Archive | July 2013

Gravity

[When I stood before my guest blogger ‘s SCAR portrait at the first SCAR Project Exhibition in NYC in 2010, it was the first time I really faced another  woman whose [Surviving Cancer.] [Absolute Reality.]  looked like mine. I knew so little about breast cancer when I was diagnosed in 2008, that I didn’t  know that no  reconstruction was even an option any woman ever opted for. The one woman I knew who’d had a double mastectomy, did it prophylactically with immediate reconstruction. In my case there weren’t really options. The best course of action was to wait until after surgery and chemo, to evaluate the reconstruction question: 2B or not 2B?   When I  met Toni at the Cincinnati Exhibition I produced in 2011,  she was still the only other woman I knew who had been there, done that, had to buy a flat new t-shirt like me. I was eager to learn her story and to share it here.  Now, especially in light of the recent Facebook controversy over SCAR images, and of upcoming exhibition news, I’ve asked my flat and fabulous SCAR sister Toni G. to share her SCAR story. Here is the first of two parts.]

Toni G

Guest Post by SCAR girl Toni G.

I was sitting in a tent at Zion National Park when I got the news. The voice of the surgeon who had biopsied a mass in my breast the week before came through my cell phone: “We need to talk”. My heart sank.

I had breast cancer. I was 28 years old.

I’d already planned out my vacation to Utah for the spring of 2007 to celebrate passing the doctoral candidacy exam—a feat that would allow me to continue pursuing my Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. But  experiments didn’t cooperate, and I’d had to postpone the exam and take my “celebratory” vacation before I even answered one question.

And now this woman was on the phone saying words horribly foreign to me. ER+/PR-/Her2-. Grade 2. BRCA1/2-. Two IDC tumors measuring 3 and 5 cm.

More unfamiliar terms followed as she proceeded to tell me the course of treatment. I sat in silence while she described, in what seemed like one breath, oncologists, mastectomy, chemotherapy. When she spoke the word radiation I finally lost it.

My space-time continuum had just been warped by the gravity of cancer.

She wanted me to see an oncologist that day, but I was 1500 miles from home and a week away from my return flight. I told her I couldn’t that day. Or the next few. I had rented canyoneering equipment for the day and had miles of hiking to look forward to. I would be home in a week. I didn’t call my family. I couldn’t bear to tell them the heaviest news of my life over the phone.

The one phone call I did make was to the chair of my committee. My candidacy exam would have to be further postponed. It turns out, indefinitely—but that’s another blog.

The months following diagnosis were surreal. I’d become so used to people telling me that 20-somethings don’t get breast cancer that I found it hard to believe I actually did.

When I was 20, I found a lump in my breast. My surgeon insisted it was a cyst. No tests? No biopsies? Nope. When the pathology came back benign, I sensed an “I told you so.” He told me that even if I discovered more cysts in the future, I wouldn’t have to have them removed. “They’re normal,” he said.

“They’re normal,” I thought eight years later as I stood naked in front of the mirror slowly tilting my head and squinting. My left nipple looked odd and had gone flat. My gynecologist thought the scar tissue from my cyst removal was causing it. She never mentioned the words breast cancer.

Over the next few months I began to feel a mass in the same breast. I called my gynecologist’s office again and was told to call back in six months to follow up. I convinced myself it was just another one of those normal cysts. So I didn’t worry—for seven long months.
By then, the two masses in my breast were causing sharp shooting pains across my chest. The (finally) worried gynecologist ordered a biopsy.

And then I was in Utah, sitting in a tent…

When I did finally go home and called a family meeting, Dad was giddy. “You’re getting married!?” No, Dad. “You’re having a baby!?” No, that’s not it either. It made the truth more crushing.

My oncologist started me on chemotherapy immediately because the tumors were so large. He ordered a CT scan that came back with abnormal spots in my femur and four places in my spine. After a follow up PET-CT scan, I received a second blow. The spots were metastasized breast cancer.

I was now stage four.

I wasn’t concerned at first. My ignorance of metastatic breast cancer shielded me. But after a week of reading through scientific literature, I found myself shutting my laptop every night in tears, unable to handle any more statistics. Based on my research, I knew I only had a 25 percent chance of being alive in five years.

My oncologist said nothing had changed—not our treatment strategy or my life expectancy. I knew then I had to change oncologists. My life depended on it.

