
We were reading the list in the car on the way to the shoot and as we began taking pictures, her words were echoing and inspiring us. We have a lot of pictures from that day, but one in particular grabbed my attention – even though i almost passed it over when pulling out the main images i wanted to work with. I set it aside for a few days until it occurred to me that it needed to be the backdrop for her list. Her wonderful, amazing, inspiring list.
I like the photo because you can’t tell if she is laughing or screaming – and paired with the list, it could be either. I know what she’s doing because i was there, but i’m not telling.