Breast Cancer Patients Paying It Forward
I have met so many breast cancer patients paying it forward after they have been diagnosed with the disease. I see these pay it forward breast cancer survivors writing blogs and sharing their lived experience. Some breast cancer survivors have opened nonprofit organizations to support and assist others going through healing and recovering from the devastation this disease can have on a person. Still others have become fierce advocates. They research and explore the science of breast cancer, clinical trials or they “go to the hill” to make policy changes in breast cancer care. It is inspiring and honestly keeps me focused and stimulated to continue my own DiepCFoundation work.
I was recently the beneficiary of a breast cancer patient paying it forward from her own nonprofit organization, Nadia Strong, Beautiful Beyond Breast Cancer. Nadia’s mission is to empower women through breast cancer with her gift of photography. She invites breast cancer survivors to do a photo shoot. They are at various stages in their diagnosis from those in treatment to those, like me, who are now in the life-long survivor-ship club.
I will admit the day I went for the photo shoot I didn’t feel completely prepared. I had a lot of projects on my agenda I was working on. I just returned from recent travel for my own advocacy work. But, I rallied and fixed my hair and applied my makeup even though I was thinking about all the other things I should be doing.
I grabbed some clothes out of the closet. Nadia wanted me to bring bright, colorful clothing. It was an overcast day. I couldn’t help wondering on the way out to the resort where the photo shoot would be done, if the skies were going to dampen the effects of the photography.
My Pay It Forward Experience
When I arrived at Lowe’s Ventana Canyon Resort, Nadia was there smiling with camera in hand ready to go. What I soon realized is, she has a quick, artistic sense of beauty. We photographed most of the pictures outside. She noticed color, backdrop, nature, and the best lighting. Her lens quickly began clicking photos. She would take a quick look at the results on her very complex camera and encouragingly remark, “Oh beautiful! Look at this! You look gorgeous!” Her comments fueled my energy and put me at ease as we moved around the resort to find more beautiful backdrops to take pictures. It became fun and uplifting!
Nadia downloaded the photos and shared them on her Facebook page. I shared Nadia’s post to the Journey, a Facebook group I started and administer for those seeking information about breast reconstruction. I received so many complimentary remarks from members that quite honestly made me blush but understandably uplifted my spirits. The most poignant remark was from one survivor who obviously was in the middle of treatments. This is what she said, “Beautiful pix, I pray I feel/look that good after everything is over.”
This is how I responded to her comment, “I am going to be writing a blog about this experience with Nadia. You’ll get to see some before/after photos of me during my chemo days. I hope it gives you hope. Patience is such a virtue in this process and I know that day will come for you, too. I wish you well.”
Her response, “Thank you so much. I can’t wait to see it.” I didn’t take many photos of myself during my first diagnosis in 2002. Now that I have a Foundation, there are days I feel like I take too many photos. But here they are. The photos of me bald are during chemotherapy in 2002. I felt weak and sick many days. The black bag I am holding with my middle finger up contains the chemotherapy that made me bald and feel less than healthy and beautiful. I wanted to do a collage of these photos and the ones Nadia took so viewers can see the transformation. The beautiful black scarf I am holding is from a dear friend. She also is a breast cancer survivor who had reconstruction. She mailed this warm scarf to me before I had my double mastectomy in May of 2014. I wrapped it around myself when I got home from the hospital to keep me warm after losing my breasts. Since traveling to PRMA in San Antonio for my DIEP flap surgery in December of 2014, I celebrate the beauty of how my breast reconstruction makes me feel. I wanted to wear this scarf in the photo shoot to symbolize that.
I leave you with the transformation that is the patience of survivor-ship. We know breast cancer ravages both the body and spirit. I encourage you to take a moment to embrace your beauty, no matter what form it takes, no matter what stage you are at in your breast cancer diagnosis.