Dec 1, 2011

Wrapping Up The SCAR Project Cincy Exhibit

Posted by Joules Evans

We've officially gone from Pink Ribbons to orange leaves to the first snowy white powder sugar dusting on the ground and the last leaf on the 2011 Calendar. What a year it's been for The SCAR Project! The SCAR Project Book, The SCAR Project documentary, Baring It All, airing on Style Network here and around the globe (including recently being featured in the fabulous Toronto Breast Film Fest put on by Rethink Breast Cancer), beautiful coverage in both Life Magazine and USA Today online, not to mention this awesome interview of quite a few of the SCAR girls from our very own Channel 9, and two successful exhibits (one of them being this beautiful Queen City of ours, and the other the Big freaking Apple) and quite a few cities/countries in the wings. Quite a whirlwind of awareness to be smack dab in the middle of.

I'm so proud and happy and humbled that Cincinnati was the first city outside of New York City to host the exhibit. The reception Cincy gave The SCAR Project and all the SCAR Project girls who travelled here from across the country made us look like the coolest city on the map. Everyone mentioned what an amazing community we have here, to get behind a project like The SCAR Project the way we did. The way we did—seriously, I think we set the bar high folks—so thank you.

Speaking of thank you's...
  • Vanessa, I'm so glad I met you at the first SCAR Project Exhibit in New York City. Working with you to bring the exhibit to Cincinnati is one of the most beautiful, meaningful things I've ever done. Thank you for your friendship, your example to "Live Sincerely", and yours (and Blustery Days) graphic design wizardry and generosity. 
  • Litsa Spanos and Art Design Consultants, thank you SO MUCH for donating your beautiful "gallery in the sky" to host the exhibit, not to mention all the time, passion and resources you so generously and graciously poured into being the presenting sponsor for the exhibit and in working so closely with me and Vanessa on the planning committee. There would have been no Cincy exhibit without a venue, but we simply got the best when lucked into meeting you. On top of a fabulous friendship. Wow. 
  • Pam Irvin, thank you for your passion and tireless devotion networking and helping us make connections.
  • Banita Bailey, how would we have pulled this beautiful thing off without you? Let's not even think about that. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.... 
  • Oncology Hematology Care, thank you so much for your more than generous    sponsorship, encouragement, and support (not to mention care, as quite a few of us on and around the committee are also your patients). We simply could not have financed bringing the exhibit without you. And we couldn't have found a more benevolent partner to work with. 
  • Anne Lisbin's Elegant Fare (and your amazing generous, kind-hearted staff), thank you so much for donation of the catering for the gala and the friends and family cocktail party. The food was so delicious it's ridiculous. 
  • Cheers to Cork 'N Bottle and Party Source for providing the wine that was paired so elegantly with the fare for the gala and friends and family cocktail party, respectively.
  • Plastic Surgery Group, thank you for your financial and promotional support. How cool was it to see The SCAR Project up on the US Bank Arena?! 
  • The Eisen Agency, thank you Rodger and Tara for the generous donation of your time and PR skillz. I guess getting coverage in practically all the local print media, on all the local TV news stations (three times on channel 9, twice on Fox 19, once on channels 5 and 12), on two local talk-radio programs, and a beautiful Cincinnati Enquirer article (kudos Lauren Bishop) that got picked up by USA Today online was pretty much knocking it out of the ballpark. 
  • To the 20 SCAR Project Girls who were able to come to Cincy for the exhibit, thank you. You made it even more beautiful and meaningful by your presence. I heart you all. 
  • Residence Inn, thank you for your generous discount and wonderful service in helping us provide The SCAR Project staff and Girls with rooms with a view and a hub to hang out together. 
  •  And thank you to all the volunteers who made everything run so smoothly from unpacking crates with white gloves on, to running the elevator, to lighting luminaries, to tying "Live Sincerely" notes on cocktail glasses, taking tickets, to selling SCAR Project books and DVDs, to passing out exhibit programs, to pouring wine, to keeping the SCAR Project documentary DVD playing throughout the exhibit, to manning the guest book, to helping hang the portraits, to cleaning the gallery each night, to packing everything up when the exhibit was over, to photographing the events, to putting the gallery back together afterward, to blogging about the exhibit, to... and that's not the half of it. So. Much. Work.
But so worth it.

