About a year ago, in September of 2017 I had a scare with breast cancer and needed to get a biopsy done. I went to our local hospital’s breast cancer facility and I met a nurse. For those of you who have had this done, you know how close the nurses are with you during this procedure so in order to not be awkward with this closeness we started talking about lots of things and I told her about what I do and that I specialize in empowering women with luxury women’s portraits, glamour and boudoir. She loved hearing that I was doing this for women and she said that she had a nurse friend that is undergoing treatment for breast cancer and she wanted to gift a session to her. I was touched by her generosity and I felt that since we were getting close to October and Breast Cancer Awareness month that I would like to gift the session to her friend personally. So I did.
Her friend had such a beautiful and strong inner light of courage and strength that it uplifted me. It filled my heart with such a strong feeling of connection and sisterhood to know that I was helping her in a profound way to re-connect her with her femininity and beauty. I knew that I needed to do more of these sessions, that there were so many other women out there in need of this type of feminine therapy that this is what the Universe had put in my path to help these women. It is the best feeling in the world for me to know that I can help and heal women with my art. I decided to donate 10 more sessions in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month 2017. It’s been almost a year since and I’ve completed close to 24 breast cancer survivor sessions. I have photographed woman who are early in their diagnosis to those who have been cancer free for years. I have learned so much in the process about myself, about humanity and about this terrible disease called cancer. These women all share an incredibly strong bond of sisterhood, something I had never experienced before, and I knew I wanted to continue to be a part of it.
It was during my original promotional campaign, reaching out to various breast cancer survivor groups to participate in my charity project, that I came across a group of breast cancer survivors involved in a team called Dragon Boating. Their team, Lighthouse Dragons SOS, is a dragon boat team in Jupiter, FL composed of breast cancer survivors and their supporters. Their mission is to promote a healthy and life affirming activity through the sport of dragon boating. Each of them is a powerful example that one can lead a full and active life after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Once connected with this group of women, they continued to nominate each other for my complimentary sessions. From my experience with these women and all of the women who have stepped outside their comfort zone to meet with me and do a session, the common thread has been that they are doing this for themselves and as a way to help other women. Each and every woman who has come forward is a warrior, a leader and feels strongly in the sisterhood of strength and courage that exists with survivors when you share a common life changing experience like breast cancer diagnosis. All of them want to be a light and uplift each other and I have been deeply moved by each and every one of their stories and their connection to one another.
Meet the Survivors
Hear Her Words
Meet Debbie Brooks, the captain of the Lighthouse Dragons SOS team and Lisette Usborne, her team-mate. A diagnosis of breast cancer when caught early, can improve long-term survival in most cases. But what happens when years later, the cancer reappears in other parts of our body? That is called Metastatic Disease, and it is, in fact Stage IV Breast Cancer, and although there are many treatment options out there, currently there is no cure. So when team-mates, Debbie in late 2015 and Lisette in early 2017, had to face the fact that their cancer spread past their breast and into their bones and other parts of their body, needless to say they were terrified. In March 2016, Debbie participated in a dragon boat race with 7 breast cancer survivor teams, and met several women who were not only still living, but also thriving and paddling, 5,10 or even 15 years past their Stage IV diagnosis, and it gave her hope.
Debbie is very engaged in being a role model and mentor to those who are facing breast cancer. She is the captain of the team and leader of the group of over 70 women. Debbie has had struggles with her self-image from an early age and stepping in front of the camera was a huge step outside her comfort zone. Her transformation was especially sweet and beautiful to witness and participate in as it really allowed her to give herself permission to see herself as beautiful, to own it and to be comfortable in her own skin. That was our goal, and boy..did she accomplish that.
Hear Her Words:
And when her teammate Lisette was also diagnosed a year later, it wasn’t so scary for her.
First in the studio was Lisette, a strong woman from the UK who is funny, fearless and full of life. She shared with me that she didn’t want people to feel sorry for her and her diagnosis; she believed whole heartedly that sharing with others is the best approach to your diagnosis. Her advice to other women is to laugh more, take time for you, and appreciate the little things. A self-described goof ball, her friends usually see her with her hair up, no makeup and in casual clothing. It had been a long time since she felt feminine and beautiful, but she was ready for the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and go for it. I never laughed so much as when we had our session together! She was such a delight to photograph, watching her transform into this beautiful, strong and feminine woman was incredibly inspirational for me as well.
Lisette then became my strongest advocate and nominated 5 more women who came in and have been photographed from the Dragon Boat team. One of which was Debbie Brooks, the Dragon Boat Captain.
Because I have Debbie walking this path with me, and she was diagnosed one year before me, it's not so scary for me, it 'normalizes' it for me, and gives me a peer and someone who can really empathize and understand.