Anomaly Yours, Eliza

[I met today’s guest blogger at her SCAR photo shoot in DC this past spring when the cherry blossoms were all abloom and decking out DC for its annual festival. How. Very. Apropos. Methought as I watched this beautiful, courageous, WAY TOO FREAKING YOUNG woman bare her S.C.A.R.s for the camera. At first glance, Eliza’s bright blue-eyes distracted me from the fresh red “angry scars”—as she calls them. Her absolute reality of surviving cancer is as different from mine as my scars are from hers. Mine have faded a bit, as I’m a wee bit (ok, OK… she’s exactly HALF my age but TWICE me in wisdom and stature) older than my younger survivor sister. Mine look more like Japanese symbols for WTF? and are therefore not nearly as angry—though I definitely see red when I see hers. I’ve read before that “the fragility of the cherry blossom is the fragility of human existence.” This was just poetry before I met Eliza. She is currently the youngest of the SCAR girls. Eliza just finished grad school in May and turned 23 in June. Oh, and is planning a wedding. While fighting cancer in her spare time, after being diagnosed earlier this year at twenty-freaking-two. She calls herself an anomaly. I just call her awesome. As I’ve gotten to know Eliza I’ve come to see that beneath that beautiful pale skin is fierce hope unfading, which the sunlight dancing upon it only highlights.]

Guest Post by Eliza Hewitt

 

Eliza and Thomas at graduation… and they’re off… planning a wedding for sometime next year… once she’s finished her Ph-freaking-d in chemo and radiation.

First of all, I should probably state that I’m only 23, a fact that I hope will shock anyone who feels that they are too young for breast cancer. Before my diagnosis, I was your average grad student working four or five jobs to avoid going further into student loan debt and working out the plans for the wedding of my dreams.

The discovery of my cancer has a tragically humorous story behind it. July of 2011, I decided I was fed up with my breasts. They hadn’t grown since middle school so I resolved I would subject them to a breast augmentation surgery. With a coupon for a free consultation in hand, I dragged my fiancé to the plastic surgeon’s office. I remember seeing a placard addressing the office’s policy on insurance covering the surgery if it was for reconstruction. So, as I’m sitting there waiting to meet with the doctor about a boob job, I remark to my fiancé, “Man, wouldn’t it would be great if I got breast cancer because then I wouldn’t have to raise the money for this boob job?” BOOM. There. There’s the awful punchline. I was a baby then and had no idea that the idea I said in jest was really a terribly callous joke that would come back full swing five months later.

Sitting on the exam table, the doctor found a pin prick of a lump on my right breast. He raised his eyebrows and asked if I knew about this. A part of me was embarrassed that my body could have something that could prevent surgery, especially since my regular doctor had not found anything during my annual visit two months prior. So I lied. “Of course, I know what that lump is,” I said. He told me to get it checked before the surgery plans could progress. I said that I would but already my mind was thinking that I would have to get back to work. Besides, I was 22. The world was at my feet and it was probably some dinky little cyst that would fade back into my body eventually.

So I sat on my knowledge of the lump for five months.

I filled my schedule with work and classes to avoid having to think about what the lump could be. In December of 2011, I had an unrelated surgery on my tailbone and a few days later, I started finding blood in my bra. Then, my skin felt hot and I noticed that the lump felt bigger. Oh no. Now, I’m going to have to call my doctor and admit the truth and growing evidence in my boob case.

Five months. It didn’t seem like a big deal.

In the end I couldn’t face telling my doctor’s office that I had avoided getting my lump checked out and now my boob was being weird, so I turned into a five year old and asked my mother to call. As she was describing my symptoms, it began to sink in how idiotic it was to think if I avoided something that it would go away. I call it the Ostrich Solution to life’s problems.

Five months. Is. A big. Deal.

The urgency in planning an ultrasound and then an ultrasound guided biopsy on the same day told a story that sent chills up my spine. When the technician slid her magic wand over my right breast, I thought someone had dropped a river pebble in my screen. There was a big black blob smack dab in the middle of my screen and I knew then that it was cancer. It had to be because nothing else can look as sinister. A week later, we got the official news. At 22 years old with classes to pass and weddings to plan, I had breast cancer. It was triple positive, meaning that it loved estrogen and progesterone and for dessert, it was partial to HER 2.