In the end, here's what we did. We brought an amazing art exhibit to our city—one that looked beneath the pink ribbons and exposed the absolute reality of surviving cancer. We did because we were in sync with The SCAR Project's mission: to raise awareness that young women do get breast cancer, to raise funds for a local organization that serves young survivors (in our case, The Pink Ribbon Girls), and to help other survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.

Besides the success our committee and PR team had in getting the word out about The SCAR Project Cincy Exhibit, we estimate 700+ people came to the exhibit. If one young woman went home and checked herself after coming to our exhibit, it was worth it. If one young couple went home and checked second base after coming to our exhibit, it was worth it. If one woman over 40 or high risk for breast cancer went home and scheduled a mammogram after coming to our exhibit, it was worth it. Maybe one of the doctors or researchers or students who came to the exhibit will be the one to find a cure for breast cancer. Like one breast surgeon said after viewing the exhibit, "I hope to be put out of business because we find a cure."

After settling our expenses and closing The SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit books, we were so happy to be able to make a donation to David Jay's The SCAR Project to help it continue its mission. David Jay makes an enormous personal and financial investment in The SCAR Project.

Three of us from our Cincinnati committee (myself, Litsa, and Pam) and our PR girl Tara, were all able to travel to the opening of the NYC exhibit a few weeks after our Cincy exhibit to present David Jay with a check for $7,500. The fun part was that he did not see it coming.
Scar Project Manager Sandie Samuels, Joules Evans, SCAR Project Photographer David Jay
Since we were the first city to host the exhibit we all had to figure out how this was done, making it up as we went. And David Jay was so gracious with us when, coming into exhibit week, we weren't sure if we were actually going to raise any money beyond expenses. He was just worried about us, covering our expenses, and in the end I think he really expected nothing from us. It was such a privilege and an honor to make a small investment to The SCAR Project. He continues to take portraits, even took one in Cincinnati on the Saturday morning of our exhibit. The newest SCAR girl's photo was hanging at the NYC exhibit. We hope to see the exhibit travel to many more places and accomplish its mission. As such I have decided to make myself available as a consultant for The SCAR Project and am excited to have the chance to help others bring The SCAR Project to their cities.

We were also super pumped to be able to write a big fat check for $13,500 to The Pink Ribbon Girls!

We presented the check to The Pink Ribbon Girls at a fabulous Art meets Fashion meets cocktail party event held at Art Design Consultants on November 4th. Here's a picture of our SCAR Project Cincy Committee with The Pink Ribbon Girls. Both photos are courtesy of Kate Messer Photography, and are used with permission. (Thank you, Kate:)
Pam Irvin, PRG Banita Bailey, PRG founder Tracie Metzger, Joules Evans, Litsa Spanos, and Vanessa Tiemeier

As for the third part of the mission, to help survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens, not to mention, a pretty darn good recap of The SCAR Project Cincy Exhibit, please click here to check out a cool photo blog put together by one of our volunteer photographers, Donna Carr. (Thank you, Donna:)

And that, my friends, is a wrap. This SCAR Project Cincy blog is going to take a nap. When it wakes up, parts of it will become part of The SCAR Project website blog [which is in the works].

I usually sign off with Cheers and love, Joules. So there. I'm lifting a glass to all you lovely peeps, and to your health. But in this case I'd like to let Vanessa have the last words, since she summed up so perfectly everything our committee became all about, having experienced the honor and pleasure of working so closely with her on The SCAR Project Cincy Exhibit...


Sep 28, 2011

An Art Dealer Takes Another Look at The SCAR Project

[Today's guest post is from Litsa Spanos of Art Design Consultants. Litsa is the gracious hostess of The SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit and also a SCAR Project Cincy Planning Committee Member. This article is cross-posted on her blog at]


Guest Post by Litsa Spanos

Part I was about The SCAR Project exhibit and the powerful message it encompasses. Part II is dedicated to the women in the portraits—their journey and the story behind their scars. I have had the amazing privilege to meet and get to know some of these incredible women. They are strong, beautiful and brave. But above all, these women are hopeful. Their immense passion for this cause and their willingness to openly bare their scars is truly inspiring. These young women and their portraits are a constant reminder to live every day sincerely.

