The following is a blog written by my daughter, Chelsea Wolf , almost 3 years ago after she'd gone to see The Scar Project in NYC for the first time. It's definitely worth taking a moment to read. Her perspective is from that of a breast cancer survivor/thriver's daughter and it's very, very powerful.
On The SCAR Project: Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality
Today I went to see "The SCAR Project." David Jay, the photographer and founder, says, "The SCAR Project is an awareness raising campaign. A series of portraits of young women with breast cancer. I wish I could write "young women surviving" breast cancer, but not all have survived. The women are between 18 and 35 years old. Neither art project nor beauty pageant, The SCAR Project is an honest, raw, unflinching look at a terrifying disease." I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Jay and talk to him about his work. I had not expected him to be there and felt very overwhelmed by his presence. I managed to tell him about how my mom had breast cancer and she had told me about the exhibit. I told him how amazing I thought his project was and then I thanked him for doing it. I wish I could have prepared something more concise about my own experiences with breast cancer. But surrounded by all of those beautiful photographs I was left speechless.
The program contained autobiographies from every woman who had been photographed. I went into the gallery extremely nervous. I was by myself and completely unaware of the emotional roller coaster I was about to ride. The exhibit was held in one big, stark, white room. Dozens of topless women lined the walls. Some of them had hair, some of them didn't. Some of them were smiling, laughing even. Others were crying or staring you dead in the eye. There were black women and white women. Asian women and Indian women. Some women had one breast, others had no breasts. Some women had no nipples, others had tattooed nipples, some had been able to keep their own. Each of these women was extraordinarily beautiful.
Breasts are a universal sign of femininity. To see these women literally bearing their scars radically changed my whole view of what is beautiful. I used to despise my breasts. 'They're too small. I have scars on them. I hate that mole." The list was endless. But what are breasts really other than two mounds of flesh positioned smack dab in the middle of one's chest. Breasts are for feeding newborn children. They serve a purpose and an important one at that. Throughout history, breasts have always been seen as a sign of femininity. Small chested women are told that they are not as desirable due to their lack of curves. Implants, push-up bras, and low-cut tee-shirts were designed to help us less fortunate women. Yet here these women were, breaking down the barriers, proving that it is possible to be even more beautiful without breasts. And with glaring, red, jagged scars.
I passed a bunch of joggers on my way to the exhibit. They were covered in pink and participating in a walk for the cure. Each woman I passed was adorned with a pink tracksuit, baseball cap, ribbons, and teddy bear hanging from their neck. What they are doing is amazing. But a part of me wanted to take them with me to the exhibit and say, "Look at this. Know this." Breast cancer isn't glamorous. It isn't pink bows and teddy bears and matching tracksuits. Breast cancer is Hell. I consider myself a survivor of breast cancer. My mother was diagnosed when I was 17 and my world stopped. I have one parent. One amazing parent at that. The idea of losing her killed me. I won't go into detail about her treatment because that is her story, not mine. What I can say is this: Watching the person you love most in the world slowly wither away is the most terrifying and heartbreaking experience. You will cry until your eyes are so pink they resemble those same ribbons you hate so much. You will barter with God. You will scream until your lungs feel like they are going to collapse in on themselves. You will hate your friends with healthy mothers. You will hate your father for not being the one slowly dying on the inside. You won't sleep anymore. And you will do anything in your power to never have to go through what she's going through.
My mother shouldn't be alive right now. Her doctor's didn't expect her to live much longer after the cancer spread. Her recovery is a miracle. No one can explain it. She has been cancer-free for five years. I could not stop myself from thinking about her the whole time I was in the art gallery. I read each woman's story and took in the beauty that was before me. It took two photographs. Just two stories in before I was bawling. The picture was stunning. The woman was young, bald, with two reconstructed breasts and the most beautiful clear blue eyes I have ever seen. She wrote a poem about her fight for her life. I sobbed. I couldn't even begin to imagine how scary it must have been for her or any of the other women to fight this battle. You could see the pain in her eyes. You could hear it especially in her poem. In that moment, I was happy to be alone. I felt connected to these women. All of us there alone in our pain. I digress, my pain is nothing similar to theirs. These women are brave. They are fighters. I barely survived as the daughter of a victim. I honestly don't know if I would be strong enough to go through what they did.
To be completely honest, nothing scares me more then breast cancer. Both my mother and my dad's mother had very aggressive forms of it. This is why I chose a vegan diet. This is why I will get so defensive when challenged on my lifestyle. This is why I get so angry when I see pink ribbons and teddy bears and cutesy facebook statuses. Breast cancer needs to stop being glamorized and infantilized and shown for what it actually is: a cold hard killer. According to Breastcancer.org, approximately 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in the course of her lifetime. This disease is killing our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, and our friends. If you're not scared then you should be. Nobody is safe from it. You are not too young or too rich or too pretty to get it. This makes me angry. And f$#%&^* scared as Hell.
October is the month when people choose to be aware of breast cancer. Many of us are aware of it every single day of our lives. My own opinions aside, if wearing a ribbon or buying a pink teddy bear is your way of showing awareness and supporting the cause then by all means do it. Do something. David Jay's exhibit ends tomorrow but he has a book of these photographs that can be purchased online at: www.thescarproject.org. I also encourage you all to do a self exam. Early detection can save your life. I will get off my soapbox now. I will leave you with the poem that made me cry. It was written by Sarah N. who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26.
It is over, over, over.
I cannot tell myself these words enough
to convince my body and mind that they are true.
I am still awaiting the next round.
A mass of insane thoughts explode your mind
as you hand over your body to a knife
and your veins to poison
intended to come as close to killing you as possible
but not quite.
Each morning I look in the mirror
I stare at the scars.
I check for signs of the poison.
I grow thinner and thinner, my cheeks sinking
deeper into my bones.
Finally I stare into the eyes of my corpse.
But I still feel
so I know I still live.
And for life
for my life,
I will continue to fight.
Chelsea Wolf is a NYC based singer/songwriter who has performed her unique style of music throughout NYC.