“Femininity is in the way we’re brave enough to have the tough conversations. It’s in the grace of kissing a skinned knee, and in the power of achieving dreams. Femininity is strength. It’s smiling on your way to your mastectomy. It’s survival.” – Kate Kunkel
I’m incredibly blessed to meet women and men everyday who have beaten the odds or the hand dealt to them with cancer. From the first moment I heard the word resounding from my own body I knew my life’s goals had changed. I recently was contacted by a few absolutely amazing women who are embarking on a project that is so needed that I’ve made it my goal to make sure everyone knows about and can support them. I’d like to introduce you to, “Of Scars,” three women who are making a difference by speaking out and showing the true STRENGTH of women fighting breast cancer. Although the diagnoses are different, cervical, ovarian, breast and any other cancer debilitate women in the exact same way. The deepest scars we carry are always the ones inside of us. Come visit me at the QIAGEN table at Race For The Cure. I’ll be there to hear your stories, pass on your information and support you.
No matter the cancer, we should be supporting those left picking up the pieces. Pink products, small ribboned novelties and otherwise fantastically-marketed crap really do nothing for women who are battling their fears, bodies and for the rights to a cancer-free-life. Until the world finds another way to develop a cure, I’ll speak out on #PinkWashing, coined from my friend @RickBert. I apologize for the length, but you’ll understand when you wipe your eyes after the last word. These women, Elli Rader, Kate Kunkel and Pamela Cariveau have absolutely stunned me with their heroism and insight. When I cry because I’m humbled to be in the presence of such empowering women, I know I’m truly blessed. Thank you: Kate, Elli and Pamela. Read on for an incredibly emotional and powerful piece on speaking out about Breast Cancer…….
“You can buy lingerie designed to conceal mastectomy scars, or bikinis that hide them. There’s a message that scars are ugly. But they’re proof of survival, and survival isn’t ugly. We thought it was time to display their beauty.” - Kate Kunkel
“We are doing this project out of love, honor and respect. We hope that it will be met with the same. The strength of a woman is universally beautiful, with or without scars,” – Elli Rader
Memories are a funny thing. Most of them get muddy with time, fading away into vague concepts that you know you once understood. Sometimes they go into hiding, just waiting for the right scent or sensation or color to reveal them. And sometimes they stay with you forever, as intense and real and honest as the moments of their creation. These are the memories you can relive, if you want, any time you choose.
In my cell phone, I have proof of one of these memories: My mother is smiling at me. She is the bravest woman I know, in this moment, driven to find the beauty in anything, and despite all of the fear and uncertainty she faces, her smile is sincere. Playful, even. I am humbled to know she’s my mother. I am proud to know she’s my mother. She is a goddess.
She is moments away from going to the hospital to have her breasts removed. She will be having a bilateral mastectomy, and we’re not sure what we’ll find out about her diagnosis, or her treatment plan, or her prognosis. But in this moment, my mother is smiling.
She is topless, in this picture, and on her breasts we have written the phrase that would become something of a mantra during the months that followed: Breasts are not for saving. Women are.
In retrospect, this moment has entirely shaped the way I view breast cancer survivors. That’s the moment when it became clear to me that in order to survive this disease, my mother had to let go of so much of her identity. And in its place, she built a new woman—a really, really strong one with twice the attitude and a new respect for her own life. That’s the moment I started to love her scars.
It took Mom longer. To her, those scars were a disfigurement; a reminder of the multiple surgeries and therapies and ordeals. Even years after her operation, her behavior was just a little different. She wouldn’t change clothes, if I was around. She was careful to select clothing that completely concealed her scars. She wouldn’t go swimming with my daughters anymore. Her actions made it obvious that her scars made her uncomfortable. It never made sense to me. So what if people saw her scars? From my vantage point, they were the most beautiful thing about her. They were proof of survival. And survival isn’t ugly.
Last fall, I started thinking about doing some sort of art project, as a gift to my mom for her birthday, and I Googled the words “mastectomy art” in search of inspiration. That’s when it became clear that my mother was absolutely not alone in her quest to hide her scars. See, when you search those words, you end up with page after page of sites selling bras that hide scars, bathing suits that hide scars, tank tops that hide scars, evening wear that hides scars. You find prostheses and support groups and ads for reconstructive surgeons and tattoo artists. And it becomes immediately clear to you that there is a whole industry out there devoted to telling women that it’s their job to look normal.
It was maddening to me. Why is it that, after what is likely to be the most life-altering experience of a woman’s life, she should even have to consider that things “should” be normal again? Things can’t be normal again. It’s different. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So why is there a message that scars are bad? And, if we’re telling women that physical scars are meant to be hidden, are we somehow hinting that they should hide the emotional impact of this disease, as well?
I shared these feelings with elli rader, who is one of my dearest friends and the most gifted artist I know, and from the conversations that followed, Of Scars was born. Together with stylist and videographer Pamela Cariveau, we’re in the process of creating a multi-media celebration of women who’ve lived through breast cancer.
By putting on display the scars of survivors, we hope to give viewers a glimpse into the intense emotional and physical journey through cancer. More importantly, we hope to portray mastectomy and lumpectomy scars themselves as visually beautiful and strong. If we do it right, people who’ve never had a close brush with this disease will look at our work and say, “Cool. She’s gorgeous.”
And people who have lived with this disease will say, “Cool. I’m whole, too.”
See, a woman’s beauty is about so much more than her breasts. And you can Save the Tatas and buy the pink stuff and donate your dollar all you want, but it doesn’t change the reality that a woman living through breast cancer will face. Breast cancer’s power isn’t just that it steals from us the lives of our mothers and sisters and aunts and friends. Breast cancer creates emotional havoc in its victims, too, because we’ve spent our whole lives sexualizing, feminizing, and medicalizing their breasts. We tell women that it is their form that creates their femininity, and so when breast cancer strikes, it has the power to steal a sense of self, as well.
We’d like to take that power back.
Femininity is in the way we’re brave enough to have the tough conversations. It’s in the grace of kissing a skinned knee, and in the power of achieving dreams. Femininity is strength. It’s smiling on your way to your mastectomy. It’s survival.
And we’d like to invite you to share that.
Check out the Of Scars Project at www.ofscars.com.