The three women you’re about to meet are local breast cancer survivors whose portraits were taken for The SCAR Project...

*See Channel 5 & Channel 9′s SCAR Project interviews at the bottom of this post

Vanessa Tiemeier | Cincinnati, OH
“Breast cancer is a part of my life but it does not define me. It will never be ALL that I am or ALL that I do. I don’t want to be part of the mold that breast cancer survivors have been confined to. It’s not always pink ribbons and charity runs. Breast cancer is often glamorized and commercialized.

In reality, there’s a duality of life and a human element that everyone can relate to. Yes, I have breast cancer, and yes, it is hard, and yes, it’s an ongoing challenge, BUT everyone has his own struggles. Some are hidden and not as public, but they are still very real. The secret hardships AND the public battles we all face are valid and important.

I was diagnosed at age 25 with stage 3A breast cancer. I underwent 20 weeks of dose dense chemotherapy, had a right modified radical mastectomy with node dissection, completed 25 treatments of radiation, and still have to have a left prophylactic mastectomy and bilateral tram-flap reconstructive surgery. I lost all my hair, looked like ET, got my boob hacked off along with nine lymph nodes in my armpit, got zapped so much that my skin burned and bled, and will need to cut open my stomach and relocate my fat and muscles to my chest. I think sometimes I am so good at putting on a pretty face and acting all put-together that some people don’t realize the extent of everything that breast cancer survivors go through.

My scars and my words are only half of the story. They don’t show the emotional and private struggles that are continuously present. They don’t show the burden that my family has willingly endured. They don’t show the lifestyle changes and imitations that come with breast cancer. But they don’t need to. I’ve never wanted to be the center of attention, or be regarded as “special” or “brave”. I don’t need to be pitied or felt sorry for. Instead it is my hope that people reconnect with themselves and reconsider what is truly important in their lives, and to celebrate it.

Breast cancer has forced me to step out of the box and to challenge myself, whether I want to or not. In life there’s a beautiful balance of happiness and sadness, awareness and unawareness, acceptance and rejection, blessings and misfortunes. These dualities are the moments that define life.

The SCAR Project embraces these every day, personal happenings of life, and through these photographs, beautifully portrays every woman’s unique situation. As part of The SCAR Project, I can “just be me”. No covering up or masking the truth. No pretending that everything is fine. Here I am. This is me now. This is my life.”

Heather Salazar with her daughters | Dayton, OH

“Breast Cancer boldly came into our lives when I met a young woman, Alexis, who was battling stage IV breast cancer.She was nearing the end of her battle and needed to find a home for her baby lest her daughter be placed in permanent foster care. I prayed about this and told my husband Steve that I thought we should adopt her. His first response was: What?? We already had three children, ages seven, four and one. Five weeks later we had a new baby.
Throughout the next year, we took Alexis to chemo, to doctor’s appointments, and to spend time with her baby. Alexis died one year later at the young age of 23.

Two years later, I found a lump in my breast but never in a million years thought it could be breast cancer. The biopsy came back positive and I was diagnosed at the age of 31.

All I could think about was seeing Lexis’s mom die from this terrible disease. Would my children grow up without a mother? Would Lexis lose two mothers to breast cancer? How could this be happening to our family?

How could both of my daughters have to worry about breast cancer?

In reality, I have met so many young mothers and their families who have to deal with breast cancer and so many young children growing up without their mothers because of this disease. When I look at my one daughter’s vibrant brown eyes and my other daughter’s pristine blue eyes, I realize we have to do whatever it takes to find a cure so they never have to deal with breast cancer.

As I know firsthand, breast cancer is NOT prejudiced; it doesn’t care if you are black or white, rich or poor, young or old, it can interrupt your life when you least expect it. We need to leave a legacy for our children’s children by curing breast cancer, and I really believe we are getting closer through research and advocacy. I want to be a part of the cure for breast cancer.

I believe in advocacy and I believe in the power of learning from each other’s stories. I think The SCAR Project is amazing and I believe the photos tell an amazing story.

I also want to encourage other young women to stay on top of their own health and to realize there is life after breast cancer. I cherish every moment, enjoy my family, love on my children, and try not to sweat the small stuff. By pouring your hearts and energy into The SCAR Project you are making a difference.”

