Thursday, October 14, 2010

Awareness, art or exploitation? The Scar Project

The Scar Project: David Jay
It's easier for those of us who are fortunate enough to have the early days of breast cancer behind us to "stink on pink" or "unravel the ribbon" on the commercialization of breast cancer.
        But it may be something else entirely when your scars are still new. I nearly added and when you're "young" (under 30? 35? 40? 45?). Is there any woman who didn't feel "too young for this" when receiving a BC cancer diagnosis? Or for that matter: any kind of cancer?
        The vulnerability that cancer reveals is unnerving and the core of what photographer David Jay captures so hauntingly in The Scar Project, an exhibit of full-scale portraits of young women with breast cancer. He started this awareness-building effort when a friend of his was diagnosed at 32. She is one of approximately 10,000 women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
        To hear of a 25 year-old woman with breast cancer was completely out of the ballpark years ago. It isn't now. The youngest woman diagnosed in 2009 at The Rose, Houston's well-known breast cancer detection and navigation organization, was 19.  Of the more than 27,000 women served by The Rose, there were 37 women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer. Of those, 34 did not have insurance.
        When I first learned about The Scar Project a year ago I saw the image you see above. It stayed with me, for all the obvious reasons -- there's a powerful, compelling, haunting, and beautiful story here.  How is this woman? I want to know everything about her. When was the baby born?  Are both OK now?  I so hope. A study from MD Anderson initiated by my oncologist has confirmed that a women can actually safely navigate a pregnancy and breast cancer treatment -- simultaneously.
        Oddly enough though, when I flipped to the web page for the project, where the portraits advance automatically -- I found the entire collection overwhelming.
        Would I want to see all the portraits -- in one place, at one time? I'm not sure. It is one thing, when I meet with a newly diagnosed women and we talk surgery, reconstruction, scar maintenance, and show each other our "boob jobs." Survivor to survivor: the first thing you do for some newly diagnosed woman is show her. It is an immediate affirmation:  look, I went through this, you can too and you'll be OK.
         I thank all the women whose portraits grace this collection; and at the same time, I'm sorry.  None of us wanted to see the other this way.
         And that's the God's honest truth.

The Scar Project
Additional resources I like for the young at heart:
Young Survival Coalition
Planet Cancer
I2Y (I'm 2 Young for this Cancer Foundation) 
LiveStrong Young Adult Alliance
Anderson Network:  Cancer 180


Anonymous said...

Gosh Jody - another thought provoking post! So many things come to mind here for me. My first instinct is to applaud these women for their bravery in exposing themselves to the world so unflinchingly. I am not sure I have that courage myself.

Secondly, I have quite a fascination with the symbolic nature of scars; what Dana Jennings describes as his “primal tattoos, marks of distinction that showed you had been tried and had survived the test.” Just like these women.

I haven’t always loved my scars, and society certainly doesn’t encourage us to celebrate them, but I have learned to love them as the signs that show the world, that I have indeed been tested and survived the test.

(Of course, it’s not just the scars on our bodies we carry, we also carry scars from old wounds in our hearts and perhaps those invisible scars, the ones we cannot see or touch are the hardest scars of all to heal!)

So while these images may be shocking to some, and many may turn away, I see a stark beauty in them - a beauty more real than the airbrushed images we are bombarded with by the media. In wanting us to hide our scars or “imperfections”, society looses out an opportunity to see what real beauty is. Of course we know that we are much more than our bodies, but in this perfect-body image obsessed world, our scars and so-called ”imperfections” are often hidden and the world misses an opportunity to see what real beauty is.

Thanks for another though-provoking post Jody!

Marie x

Jody said...


I love the thought from Dana Jennings on scars as "tribal tattoos." This is one of the many angles we can explore....

And no, I didn't always love my scars either and I still don't. The physical always reminds me in a way the emotional can deny.

The other thing that Deb and I talked about last night as far as The Scar Project is concerned is the entire thought of "young" cancer. She was 41 when diagnosed, by anyone's account a young survivor. The Scar Project, on the other hand, was for survivors 35 and under.

Don't you think the effort could have raised awareness for young women with breast cancer without the age distinction? I wondered.

Thanks for writing -- as soon as I hit publish I realized I should have held this post to honor the Chilean miner, so I'll not going to talk about this much more on Twitter today. Will resume next week.

Jody said...

While I was going thru chemo, Edie, an older woman at church introduced herself and told me she'd had a bilateral mastectomy 20 years earlier and offered to show me her scars. I was surprised by her courage and stunned that a 77-year-old was willing to literally "bare herself" to a stranger.

Then shortly before my DIEP Flap reconstruction, Heather, a woman I'd also just met, showed me her reconstruction. Today, both Heather and Edie are dear friends. I look back on their gestures as some of the most encouraging and loving things anyone's ever done for me. Just knowing they'd been through this gave me the strength to know I could as well. Like you, Jody, I'm not sure I could, or would want, to see the entire SCAR exhibit, but these women are brave reminders of what beauty really is.

Last week I was in a hotel and watched the movie, Letters to Juliet. One of the stars, Vanessa Redgrave, is another benchmark by which we should judge feminine beauty. Completely without makeup or perfectly coiffed hair, Redgrave, in her 70s, is a stark and stunning reminder of authentic beauty. She hasn't had any plastic surgery or Botox. Put her in a room with the plastic dolls and there's no comparison. Ms. Redgrave was the impetus for my blog this week. I should have given her credit and thanked her.


Lauren said...

There's something so much more real and moving about seeing that shot versus a pink ribbon. Breast cancer is not a bright and happy experience to go through. There are lots of feelings of fear and uncertainty and ideally hope but hope is not always the most outstanding emotion. There needs to be stronger messages that its ok to feel all different emotions- its totally normal. For those of you who are interested in sharing and learning about others experiences please go to

Jody said...

Thanks for stopping by. I loved the perspective that an image of a pink ribbon is not enough to convey the magnitude of the experience. Meeting with other survivors, speaking with them and accepting the emotions that result is all part of it.
Thanks so much,

Diana Studer said...

It is strange, I can look at and touch my own scar. But it has taken me years to be able to look at a photo of another woman's scar. It is in some way a reality my eye cannot look at.

Years ago, over 40 years ago, my sister was only 24 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The difference is, that years ago, 'we' didn't talk about 'The Big C'
I am blogging for Pink Ribbon each Friday in October.

Nancy's Point said...

Jody, This is a very powerful post. Seeing photos like this really makes one think about a lot of things. It's hard looking, but yet somehow inspiring, compelling and even necessary to see such scars in order to really convey how drastically cancer changes a woman on the outside and inside as well. It makes you appreciate true beauty.
I really like your blog, it's thought-provoking, the kind I like. Perhaps you can visit my new one ata and give your thoughts.

Running the race said...

Jody thank you for sharing this beautiful story. It brings back a memory for me.

When I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer and had a lumpectomy and told by my oncologist that the type of cancer I had needed chemo and radiation. In preparation for hair loss, I was visiting Secrets of a Dutches a wig shop in Asheville, NC. A lady I had never met said "Why did you get a lumpectomy? I got one and the cancer came back 9 years later so look (she lifted up her shirt). I had them both wacked off. Look how nice of a job they did." Shocked at the time she put a slight doubt in my mind was my choice a good one? Then I thought I had to do what I believed was right for me.

I do think that more education is needed for our younger gals that breast cancer can happen at a young age. I know I never thought it could happen to me in my 20's or 30's.