Oregonian Friday, Nov. 29, 2013
Follow up article published 11 days after surgery.
Oregonian Friday, Nov. 29, 2013
Follow up article published 11 days after surgery.
This shoot was done Nov. 11, 2013, three weeks after my final chemo treatment and one week prior to my surgery date. I was still very fatigued from chemo, had neuropathy in my feet and was nervous about the 4 week interim between chemo, when I knew the cancer was not spreading, and surgery when I knew the tumor would be removed. I was trying to center myself and control my thoughts during this time. As you can see, my hair was beginning to grow back as duck fuzz. Duane told me he had a last minute idea to have me sit on the couch Buddha style and be calm, tranquil. Tranquility was what I needed, perhaps more than what I was actually feeling. I do not meditate often, so I have have no idea if these poses are true to form. This, like many of the Finding Beauty in Cancer shoots, was about taking on a persona and playing. Finding some beauty. This was an important shoot in that it was the final one before the bilateral mastectomy where my breast would be removed. I wanted to have it to remember in the event my new breasts look drastically different. Duane, Jennie and I talked about several styles of lighting and posing, but kind of let it happen organically once we started. Betty Rae added her input on costuming and poses as well. The reporter from The Oregonian, Katy Maldoon, was with us for the entire session, which was fun for me and perhaps a little nerve wracking for Duane. He did a fabulous job, however, and I’m so pleased to have these beautiful images of my breast before surgery. These are really the final images of Boobies 1.o, as my step son says; my newly reconstructed ones will be Boobies 2.o.
And a fun one from Behind the Scenes
My decision to have a bilateral mastectomy, as well as reconstruction at the same time, has been neither easy nor clear. I have struggled with the surgical options available to me and what’s best in the big picture. I have struggled with exactly when and what type of reconstruction to have. Now, later, silicone, my own tissue? I’ve discussed, read and had extra meetings with my surgeons. I’ve weighed the pros and cons, cried the tears and wrestled with what I think is best for me long term versus what would be easier for me short term. I’ve met other women making different choices: bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction, single mastectomy with reconstruction, lumpectomy… We are all different. I may write more on my options and decision making later. Right now it’s a bit of a blur as I’ve made my decisions and need to move forward with them as I prepare for Monday.
Paige Stoyer photographed this pre-surgery consultation with my plastic surgeon Dr. Shannon O’Brien as part of her continued “The Real Thing” documentary series. Shot Week 16 of chemo, Oct 29, 2013
Weeks 14 and 15 of 16 total weeks of chemotherapy. Week 14 was the week I felt the worst. I was completely worn out with both my blood work and and spirit being at their lowest points. I nearly did not make it into the studio to do the self portrait. Week 15 was right after my final chemo treatment. I did not feel well, but was relieved that it was over and there was only one more week of official side effects left to go. No more chemo left to take. Exhausted but relieved.
Week 16. The Real Thing: Acupuncture. Shot Week 15
Since the beginning of chemotherapy I’ve been receiving weekly acupuncture through IEP (Immune Enhancement Program). They offer low cost traditional medicine and have a special program for people with cancer. I’ve also received Shiatsu (acupressure) and met with a naturopathic doctor there. In all honesty, I have no idea if it helps. Chemo make you sick. When you feel sick with new side effects all the time, how do you know if something has made you better or not? I feel sick, I go to acupuncture and feel somewhat better and relaxed during the treatment then I go home and feel sick again. I like thinking that I’m doing something proactive to help my body. I like thinking that the herbs and supplements make me stronger and ready to take the next rounds so I can get rid of cancer. In reality, I don’t know but I keep going.
The Real Thing – Chemo Recovery. Shot week 12
Photographer: Paige Stoyer
These photos show my real world most days during chemotherapy. The recovery period lasted most of the two-week cycle until the next treatment. I want to be active, go to work, have my life back. However, the flood of drugs in my body and brain say otherwise. I do what I can and what I need to do. I lay on my couch, tell my cat she’s cute, eat so I can take more pills. Pills, pills, pills. Every few hours, I eat so I can take more pills. Anti-nausea pills, herbal pills, pills for pain, pills to sleep… I turn all the lights on so my house is bright even when I am not. I avoid the stacks of paperwork on my kitchen table: bills, applications, copies of blood work and appointments. I worry about the papers and bills I’m avoiding, but can’t wrap my chemo brain around them. I sit up and turn on my laptop to connect to friends on Facebook or think about the next photo shoot. On the days when I am not too dizzy or nauseated I go outside, ride my bike around the neighborhood, feel the air on my face. I think about how the context for exercise, as well as most other things in my life, has changed. How little accomplishments mean something now. I try not to measure this time by the same standards I had a few months ago.