DIANA | 32
Diana Featherstone | Dayton, OH
“Just one month prior to my diagnosis, we had moved to a new state...away from all our friends and family. We were just getting settled in our new neighborhood and now all of a sudden I became Cancer Girl. My husband lost his wife, my kids lost their mother and I lost myself during treatment. I’m finding my way back and reinventing myself along the way to fit with my new reality.

Breast cancer is a bully that isn’t choosy about whom it picks on. My family history is riddled with all kinds of cancer, but many women with breast cancer have no family history of disease.
Cancer is frightening disease that we still don’t fully understand. This lack of knowledge scares people into sending emails about the evils of artificial sweeteners, deodorant, air, name it. As if it couldn’t be just random. That it couldn’t just happen out of the blue. Tell that to children fighting cancer who haven’t had nearly as much time to do damage to themselves as we have.

I don’t want to miss my kids growing up. I thought about that a lot while going through treatment. After going through the sleepless nights and toddlerhood, I will feel really cheated if I can’t see this through. I want to see what kind of people they become. Sometimes I look at them and I almost lost it because I miss them already. I want to survive this and I know they won’t understand if I don’t. They keep me fighting and I won’t go down easy.

Even though my hair is growing back and I’ve had reconstructive surgery, I will forever wear the physical and psychological scars of cancer. People want the best for you and they want to think that once you’re done with treatment, you’re done with the disease. Well, that’s just not true. I won’t ever be completely free of the fear of recurrence, but I’m hoping to distance myself as time goes by.

The SCAR Project gave me an opportunity to show the truth beneath it all. I’m hoping that medical technology can catch up so that if there is a “next time,” we’ll actually have a real cure to work with. My Aunt Patty had over ten years before her cancer came back. Just think of all of the advancements we can make in medicine in that time frame!”


Over twenty of these amazing women from all over—women who have survived breast cancer and were photographed for the project—will be here in Cincinnati for the exhibition. Please join us to meet them in person, be inspired and help make a difference.

Still, through all of this there is Beauty.
These are the things which cannot be taken away. 


Sep 25, 2011

The SCAR Project As Seen Through An Art Dealer's Eyes

[Today's guest post is from Litsa Spanos of Art Design Consultants. Litsa is the gracious hostess of The SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit and also a SCAR Project Cincy Planning Committee Member. This article is cross-posted on her blog at]


Guest Post by Litsa Spanos

As you all know my blog is all about beautiful art and beautiful spaces. This week I‟ll be talking about and showing you a different kind of beauty.

I am honored to be part of an incredible, impactful and meaningful photo exhibit coming to Cincinnati called The SCAR Project. On September 29 through October 2, ADC will open its gallery doors to everyone in our city, providing them with the opportunity to experience something truly special and memorable. Yes, it‟s shocking at first but I promise you will never forget these powerful images.

*photographs at the beginning of this video are unrelated to The SCAR Project

The SCAR Project is an international, Pulitzer nominated exhibit of a series of portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay. The SCAR Project girls range from age 17 to 35 (an often over looked group of young woman with breast cancer).
Local breast cancer survivor Vanessa Tiemeier and her husband Billy took a Greyhound bus from Cincinnati to New York City to be photographed.
Vanessa and Billy Tiemeier in NYC during the opening
At the New York City exhibition premiere, Vanessa met breast cancer survivor Joules Evans who, in the letter below, describes their—what seemed destined to be— introduction:

"I met Vanessa Tiemeier at the International Premiere of The SCAR Project in New York City last October. She was standing by her portrait, talking about her experience when I heard her say she was from Cincinnati.

I wasn’t expecting to meet another Cincinnati survivor in the Big Apple anymore than I was expecting to be so moved by the exhibit. I was already pretty breast cancer aware, having been diagnosed on August 20th 2008. My chemo sister Shelly told me about The SCAR Project over chemo one day. She had actually contacted David Jay and asked to have her portrait taken, but we are both ever so slightly over age demographic of SCAR Project participants. But anyway, honestly I went for the road trip with her, since all our time together up to that point had been spent in the chemo lounge.

