A Lesson Learned: Inquiries Into Healing

Despite the relatively quiet nature of our recent online presence, the growth of this project is breathtaking. In recent weeks, we’ve found support from Metro Magazine, begun the incredible process of planning our first gallery opening (it’s October 1st–save the date!), and received some tremendous kudos from some unbelievable sources. By and large, it’s been a period of overwhelming growth, and we’re as proud as ever to be working on this project.

We’ve also learned a thing or two about what we don’t know. For example, in a recent post elli wrote:

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.”

And boy, did it ever open up an ages old and epic debate. One of the people who chimed in was a reader who wrote:

I sent my friend [name omitted] your web page before I even looked at it…. We’re both lesbians, and men don’t, in fact, have any impact on how we feel about our beauty and strength. Not our brothers or fathers, not the men who want to co-opt our sexuality for their pleasure, not the men who over and over say, “You’re not even a little attracted to me?” Your statement is true only for straight and some omnisexual women. Not us. We also both are a bit taken aback that the photos seem to be decapitated, without heads and faces. Are they all like that?”

It was a comment that caused both elli and I to pause for a bit. We’d certainly never meant to exclude anyone. It was simply that no lesbian women (or bisexual or transgendered, for that matter) had come forward to share their experiences with us. We cannot tell that story until someone helps us to do that. And though we assured our reader that the images on our site aren’t the final product (in fact, some of our models requested that we not share their faces online), she wasn’t able to find common ground with our project as a “lesbian living in a heteronormative patriarchal world”.

Our reader had a point. For all the common ground that survivors share, the healing process is as unique as the individual doing the healing. I began to wonder what we didn’t know about what it means to survive breast cancer, or any trauma for that matter. And to make sure we don’t limit the answers with our own filters, we’d like to open this forum up to you. In just one minute…

In my own life, nature has always directed me toward my most profound moments of healing. As a shutterbug, I tend to capture snapshots for future reference. Here are a few of my favorite lessons:

In a lush evergreen forest, a tiny shoot grew from a long-fallen log, and I learned that we all have the power to nourish the world that will live beyond us. At that moment, I promised I would live with this truth in mind.

On a rugged Pacific beach, I stumbled upon this informal work of art. On that gray day, I remembered how delicious it is to create; to harness one’s playfulness and use it to find magic. In my heart, I  thanked the anonymous artist, and vowed to pass their gift on to others.

As the storm rolled in, my instinct was to look to the clouds, dark and churning. The man who I love gasped. “Look at the way the sunlight catches the waves.” I learned that day that even on life’s most turbulent waters, a light is always shining. But to see it, one must look.

It was just last year, staring in to the depths of the Royal Gardens at Keukenhof, that I realized I was different from most, but not alone. For the first time, I felt beautiful.

And now it’s your turn. What does healing look like to you? Who helps you to heal? Does it come from within, or do you find it around you? Post your comment, or shoot us an email. Send us photos, or drawings, or writing that illustrates your process. Who or what helps you to find who you are in your purest form?

What is your process? How have you healed?


Your Bra Could Be Famous

We need your help.

Our next photo subject, Shelley, is a fireball.

Breast cancer, to her, was a call to action. In the months and years after her diagnosis, Shelley decided that the key to healing was to help others to heal. “I believe I am a survivor for a reason,” Shelley says, “so being able to talk about my experience has really helped me to come full circle.”

To that end, Shelley has been involved in lunch-ins, cancer walks and the Pink Ribbon Mentoring Program at Mayo Clinic, where she was treated for her cancer.

One of her favorite causes is the 1 in 8 Foundation, an organization founded in honor of the late Linda Eastman McCartney, the wife of Paul McCartney and a tireless activist who succumbed to breast cancer in 1998. Committed to providing early detection for all women, the foundation inspired Shelley to embark upon a project called Bras Across Minnesota to raise money for the cause. Basically, the idea is to collect enough bras (and a small pledge with each) to stretch across the state. Similar projects have mobilized in other states, and if enough bras (and donations) are collected to stretch across the United States, enough money will have been raised to provide nearly half a million mammograms to women who could not have otherwise afforded them. It’s an amazingly ambitious project, and one that undoubtedly makes a difference.

When we began discussing the project artistically, we wanted to incorporate a visual representation of the work Shelley has done, and so we’ve decided to collect bras. Pink ones are best, but we’ll take whatever you’ve got. So, hit that lingerie drawer, and pull out the ones you no longer wear, and send them to us:

The Of Scars Project
PO Box 68172
Minneapolis, MN 55418

If you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and prefer for us to pick up your old bras, shoot us an email and we’ll arrange it with you.