A week after my diagnosis, I had a bilateral mastectomy. I was my breast surgeon’s youngest patient. The night before my surgery, I wanted to see mastectomy scars. If I was going to have to wear the scars for the rest of my life, I wanted to know what I would see in the mirror. What I found was The SCAR Project. With each picture, I found stoic, resolved women who dared me to think them weak or pitiful because of their scars. These women were above their diagnosis and I took heart seeing their strength, even as my soul cried for all the beauty affected by breast cancer. It helped me through the night,  the surgery, and the breast surgeon’s finding: because of lymph node involvement, I was upgraded to Stage 2B.

A few months later, I fell into a deep recess of my former life and couldn’t bear looking at myself without the mirror being entirely fogged up. I emailed David Jay, never daring to hope that he would respond back. I had just gotten involved with the movement to bring the SCAR Project to DC and felt that my contribution would be in the background. I was satisfied knowing that I would help in this way. But David did email me back and the world opened to me again. He asked if I wanted to be photographed. I cried when I thought that anyone would want to take a picture of my scars that I despised even if they meant I was surviving. Here, my poor body was doing all it could to surmount the effects of chemotherapy and I could only see them for what wasn’t there.

When I met David in DC, I could barely breathe from the expectation that he would change his mind because as a 22 year old, I felt I should have had a youthful, unabashed spirit that wasn’t facing a life threatening disease. Had I never been diagnosed, I might have felt like a model off to a photo shoot.

David told me my scars were beautiful. At first, I rejected this thought thinking maybe he couldn’t see how harsh they looked in the light. But as he took picture after picture, I started to realize that my scars were nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, they made me different from other women my age, but they also made me more resolute and strong like all the women who had photographed before me and given me strength the night before my surgery. It is still hard to look at myself sometimes. I would be lying if I said the opposite. But through my picture and my involvement with the DC exhibit, I have made peace with myself and my scars. Because our scars are there to remind us of the times in our lives that are important to remember and they paint a story of not just survival, but living.

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Follow Eliza’s Adventures With Cancer aka her blog HERE.

Check out the story the NV Daily did on Eliza HERE.

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About joulesevans

Occasionally radioactive with a chance of superpowers. I use them to fight cancer. Also I write. My first book Shaken Not Stirred...a Chemo Cocktail is available on Amazon and Kindle. I'm currently working on a sequel to Shaken, a figuring out life after cancer/travel memoir about a bucket list road trip I took of Route 66.

13 responses to “Anomaly Yours, Eliza”

  1. maryduranteyoutt says :

    Joules,
    We met at scar project NY and although I am not a cancer victim (yet), I am a woman who follows your writings and the SCAR Project almost religiously. I photographed Carmen Mendez, before and after her surgery and though she is not within The Scar Project age group, she hopefully saw herself in a new light because of the images we took. She is strong, beautiful and as sensual as she was before this cancer took away her breasts.
    The women and David Jay are truly beautiful people inside and out. I know that David has helped enlighten the world as to what these young women go through. Stories of courage and heart. And bless you for your continued support and tireless efforts and conviction on this project and the loving support you offer.
    Namaste,
    Mary Durante Youtt (aka Mary Durante Wehrhahn)

  2. Diana Haye SCAR Project LA Producer says :

    Another reason we MUST be vigilant and raise awareness. The SCAR girls are warrior women! And you my dear friend are a little spitfire ball of energy and awesomeness… Don’t tell Barbie I used that word. We all know she defines it. Hugs, kisses and lots of freaking love your way.

  3. Lisa Cummings says :

    I was fortunate to get the opportunity to meet Eliza at the DC Scar Project kick off party. All I can say is WOW!!! She is amazing and inspiring, as are all the SCAR girls.

  4. Kathy says :

    I had a double mastectomy 4 years ago, I was 32 years old at the time. I never worried about having the scars they just remind me of what I’ve been thru. Yes I miss my boobs sometimes but I have chosen not to have fake boobs or wear implants in any bra as it’s just annoying.

  5. shaz says :

    loved reading your story. I am a breast cancer survivor too. I was diagnosed at 34 & had a radical mastectomy on my right side. This was back in 2003. I was so scared back then but other than the chemotherapy which nearly done me in coz of terrible sickness, i am now somewhat back to a normal life but i still hate my scar. in reflection in mirror. That’s why i have so much respect you for being so brave!

