Photos by Charlee Brodsky
This is me. This image tells a lot about me, but what it doesn’t say is that I’ve had cancer. Just after I turned 30 years old, my right breast began to feel painful and swollen. I couldn’t feel a lump.
The doctor sent me for a mammogram, but it didn’t show a lump either. It did show tiny specks called calcifications. There were so many that the x-rays looked like a little galaxy inside each breast. The surgeon said he feared I had “highly aggressive, highly malignant” breast cancer. He was right.
On May 24, 1993, I had surgery to remove both breasts. Because my cancer had advanced by the time it was discovered, the doctors gave me a 50 percent chance of surviving five years and a 40 percent chance of surviving 10 years.
I now live with an emotional intensity full of spirit and hope. I don’t mess around with things that consume my time and energy pointlessly. I keep in mind that loving and laughing are my best healers.
On March 14, 1994, my 31st birthday, I celebrated 10 cancer free months. On March 14, 1995, I celebrated 22 cancer free months. On March 14, 1996, I reset the clock.
The cancer came back.
All I have is the uncertainty, the waiting, the knowledge that no one can see what’s around the corner. With every cough, cold, or sore rib, I will wonder if it is symptomatic of a deeper illness, if the cancer insidiously returned. It is easy to succumb to the agony of waiting.
As the chemicals flow, I envision a warm, golden light spreading through my body, attacking the black dots and spots, washing my illness away.
As an adult, I never expected to need my mom so intensely as when I was treated for breast cancer. Throughout, she cared for my most basic needs, giving me comfort for my pain and fear, encouraging me, nurturing me.
I cannot imagine her pain. A mother is never prepared for her child to die first.
After learning my story, many people glance at my chest almost despite themselves, making me feel embarrassed and ashamed. Then we did the “Venus” photo. Like a Michelangelo sculpture with the arms knocked off and the head missing, I now see my torso as a work of art.
Although I’m missing some pieces, I no longer feel disfigured. This image was the turning point for me.