Bras should be in clean condition, and you’ll get massive brownie points if you can find some cheesy pink ones for our li’l’ photographer selves. All collections must be made by Friday, July 16th, 2010. When we’re done with the photo shoot, we’ll donate the bras to Shelley.

Extra massive brownie points for making a donation to Bras Across Minnesota while you’re at it. Details for donations can be found on that Web site, or you can email us to find out more.

All emails should be sent to ofscarsproject (at) gmail (dot) com.

Just think about it. Your bra could be famous!

Frida

Recently, the Of Scars team did a photo shoot with Ann, a survivor with a fiery spirit and an obvious zest for life. Accompanying Ann on the shoot were two of her allies in the battle against cancer: her husband; and Frida, a flouncy bob-cut wig.

Named for renowned painter Frida Kahlo, Ann’s wig became a symbol of defiance throughout her cancer journey. “I was diagnosed at around the time that the movie Frida came out,” Ann explained. “I liked her strength as a woman.”

Frida’s appearance on the shoot leant a bit of levity, to be sure. But I was surprised and touched by her presence, as well. Rather than looking at breast cancer as a loss of identity, Ann chose to create for herself a new and deliberate persona. With Frida, Ann harnessed her own strength and passion, and wore it for all the world to see.

Again and again, this project makes me proud to call myself a woman.

“Call Me Warrior”

The really moving thing about this project so far has been that it moves in its own direction, on its own accord. When I put out the all-call for Haiku, I anticipated that I’d be inundated with silliness, which was okay with me. I needed a pick-me-up, and I’d selfishly decided to use this blog to create one, just for me.

There wasn’t any silliness. In fact, there was only one submission, which was surprising to me, considering that the number of visitors to our page has soared recently. But that one entry was so unbelievably well-crafted that it took my breath away. Reader Katy actually emailed this disclaimer along with her work of art:

I am not a writer.”

Come again? Of course you are.

Here’s what Katy wrote:

My first mammogram
I avoid my reflection
Goodbye double D

I miss my nipples
Nursed my babies for six years
Changed me forever

Chemotherapy
A battle ground well traveled
Call me warrior

Day number 19
Had total body hair loss
Still have my feet warts

I, Wonder Woman
My comeback is slow but sure
I wear pink with pride

Hair on my head grows
The flowers bloom in the spring
Shave my legs agai
n”

Wow, Katy. I will call you Warrior. And a writer. And just in case everyone isn’t convinced of the effect that women like Katy have on the world, let’s take a minute to see what her 7-year-old son wrote:

Mama lost her hair
Like dead autumn leaves it fell
Looks like a fighter”

There aren’t really words for that, except that it’s true. I hope today you recognize that, Survivors. You look like fighters, and it’s breathtaking. Wear it with pride.

(Enjoy your coffee, Katy!)

Levity, Coffee and Fighting Cancer with Haiku

Let’s talk about Spring. It’s a pretty celebrated season, really. Frank Sinatra sang about it. It’s got fluffy bunnies and chicks working for it. Snow melts. It starts to get warm. Pretty solid reputation for a season, if you ask me.

But today, at the Of Scars headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, spring looks like this:

Yeck.

I’ve spent my morning slowly checking tasks off of an endless to-do list, and when I got to “Write a Blog Post”, I was keenly aware of the fact that we’re often sorta serious here at Of Scars. And, well, it’s a gray day, and doing serious things on a gray day can feel very, very heavy.

I’d prepared a stirring, sweet and certainly life-changing post about the value of artistic expression in the healing process. The post would likely have won us a Webbie, catapulting our cause into the center of global consciousness and raising enough money to not only cure breast cancer, but to eradicate hunger and end all wars. It was a good concept, but as I sat down to write I realized that on such a gray day, my topic was a serious thing and therefore very, very heavy.

And so writer’s block took over, and though I forced myself to type through it, all that came out was this Haiku:

I WRITE ABOUT BREASTS

MORE THAN ROMANCE NOVELISTS

OR HUGH HEFNER’S STAFF.

Hm. Not exactly what I’d intended. But silly writing exercises sometimes open enormous floodgates, and so I sat down to try my touching, evocative piece once more.

