When I was 33, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and discovered that I had the BRCA-1 gene. It was a time of transition for me. I was in the process of moving, getting married, and blending our two smaller families. My husband and I dreamed of having a child together, and weren’t sure we would be able to. I poured over books and internet forums, longing to find stories of those who were able to have children after cancer, especially if they were able to breastfeed. I found very few. I remember walking on the beach and affirming that if I managed to succeed, I would share my story in the hopes of making a difference to others weighing these uncertainties and feeling alone.
We were blessed with a baby girl, and I was able to breastfeed her with my remaining breast. When I was about to wean her and have a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce my risk of recurrence, I sought a means of preserving these memories. I hired photographer, Miana Jun, to take photos of my daughter and I before losing my breast. She and I began collaborating onThe Breast and the Sea project shortly thereafter.
We offer workshops for breast cancer survivors, previvors, and patients, with a focus on the inner healing process. I facilitate the workshops and Miana takes portraits of participants as we move together, scars bared, in the sea. It is a deeply meaningful experience to see and be seen, to hear and be heard, to support and be supported. It brings me tremendous joy to be able to share tools that carried me through my greatest challenges, and to see others benefitting from them as well.
When I went through breast cancer in 2009, nearly all of the images of survivor scars that I was able to find were very clinical. I desperately needed to see empowered human beings baring their scars. I needed the hope that came from seeing others thriving would have provided. I sensed that the ability to see different surgical outcomes would have helped me make more educated decisions and not feel so alone.
The Breast and the Sea has helped to address this need. Miana’s photos are striking and show a wide range of emotions and experiences, capturing the themes of resilience and authentic beauty, as participants interact with one another and the water. Our project is helping to normalize our changed, post-surgery bodies. We invite others to reclaim a sense of wholeness and embrace themselves exactly as they are.
I have interviewed participants from diverse backgrounds around the world about their experiences with breast cancer. We are working towards a book. The Breast and the Seais a growing community that welcomes all genders, sizes, shapes, colors, and nationalities.
Feeling empowered is what makes me feel gorgeous. I feel most alive and beautiful when I am in nature, focused in the moment on the sounds and sights around me. I feel most energized and inspired when I am doing my work: connecting with others, helping them to recognize their empowered selves and holding up the mirror to help them see how strong and beautiful they truly are.
For more information, please visit www.thebreastandthesea.com