But seeing these brave and beautiful YOUNG women, like Vanessa standing beside their portraits baring scars like mine caught me off guard. Something about the way they looked back at me from their portraits. This is what surviving breast cancer looks like. This is what is underneath the pink ribbons. It’s hard to look at but this is what breast cancer does to a woman. 
But these pictures are about much more than what breast cancer does to a woman. They are about what it doesn't do. There is still feminine beauty and grace after breast cancer. These young women are postcards from HOPE. And my hope is that the baring of their scars will become traction for a cure.

This is why I think this is an important exhibit and moment for our city." -Joules Evans

These amazing women—inspired and motivated—knew they needed to get this influential exhibit to their hometown. After receiving a whole-hearted "yes" from the artist to bringing his exhibit to Cincinnati, they began spreading the word and developed The SCAR Project Committee to organize and market the event.

The SCAR Project Committee: Joules Evans (committee head), Me, Vanessa Tiemeier (subject/model), David Jay (photographer), Pam Irvin, Shelly Emrick (not shown)
Style Network‟s “Baring It All” Documentary Viewing Party at ADC Andrea Bashore, Heather Printz Salazar, Vanessa Tiemeier, Kelly Reichert, David Jay, Tracie Weidner Metzger, Banita Bailey, Joules Evans, Diana Walker Featherstone
"The SCAR Project is not 'idealized.' There is something painfully beautiful in humanity. A beauty that transcends glossy, mass-produced images."

Fashion photographer, David Jay, began The SCAR Project after a young and close friend of his was diagnosed with breast cancer. The SCAR Project campaign is mainly to raise awareness about the nearly 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year alone. Although the campaign's main mission is awareness, it is also about "hope, reflection, and healing" for young women affected by this disease.

"For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride."

Sep 18, 2011

The SCAR Project as seen through a doctor's eyes

[It is my great pleasure to introduce this guest post by Oncology Hematology Care physician Douglas Flora, MD. Not only has OHC been one of our most generous supporters for the SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit, but they also happen to be some of the most amazing caregivers, not to mention lifesavers. My co-committee members Vanessa, Shelly, and I are all patients of OHC, as are quite a few of the Pink Ribbon Girls (our beneficiary for the Cincinnati exhibit) that we've been working with to bring The SCAR Project to Cincinnati. I cannot even begin to tell you how much it means to all of us to have OHC on our team. Thank you, OHC. And thank you, Dr. Flora for letting us see The SCAR Project through a doctor's eyes.]

Why We Should Look at the Face of Cancer
Guest Post By Douglas Flora, MD
Oncology Hematology Care

Exhibits like the SCAR project make us look at the face of cancer head on. The groundbreaking images are of accomplished, intelligent women who have taken bad news in stride, moved forward and remained accomplished, intelligent women. These beautiful pictures capture women demonstrating emotions in their barest sense:  they are brave images that remind us all of how cancer affects our wives, daughters, mothers in all shapes and sizes, and sends a powerful message about the importance of advocacy, research and early detection. One of the privileges of being a Medical Oncologist is that we KNOW these women: valiant, defiant, brave. These images stir emotions, stimulate debate and discussion, and bring attention to a vital population of our sisters, wives, mothers: all fighting, surviving, flourishing in our midst. They make you want to read more, research more, screen more, care more. I lost my mother to this disease, and I support ANY project like this that stirs hearts and encourages public attention to this important disease. Women who see these images can experience a more visceral understanding of what their sisters, neighbors, friends are going through. Pink Ribbons don’t tell the whole story and hopefully the Cincinnati community will support and embrace this project, giving cancer survivors the respect they deserve. These images remind us all to pay attention to the importance of early screening and detection of cancers, especially breast. They invoke emotions that are important: hope, fear, sadness and joy, which are all part of the human condition. These brave women are photographed in their barest state, with grace and dignity and hopefully inspire those like myself who work in this field to continue to fight this important battle.

About Oncology Hematology Care
As Greater Cincinnati’s top quality, comprehensive resource for cancer and blood disorders, Oncology Hematology Care offers patients a wide range of cancer specialists, the newest treatments and technologies, and clinical trials that bring leading-edge therapies close to home. With more than 50 physicians and nurse practitioners, our group cares for patients at more than 20 locations in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Sep 15, 2011

We'll Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

The Cincinnati premiere of the pulitzer-nominated, international exhibition of THE SCAR Project is just around the corner and we need your help! The volunteer web site is now live. Click here for the list.

The SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit planning committee began with 3 breast cancer survivors and an art gallery owner, who graciously donated her space as a place to host The SCAR Project. SCAR is an acronym for (Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.) The SCAR Project is a photographic exhibit of young women baring their scars from breast cancer.

We feel these pictures need to be seen. Primarily an awareness raising campaign, The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women.

Like Cincinnati SCAR Project participant (and also a member of this planning committee) Vanessa Teimeier. Vanessa was 25 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She and over 100 other young women like her, ranging from the ages of 17 to 35 have traveled across the country and from around the world to be part The SCAR Project.

The SCAR Project is dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone.

Besides raising awareness, The SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit will raise funds for the Pink Ribbon Girls, co-founded by Cincinnati survivor Tracie Metzger to serve the needs of young breast cancer survivors.
The SCAR Project photographer, David Jay, along with many of The SCAR Project participants will be on hand for the exhibit. They will stand beside their portraits as pictures of beauty, courage, hope, and grace in the face of their absolute reality of surviving cancer. We hope this exhibit helps other survivors, young and old, to see their own scars, faces, figures, and experiences through a new, honest, and ultimately empowering lens.

These are big goals. This is a big undertaking, and we need your help. This is a passion project for us, and if you find you share our passion, we hope you will help us fill the many volunteer roles needed to pull off this amazing, beautiful, compelling, heartbreaking, hopeful, impactful, meaningful, powerful exhibit for our city.

Sep 13, 2011

Sincerely, Vanessa

Posted by Joules Evans

[This is a hard update to post. I will let Vanessa share in her own words. Please join with me and the rest of the SCAR Project Cincinnati Planning Committee in praying for Vanessa as she begins another round of kicking cancer's ass today.]


An update from Cincinnati SCAR Project participant/Cincinnati SCAR Project Planning Committee member Vanessa Tiemeier: 

This is always difficult for me to share, because I don’t want to spring things on people, but…I had a head MRI last week b/c I was having severe headaches. Turns out there was a cluster of cancer cells that showed up on the scan. My doc explained that they are present in the protective lining of my brain, called the meninges. There are enough cells in the same place that have created a mass of sorts, large enough to make my skull bulge and push my brain out of the way. The doc also made sure to remind me that the caner isn’t actually in my brain, just pressing on it, which is good news I guess. So to date, my breast cancer has spread to my bones, my lungs, my lymph nodes, and now the lining of my brain. I resume active treatment and continue being thankful for TODAY.  
I have to say that my recent news didn’t surprise me, but it of course is never easy to hear. It seems like so much has happened recently, in my life but also the world around me, that I have come to realize how precious life is and how lucky we are to share it with the ones who mean something to us. There are so many people living lives with diseases or challenges that they did not choose, that they have no control over, but are trying to just make the best of it. I feel like this aligns with the mission and objective of The SCAR Project. One thing that David Jay, The SCAR Project photographer, set out to do was pay tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women. And the exhibition proves that so many women, young women, live with breast cancer everyday and that their struggle never goes away. But I think it also honors those with other challenges. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has struggles. I for sure have had mine to share, but I know there are many others like me. And many of you with your own challenges.  

I’ve said it before, but I really mean it…live with passion. Live with intention. Live healthy. Live with no regrets. Live Sincerely. So in the spirit of Living Sincerely, I would most appreciate for you all to look inward and maybe take some time improving your own situation, so you can be present in your own life.☺ Life’s not easy, but I am challenging everyone out there to live, really live. If for no one else, do it for me.

Sep 2, 2011

Cancer Fighting Princess

Posted by Joules Evans

[In my continuing series of guest blogs by SCAR Project participants, I’d like to introduce newlywed Mrs. Bud Adams aka Melissa the pink cowboy boot wearing Cancer Fighting Princess.]
Guest Blog by Melissa Adams

I was diagnosed with genetic Stage IIA cancer on March 15, 2007 at the age of 31. I had invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ.