No dice. At this point, I’d flipped on the Haiku centers of my brain, which is a dangerous thing. See, before I went freelance, my last 9 to 5 gig involved working for a man named Tom Petters, who was basically a small-scale Bernie Madoff. After the FBI raided our office, my coworkers and I coped with the stress of an imminent layoff by writing deplorable quantities of Haiku. It seems that by writing Haiku today, I’d somehow sent myself into a sort of frenetic flashback that enabled me to do nothing of productive value. At this point, I could only write Haiku. And so, instead of my earth-altering blog post, I wrote:

I HOPE THAT YOU KNOW

THAT YOU’RE WORTH MORE THAN YOUR BREASTS.

THAT’S WHY WE DO THIS.

Eh. Well-intentioned and true, but boring. Besides, the bizarre Haiku Flashback Effect had also made me feel a bit irreverent. So I kept going:

IF I LOST MY BREASTS

I WOULD USE MY PROSTHESES

TO THROW AT SALESMEN.

I have no idea where that one came from, but it certainly made the idea of future car purchases a bit more entertaining.

So it’s come to my attention that my brain has refused to write a very, very heavy post on such a dreary day, and any attempts I make to go against my brain’s intention will result in a barrage of horrible, horrible poetry. I will save the heavy post for a lighter day.

Instead, I’ll offer you the opportunity to stoop to my level, and together, we will put this arts in healing concept into practice. We will fight breast cancer with Haiku. Plus, I’ll offer you a shot at a prize for participating. Compose a Haiku about how breast cancer has touched your life or the lives of those you love. You can be funny, serious, or sweet. The point is just to express yourself.

Email your Haiku to ofscarsproject(at)gmail(dot)com, and we’ll send a $10 gift card to Caribou Coffee (a tremendous supporter of the fight against breast cancer) to one randomly selected entrant. Poems must be submitted by 10 P.M. on Thursday, May 13th, and must include the entrant’s first name and contact information (we’ll keep it private–it’s just so we can send you your treat if you win). We’ll post some of our favorites, along with the winning entry, on Friday, May 14th.

By no means do we mean to trivialize or make light of the experience of fighting breast cancer. However, study after study shows that laughter can improve quality of life as well as outcomes when it comes to cancer. Plus, a 2006 study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management indicates that artistic expression through art therapy can reduce cancer patients’ pain and anxiety levels. Cool stuff, huh?

So in honor of defying breast cancer (and gray days), let’s have some fun and express ourselves.

Go!

Happening

My 10-year-old daughter was given a fun assignment in school today: write a “Six-Word Memoir”.

The urban legend goes that Ernest Hemmingway was challenged to write his life story in six words, and he responded with “For Sale: Baby Shoes, never worn.” Hm.

Apparently, this Six-Word Memoir thing is kind of a big deal. Four years ago, SMITH Magazine Online began collecting Six-Word Memoirs, and has published several books of responses to the challenge.

Everything about it amazes me. The idea of simplifying all the complexities of human existence at any given moment down to six little words? Woah. The copywriter in me becomes breathless at the conciseness of it all.

So I put a challenge out on Facebook, as any geek would do. And people responded!

My favorite was this one, by the amazingly talented Jon Herchert: “Miracles happen everyday. You are happening.”

Just think about it for a minute. Right now, at this moment, you are happening. You are occurring, and unfolding, and being. Beginning and ending and existing and expanding. You are a verb. You are.

Happening.

And isn’t it good?

Hello, Cancer. We Laugh in Your Face.

Cancer isn’t funny, really. It might think it’s funny. Like a bully on a playground, it shows up and demands what it wants.

“GIMME YOUR LUNCH MONEY!” it says, pinning us up against a wall.

“Uh, Cancer,” we say. “We’re not in elementary school anymore. We put our lunches on our cards.”

“Ah,” Cancer answers. “Then GIMME YOUR BOOBS!”

We’re tired of this bullying behavior. It’s time for retribution, Revenge of the Nerds style. Because seriously, Cancer, you can take our boobs. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get the last laugh.

Take Sara Jane Adair, for example. Sara lived with cancer for 13 years, and by all accounts she really lived through the experience. Those who knew her described her as vivacious, feisty, strong–and always funny.

While Sara was undergoing chemotherapy, Michael Johnson, her brother and a journalist in London, began drawing funny cartoons and sending them to her. On his Web site, Johnson says, “When I realized how much my efforts lifted her spirits I found myself digging deeper into a strange world of roundish shapes.”

