Normally I don’t have a problem with words, well, writing them at least, but I will admit I’ve had problems in trying to craft this post, so we’ll start from the beginning and see how we go.
Sarah approached me for a rather special photo shoot a few months ago, to mark a decision she made in regards to her health.
Who is Sarah?
Like all good Tasmanian stories, this one starts off with a personal connection; Sarah is the sister-in-law of a school friend of mine, so we have known of each other for a few years now.
Sarah has the defective BRCA2 gene, which means she has an up to 65% chance in developing breast cancer.
She decided to undergo major surgery to remove her breasts before the cancer potentially developed. This was her way of giving the disease her middle finger of defiance.
To mark her decision to undergo surgery, Sarah wanted a portrait session that would celebrate her in her full form, a thank you to the breasts that have been a part of her for 30 years, a last hurrah, a reminder that despite the fact she would be losing a part of her body that is undeniably feminine, she is still whole and she is still herself.
Before finally deciding on surgery, Sarah was quite matter-of-fact about the reality of her situation.
“I’ve known about my BRCA2 gene mutation for the past 10 years, and whilst I was 20-something, single and carefree, I felt strangely optimistic about the issue. I felt comfortable with the fact that I, one day, would likely be diagnosed with breast cancer, and just as those family members who were diagnosed before me, I would respond well to treatment and make a full recovery.
My optimistic view of the world however, glossed over the fact that full recovery from breast cancer is not always guaranteed. For the most part of my 20s, I was prepared to take the risk of cancer and keep my own breasts…I had resigned to the fact that one day I would likely battle breast cancer too.”
Her candidness and honesty about how she viewed the possible ticking time bomb within her mammaries struck me as incredibly mature, but also showed her absolute faith in modern medicine and the advancements we have made in managing cancer in all its forms, as whole.
While not all the treatment processes are infallible, comfortable, quick acting or side effect free, it cannot be denied that where we stand currently in the treatment of cancer is a lot better than our forebears in previous centuries.
After getting engaged and starting work in her dream job as a paramedic, Sarah said she realised that her life was suddenly changing. She now had a responsibility, not only to her soon to be husband, but also to any children they might have in the future. The thought of dealing with breast cancer as a wife or even as a mother became a lot less comfortable to merely accept.
“As I was planning our wedding, discussing plans to start a family and nearing the age of 30 [the age of a close family member when she was diagnosed with breast cancer], my mindset started to change. It was no longer just myself who would have to deal with a breast cancer diagnoses. I now felt this overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect my family from such trauma. My (now) husband and future family would be greatly affected if I didn’t at least try to be proactive about my health.”
In May, Sarah underwent a prophylactic breast mastectomy, a procedure where both her breasts were removed and then fully reconstructed, at the Epworth Private Hospital in Richmond, Melbourne, and she is now successfully recovering from the operation.
I am so honoured to have been asked to take these photos for her, and I hope I have been able to capture her in a way that reminds her of her beauty, courage, and how much she is kicking ass.
Thank you Sarah, for giving me the opportunity to photograph you, letting me share a few photos here, and letting me tell your story.