  6. Dagne Leacock says :

    Fierce, courageous and beautiful young woman. Her story brought me to tears. My sombrero is off to you sister!

  7. Stephanie Drum says :

    I really enjoyed reading your story. I admire you doing the scar project. I am A warrior too. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age23 and then again at 25. I would love to be a part of something like the Scar Project it is so inspiring. I am 28 now living with metastic breast cancer. keep up the great fight.

    Stephanie Drum

  8. Dana Donofree says :

    What a beautiful and inspiring story…it continues to be a scary progression of the increase in young women with breast cancer diagnosis! I myself was 27 when diagnosed, a day before my 28th birthday. I was at home in Ohio celebrating my 1st bridal shower, yes, our wedding was booked for 2 months away and we had to postpone the entire event due to this dramatizing news! I am now 30 and everyday is inspirational and I am so thankful to read wonderful stories like the above…it allows me to not feel so alien! Much love out to my fellow warriors! I too have challenges looking in the mirror and reliving my scars, I actually had a rendition of a cherry tree tattoo’d around my body and over my scars, it helps me to feel strength when every day your body image looks at you back in the mirror!

  9. Facing Cancer (@cancer2gether) says :

    Quite the journey, Eliza – thanks for sharing your story. I’ll tell you a horrible secret which reminded me of your boob-job joke gone wrong. Before my diagnoses of breast cancer I had received the WORST highlights ever. I was essentially skunk-like. And I thought to myself, for one regrettable moment, “if I had cancer I’d shave this all off.” Then a few weeks later . . .

    But we’ve learned a lot since those times, eh? Congratulations on joining the SCAR project.

    Catherine
    http://www.facingcancer.ca

  10. Dana Santamaria says :

    This may sound weird but I too was diagnosed too young. I was 25 and my youngest son had just turned one. I was stage four metasis and I was given six months. After my diagnosis I became a single mother of two boys because he couldn’t handle it well it just made me fight that much harder and showed my boys how to be real men. Halfway through chemo I had to have my ovaries removed, and menopause sucks but that’s the least of my worries. I am a survivor and it will be nine years in October. I never had reconstruction because when I had my masectomies a year apart in a nice way they said there was no point in it. I had a tattoo done across my chest representing my kids and I. During treatment we lost our house in the hurricanes Frances and Jean of ’04’. It’s been a long and hard road but I am proud to be a fighting survivor. I loved looking at all the pictures they are beautiful. I live down in Port St. Lucie, Fl and I never hear of anything like this to be able to be involved. I’ve always felt I was the only one that was young because everywhere I turned or on hooves and chats they all said are you sure because your too young I was baffled because age is a number and my scars are real. Just wanted to say your beautiful

  11. Sherri K. says :

    All I can say is, thank God you wanted to have breast reconstruction because if not, you may not be here to tell your story.
    I too, am a survivor. My diagnosis came a few years later in my life than yours, but none the less, we have this “cancer” thing in common.
    God bless you.
    I admire your willingness to share or should I say ” bare it all” to all of us.

  12. kitty175099 says :

    Eliza. Thank you for being brave enough to have the pictures taken of the new “you”. When I first saw your picture I was blown away by your beauty and reserve. There you sat – no hair, no breasts, but in untold beauty….. or better I should say “indescribable” beauty. Truly a warrior and a leader of women who must go through what you did and tragically, at such a young age. I was SO smitten by your photo that I saved it on my computer to “My Pictures” so I could remember you always and refer to it anytime I start to feel sorry for myself.
    Just FYI – large breasts are NOT what they’re cracked up to be. I remember the freedom I enjoyed before I started to develop them at age 9. Yep – I’ve been saddled with “water wings” that are heavy; cause shirts not to fit properly (too large in the shoulders so it will fit across my breasts); plagued with yeast infections and heat rashes; sent me running to the doctor for most of life to have a new “fibroid” or “cyst” investigated….oh the list goes on. So please – NEVER, EVER think you’re missing anything by not having the opportunity to have your breasts enlarged. I’m probably doing something horrible by all the complaining about them – I hope not of course to find myself a part of a fate like yours by complaining. But if this ever does happen to me, you have been and ARE such a wonderful inspiration to me which I hope I’ll never need.

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