The resulting book, 101 Uses for an Empty Bra, is a hilarious tribute to the experience that so many women go through after their mastectomies. It’s available online at emptybra.com, along with sneak-peek images of cartoons contained within the book, and a few minutes on the site will have you laughing until you cry. The images are hysterical. Bras are converted into “Ken and Barbie Bumbershoots”, “Surgeon Stranglers”, and, my favorite, a “Cantilevered Dental Prosthesis for Extreme Underbite”. The book makes a perfect gift for anyone with a slightly devilish sense of humor and deep sensitivity to the experience of women living with cancer.

On the site, Johnson remembers his sister as a wife, mother, sister, calligrapher, and flautist. He notes that nearly 700 people attended her funeral in Denver in 2007, drawn to her by her “irrepressible” sense of humor.

Up yours, Cancer. You never stole her smile.

Thanks to Molly Johnson for submitting the story of her Auntie Sara. You can share the stories of the amazing women you know who’ve defied breast cancer by sending us their stories at ofscarsproject (at) gmail (dot) com.

On Breasts, Identity, and Refusing to Hate Ourselves

Sounds like a serious subject, right? Nah.

See, Iranian cleric Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediq isn’t just notable for his highly un-pronounceable name. He’s also an expert on God, breasts and geology. And he’s fairly convinced that our breasts, ladies, are the cause of the earthquakes that have killed tens of thousands of people in Iran in this decade alone. I’ll allow Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi (how on earth do you say that?) to elaborate in his own words:

“Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes.”

Hmm. So…our breasts are so powerful that not only do they render men completely faultless for cheating on their wives, but they can also cause earthquakes? Sweet. I wanna know what else they can do!


I mean, is it possible that my breasts are responsible for the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland? And what’s with the correlation between breasts and things that are really, really hard to say?

But seriously. Imagine the possibilities! We could use the combined power of our boobs to accomplish all sorts of dastardly things. For example, the exposed breasts of this project’s models theoretically will cause a massive spike in males who sin, angering the Almighty and almost certainly producing a large hurricane in our home city of Minneapolis. Having leveled a sizeable city with our audacious bazoombahs, we’ll return home to buy flooded real estate at tremendous discounts. It’s just one city, but it’s a huge step on the Feminist Agenda’s Step-by-Step World Takeover Manual.

Noting that Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediq–who I’m henceforth just gonna call “Ho” for short–didn’t seem to provide much scientific data for his claims, Facebook member Jennifer McCreight is organizing a massive experiment. It’s called “Boobquake“, and the plan is for female Facebook members to cause an earthquake by simultaneously wearing cleavage-revealing shirts on April 26th. Looks like your jumblies will be causing the rumblies, ladies! Way to lead those poor, sweet, helpless guys astray. The only thing that could protect the earth from untold tremors and terrors would be for those fellas to not commit adultery in response to our shirts? Will Iranian men be able to take responsibility for themselves and save the world? Tune in Monday to find out!

It’s funny! It’s hilarious, and out there, and crazy, and we’ve never heard anything like it!  Except…we have.

It’s easy for women in our culture, and in many others, to develop something of a love/hate relationship with our bodies in general and with our breasts in particular. What my buddy “Ho” was saying is just a more obvious and radical version of a sentiment that women hear all of our lives.

We’re told that our breasts have power. I’m okay with it so far, I guess, but that’s not all. We’re told that our breasts have power because they’re beautiful. Alright. I’m still in, I suppose.

Here’s where it all falls apart for me: We’re told that our breasts have power because they’re beautiful, and that this is somehow wrong. Don’t believe me? I’ve got examples.

  • Last December, police were called on a woman who was breast feeding her four-month-old infant in a Michigan Target store. Because, let’s be honest: Mary Martinez’s all-powerful, life-sustaining breasts were clearly presenting a huge moral threat to the Target security guard who called the authorities, claiming that it was illegal for her to breast feed in public. In fact, it is perfectly legal, and Target corporate policy allows for breast feeding in stores.
  • More recently, in Oxford, Alabama, Erica DeRamus had to choose between being paddled (wtf???!!!!!) or suspended when she showed up her senior prom wearing a dress that was determined to be too revealing. Because her cleavage was so powerfully beautiful that it forced an administration to condone physical punishment of children on an institutional level, right?  How’s that for logic? And how many boys were punished for dress code violations?
  • Though the policy changes faster than we can keep track of it, social-networking mega-site Facebook has at times published policies prohibiting photographs of bare breasts in any context, including photographs of breast feeding and relating to breast cancer.

