Breast cancer, Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain

The Picture of Health

Featured Photo: Nathaniel T. Schultz Photography, Minneapolis.

 

Below is the picture I took the day after mammograms, ultrasounds and a biopsy. It is also the ‘before’ picture; before the official breast cancer pathology report and more than a year of treatments.

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It is my first ‘before’ picture. Before the official breast cancer pathology report came back, before having chemotherapy, before the bilateral mastectomy, before weeks of radiation, and before I would have a year of immunotherapy treatment. Before basically living at the clinic and knowing the names of so many people taking care of me the best they could. I knew that I would end up taking pictures along the cancer treatment road. I knew I was not going to ever be the same, physically or mentally.

Looking through my Facebook feed one day, I came across one of the photographers I had been “following”. His name is Nate Schultz. My daughter had previously modeled for him and I had been following his work since; beautiful, original artistic work. Nearing the end of my cancer treatment days, he posted a black and white photographic composition of his which I really found unique and particularly intriguing. It was an artistic nude photo of a subject that looked to be young and seemingly healthy, which is beautiful in and of itself. The photograph is burned in my mind. It got me thinking more about the human body and the appreciation for the bodies of different ages, not just the coveted beautiful bodies of childbearing-aged women. I tried to google pictures of older nude models and candid nudes of people from around the world, National Geographic type pictures. I ended up frustrated with how little my searches had turned up. Maybe I wasn’t searching enough?

Still, I continue to hold that one particular photo of Nate’s in my mind. Of course I “liked” the photo on his Facebook page. (If you would like to see it, it is on the Facebook page of Nathanial T. Schultz Photography, the February 9, 2018 post.) I made this comment on that post:

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By this time, I had over a year of cancer treatment under my belt, a year lacking exercise, a year of personal growth and reform. My body transformed. And I was challenging both myself and Nate to embrace the change. To my delight and surprise, he extended an invitation with open arms. We would meet. We would create.

For real! I felt humbled, respected and impressed for the chance to have a subject like me be an example for others to see, as well as a reflection for me to see. I was upfront that I am no model, and I couldn’t pay him, which Nate was fine with. He was presenting it as a gift. He wanted me to be myself. I found it to be so accepting, comforting, and flattering. It was cause to trust him as an artist and a friend. Life hands us losses and hands us new joyful gifts. Opportunity is handed to you to do with it what you decide. Nate decided to take his talent and love for photography and make an opportunity to live with passion and encourage others’ passions.

We scheduled to meet up on a March winter’s day, the day before spring was to start. I drove the mini van up to the studio through the overcast 30+ degree, typical winter day to Minneapolis with a migraine hangover on board,  and a dragging fatigue. Inside, though, the energy climbed. Excitement and pride rose in anticipation of the new meeting and the opportunity to share my truth through new art. . I entered the old and worn building that has been dedicated to creativity and ascended the stairwell.

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Coincidentally, it was the last day before my final breast cancer treatment. Nate and I met with a hug, then shared stories about cancer: his loss of many loved ones, my cancer-free pathology report and how the cancer has changed me and my loved ones.

Like I said, I am no model and I feel even less so since my body’s immune system was taxed, my muscle strength deconditioned, my energy level sunk, my chest became a surgeon’s project, I gained more than 25 pounds and my hair is growing in curly from the chemotherapy. It is an awkward duckling transformation from what I had gotten used to being.

It is spectacular how gracefully a human body can fight and how much others’ grace helps it to heal. How the human spirit lives!

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Nathaniel T. Schultz Photography

This picture is the new ‘before’: the kickoff to life after cancer.

Within one hour, Nate and I met face to face, shared vulnerable stories, made a snapshot of a story and, with a simple connection, he tricked an unexpected, spontaneous laugh out of me!

Life will expose you. It will make you laugh. Life, it’s chronic.

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Our see-you-later selfie.

Breast cancer, Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain

Naked Thoughts After a Mastectomy

A mastectomy made me want to take my clothes off. Why?

I sent to a comment to a photographer:  If you ever want to take some pictures of a breastless chest and scars, and a body that has atrophied, hit me up. 🤔 Seriously. 50 year old bodies still have life in them. 😁

The photographer’s response: I cannot tell you how much of an honor that would be. Just having the opportunity to meet you would be amazing. I’m for real. You and (your daughter) should come to the studio.

I did not expect such an invitation. His work was filled with younger people and professional models. You see, the photographer had become a ‘friend’ of mine on Facebook recently because my adult daughter is a model. She and her father are very photogenic. The photographer purposefully reached out to me to let me know what a professional pleasure it was to work with someone of her personality, abilities and professionalism. He couldn’t say enough kind words about her. As a mom, it is a high feeling to have strangers go out of their way to say how much they respect and appreciate my daughter as an admirable human being.

I liked his approach, so I kept following his work. Creativity. Expression. Humanity. However, I had not seen a subject of his work that had been middle-aged or older, like me. Definitely not a woman with a flat chest.

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‘Practicing’ to be photographed.

The idea of being nude in front of a camera made me absolutely cringe before breast cancer, when I still had breasts. Back in college, I briefly contemplated posing nude for an art class in college for some extra bucks, but when I imagined how much I would shiver and be unable to sit still in a cold Wisconsin classroom the idea quickly came and went. Years later, after I became ill with migraines, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, I allowed myself to feel increasingly resentful toward my body.

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Full disclosure: I am 48, not 50; not that it ought to matter…

Now that I have undergone chemotherapy, had a bilateral mastectomy, and radiation treatment and immunotherapy for breast cancer, I am no longer ashamed of my “chest region”. Now I plan to visit Minneapolis, Minnesota for a two hour session with a photographer to take nude, artistic photos to show the vulnerability and strength of my body and myself. Living up to the stereotype of being bipolar, I have always been possessed by the raw emotion that nature and art bring out of me. Art is an emotional and intellectual science. I am excited to find out this photographer’s vision.

Most nude pictures, drawn or photographed, are predominantly of young, toned and ultimately attractive people. I want to see people of all ages and backgrounds and give respect to the containers we carry our souls in. Via Facebook, I challenged the photographer to use me, a 48 year old woman, deconditioned from a year of cancer therapy and a double mastectomy, as an instrument in his photography. I had thought the chances would be slim, but that he may take the bait. He happily did so. Here’s hoping he doesn’t regret it.  Really all I have to lose is but a tank of gas.

Is it more or less acceptable for someone who has undergone a bilateral mastectomy to be shown nude? If I now went outside topless, would it still be indecent? Offensive? I am hoping to gain some insight from this upcoming experience. I am hoping to learn to be inspired by and accepting of my body for the way it’s made. I am working on it.

Life, it’s chronic.