I found my lump on February 20th. Called my doc and was told to wait a week. Called back because it was still there and went in for an exam. The doc seemed to think that it was nothing and assured me it was not cancer (even after I shared that my great grandmother and uncle both had cancer—he said they were too distant!) But sent me for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound just to be safe. Those procedures were followed by an ultrasound guided needle biopsy, which by the way was the worst pain I have ever experienced in my entire life, still to this day. It took about 2.5 hours and I felt all 7 times they went in, despite being given a local anesthetic, twice. I bled for 6 hours after that procedure.

I got “the phone call” at work at about 8:30 on March 15th. The doctor who called me was one I didn't know and hadn't ever worked with—I work in a place where doctors frequently call my office so it never occurred to me who she might have been. She identified herself and the only thing I heard was "I don't know how to tell you this over the phone." I never heard her say breast cancer or you have or those two phrases together. I started screaming and crying even though I had spent the last 3 weeks researching, preparing myself, and convincing myself I would not be devastated. I was devastated anyway. My world turned completely upside down.

I don't remember much of the day or the weeks ahead to be honest. I had an all day run at the hospital on March 21st where I met with surgeon, geneticist, and had a bunch of tests done. I was tested for the BRCA1/2 mutation—found out that there is a lot of cancer on the biological paternal side of my family. In fact, I am BRCA2 positive and as if having cancer alone wasn't devastating enough, I got that punch in the face because it came from a biological "father" who has never had anything to do with me my entire life. I was able to joke about it though and told everyone that it confirmed that I'm a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

My surgeon recommended complete removal of the right breast because it could not be preserved with all of the cancer in there. She recommended removal of the left given the mutation. I had my bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction on May 3rd (my step dad's birthday). I opted for implants though I had been so against it from the beginning. During the surgery, the doc discovered that my margins were not clean and had to remove additional tissue down toward my upper abs and pectoral muscle but the margins were still not clean.

Though I was initially told I would not have to do radiation, it turned out that when they discovered the unclean margins, the radiation oncologist recommended I do it (by the way, it is not common practice to do reconstruction prior to radiation). So I was "pumped up" on the fast track plan...from about June until July and then on July 16th (day before my birthday) I had my expanders swapped out for the implants. I underwent 30 rounds of radiation therapy, which caused significant damage to my right implant. I suffered from capsular contracture, which is hardening of the implant, and I was lopsided! I had to wait to be out of radiation for 6 months before I could have my next surgery to fix the damage.

On May 8th, a year and 5 days from the one-year anniversary of my first surgery, I had surgery to remove the latissmus muscle from the right side of my back to bring it around and recreate my right breast. I had to have expanders put in again and went through the "pumping up" process all over again. In August 2008, I got my new and improved foreigners (that is what I call them).

Since I'm a BRCA2 carrier, I go every 6 months for ovarian cancer screenings.

This year of all years has been the most challenging for me. In January, they found something that appeared semi-solid on one of my ovaries. My CA125 levels had been in the normal range previous to this but had nearly doubled.

It was and always has been recommended that I have my ovaries removed but I'm not mentally or physically ready for that.

I went for a 2nd opinion where they scanned my entire body. The discovered an area of uptake on the CT Scan on the right side of my implant. They are not 100% sure of what it is so I had another CT done in June and will actually be going for another on September 24th. I just saw my gynecological oncologist again in August. She didn't find anything on my ovaries but my CA125 is still elevated so I have to get blood work done for that again. They discovered on the CT Scan that I have a dilated aorta and come to find out that I have a significant history of heart disease on my mom's side of the family. Now I see a cardiologist for that. So that is my story and where I am with my health.

I found out about the scar project through the online Susan G. Komen forum. I had emailed David Jay a few times about the project. I decided to participate because for me, from the get go, I knew this would never be about just getting through it. I whole-heartedly believe that I was meant to do something with this experience. My goals in life have always been to change a life, make a difference, and touch a heart. I never imagined I would have to get cancer in order to do that but that is just what happened. So I wanted to put myself out there as another young face of breast cancer.