The list goes on and on, ranging from thought-provoking to patently ridiculous, but one central theme remains. In our culture, it’s okay for multinational corporations and advertising agencies to sexualize our breasts to sell products. It’s okay for religious leaders in our culture to demand that we hide them–it’s not limited to Iran, and it’s not just our friend “Ho” who thinks this way. It’s acceptable in our culture for men to blame our breasts for causing them to “stray”. But it’s not okay for me to celebrate their femininity in my formalwear choices, or feed my baby with them, or show them in an honest and realistic and educational manner?

It’s really, really hard to know what to think of our breasts. If we’re careless with them, after all, it’s “slutty”. If we’re proud of them, we’re accused of immodesty from one side, while the other side says we’re more than the measure of our breasts and we shouldn’t care. If we’re shy about them, we’re “prude”. And that’s assuming that our breasts behave in a “normal” way.

So what happens when we add breast cancer to the mix?

Let’s imagine for a moment that your slutty/prude/immodest/unenlightened/all-powerful/beautiful/ugly/sinful/proud/shameless/lucrative/hidden breast finds itself affected by a disease that might kill the rest of your body. You didn’t know how to feel about it before your diagnosis. So how in the world can you be expected to make the decision that’s best for you in regard to your treatment?

And–please tell me–how on earth can a woman know how to feel about her body when those ever-confusing breasts are altered, or gone? When her “beauty” and her “power” are gone, and all that’s left is scars?

Oy, vey.

Can someone call me when it’s okay for us to regard our breasts as beautiful, without buying in to the idea that our breasts are our beauty? Will you wake me when women and our bodies are no longer held responsible for the decisions that anyone else might make? And please–please–let me know when it’s okay to embrace a woman whose views on sexuality/modesty/breast feeding/bottle feeding/working moms/stay-at-home moms/mastectomy/lumpectomy/ reconstruction/not reconstructing/minivans/SUVs/SmartCars/gas guzzlers/ men/women/weather/pop culture differ radically from my own?

Photo Source

When can women just live, without it offending someone? Will you let me know when that happens? Because I promised to keep this light, and it appears that I’m failing, and so I have to stop writing now.

I hope that this project helps us all to understand the beauty of our unique experiences, whatever they may be. I hope when you stop by our site now, or when you see our prints later, you recognize a part of yourself. I hope that it makes you proud. I hope you can see that your real beauty and your real power are in the real you, whatever form that takes.

Until then, let me know if things change. You’ll find me in my closet, trying to make a tornado with my nipple.

Happy Cancer-Free Anniversary!


Of Scars would like to take a moment to congratulate our first model, Bonnie, on three years cancer-free. Here’s a picture of her doing the first Race for the Cure after her surgery. What you can’t see is that at the time of the race, she still had drainage tubes from her mastectomy. Kick-ass woman, no?

Which brings me to a fascinating discussion I had the other night at the 318 Cafe in Excelsior, Minnesota. I was introduced to an awesome woman named Jessica, whose mother is also a survivor. Jessica told me stories about how tough her mom was during her treatments. I responded with, “Sweet. My mama went to a garage sale on the way home from her mastectomy.”

It was a funny, tender and perfect example of a sisterhood that embraces every woman on the planet: We were bonded by the strength of the women around us. It rocked.

Of Scars would love to honor the women in your life, too. We want to know about the beautiful, strong, kick-ass survivors in your world. Send pictures, stories–whatever you got–to ofscarsproject(at)gmail(dot)com. We want them all to have a moment to shine, and we want to remind ourselves that our experiences, while unique, are universal, too. And frankly, that’s magic.

Bring it!

All the Hands That Lift Us Up

We’ve been busy.

Personally, we’ve been busy. In the past three months, two out of the three of us have moved. There have been vacations, school changes for kids, and the annual Minnesota round of Sick Kid Month.

What’s amazing about this project is that, despite our tendency to step back every now and again, Of Scars moves forward on its own momentum.

We’ve received offers of legal help and fiscal sponsorship. We’ve met astounding people who are currently holding our hands as we embark on this adventure. We’re learning so. much.

Enter Kate-Madonna Hindes, a nationally sought-after speaker and writer who is, incidentally, a cervical cancer survivor and a spokesperson for the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. The existence of ladies like her makes me proud to call myself a woman, and she’s graciously offered us a number of opportunities. Among them, a guest spot on her blog–check it out!

We’re so very grateful to the women, men and organizations that have approached us with their support, so we wanted to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt THANK YOU!

And, in that spirit, we’d like to invite you to notice the people who’ve held your hand along a journey, in whatever form that may take. Find ’em today, and thank them. Guarantee you it’ll brighten your day!