Week 16, Cancer Reflected. Photographed Week 12
I asked photographer Bill Purcell and makeup artist Lily Hutchins to collaborate on a session and left the concept completely open. Via email they both began down this path of the emotions of cancer and my feelings during chemotherapy written in red lipstick and shown on a mirror, as if I were in my dressing room staring them in the face. I was right on board with their ideas. They asked me to write down what it felt like, perhaps after each treatment or in stages. My writing was full of every emotion, many contradictory. For example, overwhelm and acceptance. Some expected, like “angry, worried, frustrated.” Some were perhaps not expected, but more relatable: “joyful, playful, interested.” Yet others were more unexpected and those were the words Bill wanted to go with. They were not what he thought he might feel if he had cancer and therefore more complex to understand. I liked that this deeply empathetic man wanted to go deeper into the nuances of emotions cancer has brought up for me.
The set was constructed in my studio, using the space like it’s never been used before. Both Bill and videographer Dan Sadowsky came in with props three hours prior to the shoot to set the stage and create the perfect lighting. A heavy desk and several lamps where brought up the red door freight elevator and rolled across the long wooden floors into the studio to design this set. Since Bill would be shooting into a mirror to get my reflection what was behind him mattered and would be in the shots. His positioning, to stay out of the image, as well as a second set and lighting behind him, was important. Technically, this was a difficult shoot. Bill’s forethought and preparation as well as the assistance of Dan, Lily and my mother, helped bring all the abstract details together.
Whereas many of the other Finding Beauty in Cancer shoots have been “pretty” fantasy style concepts, Bill wanted his shoot to be darker. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of showing this side at first, but then realized that by being more vulnerable with all of my emotions someone else might be helped in their process or in understanding what a loved one is going through. Cancer has been a bit of all emotions for me. I don’t want to deny the fact that I feel afraid and in despair, yet I try not to stay in those places longer than I need to. I try to move through them to a place that is more beneficial to me. I want to be happy most of the time, but I feel all of it regardless of what I want. Knowing that I will transition from the darker emotions, that “this too shall pass,” helps me keep moving forward.
Week 15 – The Octopus Shoot, Photographed Week 10. I’m under the sea, on the bottom of the ocean floor. I’m resting there, face up, when the octopus comes out of his hole and wraps himself around my body placing a shell over my right breast. I know it’s there as protection. He’s protecting me…. (continued below)
The water pulses against my body with the “bang, bang, bang” rhythm of sonar waves. Sonar waves, if I’m the whale or fish, I imagine. MRI noise if I’m in my own reality. I’m actually lying in a great white metal machine. One that, if I stay still for 45 minutes, will scan my body and tell me if the cancer has spread beyond my breast and lymph nodes. This is the time before I started chemo, days when I wondered, as I still do some days now, whether the cancer has taken root elsewhere. It’s nerve-wracking to wait. Wait on test results for answers to your life. Never mind it’s a weekend or holiday. Nerve wracking to wait on the “bang, bang, bang” of the machine and so begin to imagine myself hearing what the fish and whales must hear under the sea. I meditate on the rhythm and dream of what they must hear. My body drives through the water and then finally settles upon the ocean floor where I meet my octopus. He holds me safe and I wait with him until the banging stops, then slowly rise to the surface as he dissolves into my body. I know immediately, this must be one of my Finding Beauty in Cancer Shoots.
Week 16 – Octopus shoot Behind the Scenes. Photographed Week 10
Behind the Scenes: This was absolutely one of my favorite sessions, both because the artists involved were so fun, but also due to my attachment to the original concept. I envisioned my meditation being physically created on the Oregon coast and was able to articulate it to the creatives. They in turn ran with it and made it amazing. First I called Matthew Mattison. “Matthew, you don’t know me, but I know one of your clients. He has an octopus tattoo.” I proceeded to tell him about the Finding Beauty in Cancer project as well as the meditation, which was partially inspired by his tattoo. “I’m in,” he said. “You can have any Thursday, my day off.” Amazing generosity and so much raw talent. He literally took an ink pen and freehanded the “tattoo” onto me before painting it in with children’s face paints. Next I contacted Becca Blevins as I knew her dynamic wedding photography and could see her creating something dramatic at the Oregon coast. “Yes,” was her immediate answer. Then I contacted Kirstie Wright, my favorite local make up artist, to add the finishing touches. Perfect! The four of us, along with my good friend and sometimes photo assistant, Leisl Stientjes, traveled to Manzanita and the home of my new friend and client, Susan Sanderson, where I was gracefully laid out on the kitchen table and painted. As the afternoon light began to fade, Matthew and Kirstie applied the last of their color and we flew down the highway (wrapped in a shower curtain) toward Arcadia Park. The sun was setting as we ran toward the low tide.