I emailed David Jay so many times because I looked at his site and saw that all of the women had taken pictures with their shirts off and exposed their breasts. There were multiple reasons that I wasn’t willing to do that. One is that I work in public education and though this project is considered educational, I wasn’t willing to take the chance on losing my job over it. Even if I didn’t work in public education, I still wouldn’t have exposed my scarred breasts to the entire world. Up until very recently, no one other than my doctors had seen me without a shirt on. For the first 3 years or so after the reconstruction I could never look at myself. I would purposefully step away from the mirror when I was getting undressed. I think it was a lack of acceptance that this was my reality.
I can recall the day that I undid my dressings after my first reconstruction surgery. I was at home by myself recovering from the surgery. I decided to take a shower but before I did, I wanted to look. I undid the dressing and was completely devastated at what was before me in the mirror. I screamed and cried. I sobbed the entire time I was in the shower. I didn’t even know what to do with myself. I cried for hours and hours after that. One of my best friends had tried calling me that day and couldn’t get in touch with me. Finally, he decided to just come over and found me sitting on the back patio sobbing. It was probably the lowest point I had during my journey. All along all I ever wanted was to have “me” back. I have come a long way from that point but I still struggle with it, as many other women do.

This is what I wrote on my caringbridge site last year after going to the exhibit:
Before we even walked into the exhibit, I was overflowing with emotions. It is hard to explain what it felt like to look through the window and see my picture hanging on the back wall. There were a thousand emotions running through was bitter sweet in so many ways. As we were doing the gallery walk, I was in tears. At one point, David Jay asked if anyone wanted to lead the gallery walk and Flora so kindly selected me. I, of course, went over to my photo. David Jay asked me to share a little bit about my story and so I did. I was crying the whole time. It was hard to look at my photo but at the same time, I couldn't stop. It was hard looking back into the crowd and seeing my friends with tear-filled eyes too. There were several other girls that took part in the project that shared their story as well. At some level, it brought a sense of closure for me to that part of my life. I wasn't sure I would have ever been able to look back at that photo and not see it as something that had complete control over my life but I was and I was filled with a sense of relief that finally I can move forward from that dark place.

I am hoping that this project is an eye opener for everyone…particularly anyone that seems to think that mammograms should be conducted once a woman turns 50 and for anyone that thinks self-breast exams and mammograms don’t save lives. We are all faces of proof against both of those ideas.

It is overwhelming to see my photo as a part of this exhibit. It almost seems surreal at times. Last year my photo was used for an article on AOL health and people were calling, texting, and emailing that they had seen my photo.

I was single when I was diagnosed with cancer. Had never been married and wasn’t dating anyone. I was convinced that no man in this world, especially my age, would ever be interested in me because of the breast cancer and because statistically I’m at risk for recurrence or ovarian cancer. I remember standing in my office at work talking to 2 of the secretaries about my upcoming mastectomy and was crying as I asked them, “Who is going to love me now?”

At some point along my journey, I had accepted this and seemed to be somewhat okay with it. On May 6th (the one-year anniversary of my lat surgery) I met Bud.

Bud and I hung out several times and eventually started dating. He bought my engagement ring on February 20, 2010 (the three-year anniversary of the day I found my lump).

We got engaged on May 17, 2010 and married on July 16, 2011. For me, it was a bittersweet day because it was the anniversary of one of my surgeries…but…it was also the day I married my best friend.
I never saw this day coming because had lost all hope that anyone would ever love me after all that I had been through. I had chalked it up as one more loss to the cancer. But then I met Bud. He loves me unconditionally. Never once did he look at me as the girl with cancer, he always saw me as just Melissa. He taught me that I am worthy of being loved but more important than that, he helped me in the process of learning to love myself again. Even when I told him early on (before we were officially dating I believe) that I would never have children because of the 50/50 chance of passing it on to my child, he still pursued me. There have been times when I feel as though he deserves so much better because he is such a great guy…he should be with a woman that has her real breasts, someone that doesn’t have to eventually have to have her ovaries taken out because of the risk of additional cancer, someone that doesn’t have such a high risk of recurrence or other cancers, and someone that can/will have children because he would be a great dad. But he loves me for me and wouldn’t give me up for anything.

Bud and I founded Cancer Fighting Princess in October 2009. It started out as a conversation, about me and about having a web page about my experience. He asked what I would call it and I said “Cancer Fighting Princess, duh!” From there evolved the idea to start a charity. We have decided to focus on supporting young women currently undergoing treatment for breast and/or any gynecological cancer.