When facing a preventative double mastectomy, Katelyn Carey had no idea what to expect. Now that she is past her procedure, she wants to tell other women in her position: You're not alone.
Carey, a nurse and mother of two, has a family history of breast cancer and underwent a preventative mastectomy at the age of 29. Inspired by her experience, she is creating Beauty After Breast Cancer, a book of portraits and narratives that explains what breast cancer survivors went through, and shows what their bodies look like now.
(Some images below may be considered NSFW.)
"Every six months I go in for a new prosthesis/insert and a new bra. Nobody really knows that half of my shape comes from the prosthesis. It’s not like I’m missing an arm or a leg (and I count my blessings for that!). I sometimes walk down the street and wonder how many women have a prosthesis under their blouse like mine. It’s comfortable to wear, and makes me look like me again."
Carey hopes to publish the book in the autumn of 2015. Her goal is for cancer centers and breast centers around the world to use the book as a tool to hearten women facing treatment and surgery by providing information about various surgeries, and personal stories from women who have had them.
"The one crucial difference between us and the other resources out there is that Beauty After Breast Cancer is the coordinated efforts of medical staff with breast cancer patients in order to create the book that we as patients wish we'd had at the time of our diagnosis," Carey told The Huffington Post. "I believe that modern medicine can be compassionate. I believe that we can use our hardships to help others who must walk similar paths to the ones we have stumbled on."
"Now, whenever I am feeling less-than-secure, I have only to look at my husband, or at the photos that show me through his eyes. Beautiful. Or I can look at one of my children’s hands, curled on my breast as he rests on my lap, and know that I will be here for my kids as long as they need me. I was strong for my family even before I had met them, and they find me beautiful. So how could I help but to feel my beauty now?"
Carey and photographer Joseph Linaschke have worked with 33 breast cancer survivors ranging in age from 29 to 82. These women have undergone lumpectomies and single and bilateral mastectomies. Some have chosen to have full or partial breast reconstructions; others have decided against reconstruction or even "deconstructed" their implants at a later date.
"We don't hold back, and the photos show both 'ideal' outcomes as well as surgeries that had complications." Carey said. "Yet we are still managing to be uplifting and unintimidating with the portraits and stories we are sharing. A woman who has just heard the words, 'you have breast cancer' does not need to be scared further. I feel the faceless portraits of scars remain too harsh for someone who has no experience with breast cancer."
"I had originally pictured a beautiful new set of boobs with an amazing mural of tattoos. But I now find that boobs are not essential to my beauty or femininity. The benefits of enduring another major surgery just aren’t there. It’s very empowering to realize that I have nothing to hide and no reason to hide. I realize now that my beauty comes from knowing that I already am beautiful- I don't have to do anything else."
Carey launched a Kickstarter fundraiser in October 2014 that fell short of its funding goal, but remains determined to see the book published.
"More and more I wish I had this book when I was going through my surgery," Carey wrote. "And I guess that's the point of all this."
See more stunning images and narratives from Beauty After Breast Cancer below, and learn more about the project here.
"I am a mass of scars. They tell the story of my life: from my hysterectomy, to my stretch marks from three children, to my gallbladder surgery, to my breast scars. But if anyone thinks those scars and stories somehow make me a lesser person, I don’t really care to know that person anyway. I am a thirty-two year survivor of breast cancer, and my life is full and rich."
"Cancer showed me the strength of my husband, and the depth of his love. As my dear husband, Dan, gently took off my bandaging he made sure he did not have a look of shock on his face, as he knew I was watching for his reaction. He lovingly cared for me all the way through the cancer and now, when I had no breasts, he loved me just the same, and emptied my drains for me with as much gentleness as he could. Even now, he prefers me without my mastectomy bra -- he loves me -- ME, breasts or no."
"I couldn’t stand the scar. While some people wear their scars as a testament of their strength, my scar reminded me of all that I was forced to change, about how life goes haywire despite your precautions, and how little control I have. The scar was about what had been done to me. I needed to change it into a thing of beauty and strength that reflected who I’d become despite it.
And so Shoyru the dragon came to me. She is not hiding my scar, she is encompassing it and making it part of her own body. She moves my eye’s line of sight to what IS there -- the beauty and fierceness -– and away from what is no longer. Her arrival shifted me from loss to creativity, from what happened to me to what I chose for myself. I am not hiding from what is or trying to go back to what was, I simply accept that cancer happened… and here is what I did with it."