I found my second oncologist at MD Anderson. She cited current literature and was willing to be as aggressive as I wanted with my treatments. She understood my drive to do absolutely everything I could to get rid of the beast that was trying to pull me down.

“Absolutely everything” turned out to be the hardest experiment of my life. Seven months of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, a clinical trial with high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, and six weeks of skin-scorching radiation to top it off.

It worked. I was declared to have “no evidence of disease”!

Just one week after I finished my treatment, I hiked to the top of the Continental Divide in Colorado. After hours of plodding through the snow and a chance encounter with a majestic mountain goat, I found myself sitting at the top of the mountain. Bald and burned and brave. I had defied gravity. I had defied cancer!

Toni Hiking

[All this defying of cancer and, most likely, more gravity as well, will be continued in Part 2 of Toni’s SCAR story, in which she considers the geography of cancer.]

A Response to Facebook’s Reversal of its Ban on SCAR Images

Guest Post by Lauren Culpepper

[Lauren is the production manager for The SCAR Project, David Jay’s right hand, my SCAR Project sidekick, not to mention, the most lovely soul to work with.]

Since The SCAR Project began six years ago, David Jay created a Facebook page for the project. What began as a small page of a few supporters has now become a thriving group supported by over 33,000. David has used Facebook as an immediate way of communicating directly and effectively as he continues his work with The SCAR Project. For years Facebook has randomly and periodically taken down images and banned David’s personal account which prevents him from posting.

It has been an unbelievably frustrating challenge. Every time this has occurred, there is no one at Facebook to contact in order to gain clarity on the image removal or ban. This has turned Facebook into a looming “big brother” for The SCAR Project, not knowing when it will strike again.

This time, however, a woman reached out via Twitter. Scorchy Barrington, currently stage IV and undergoing treatment, created a petition at Change.org on behalf of David and The SCAR Project that created a massive ripple effect with over 20,000 signatures. Two days after the petition was posted, Change.org got behind the petition, Facebook’s VP of global policy requested to speak to Susan and David, and a conference call was set up with Susan, David, Facebook, and Change.org. It was an extremely beneficial opportunity to listen to one another and have a chance to communicate directly. The following week, Change.org, Susan, Facebook and David exchanged emails editing what would become the new policy that you now
see on Facebook’s policy page.

While in many ways the new policy is a huge victory for breast cancer survivors, whether or not Facebook will continue to allow certain images to be posted on The SCAR Project’s page remains to be seen. The new policy is certainly improved, but also leaves plenty of room for Facebook to decide what images are allowed and what images are considered a violation. And, according to the new policy, The SCAR Project images previously taken down remain to be a violation. We continue to await the decision by Facebook as to whether or not they will re-post the images (including the hundreds of comments that accompany them) that were previously removed. It has now been over a month and we have yet to see those images restored to the Facebook page.

But the truth is that nothing has really changed at Facebook. In fact, the issue has nothing to do with breast cancer at all. Facebook never had any issues with mastectomies from the beginning. Mastectomies are not the problem. Nipples are. But not men’s nipples. Only women’s. Somewhere buried within the history of America’s societal evolution (or lack thereof), the female nipple became a body part to be hidden and ashamed of. The female nipple has and continues to violate every media policy in our country, but no one will admit to that fact. David Jay brought up the issue repeatedly while in discussions with Facebook, asking them to at least clarify that it was the female nipple that was in violation. Silence. No one wants to talk about it, yet everyone wants to abide by the unspoken “rule”: The female nipple is illegal in America.

And now, as we enter the world of breast cancer treatment (where we have everything from no breasts, breasts but no nipples, one breast with one nipple, breasts with reconstructed or tattooed nipples) we enter into a gray area that perpetuates the nipple conundrum. And the recent issue with Facebook’s policies has once again shined the limelight on the elephant in the room, only for the issue to be skirted around and avoided. How many more generations will continue to accept this view of the female body? With everyone’s recent finger-pointing at Facebook’s lack of clear policies regarding discriminatory, hateful, sexist, bigoted and misogynistic posts, the problem lies much deeper. And it is buried underneath decades of a misconstrued view of what a woman and her body represents.

You can read more of the press coverage at the following links:

ABCnews.com: Facebook Launches New Policy to Allow Mastectomy Photos
(Also posted on GMA/Yahoo)

ABC News Radio: Facebook Launches Policy to Allow Mastectomy Photos

NY Daily News: After backlash, Facebook says mastectomy photos are OK

Chicago Tribune: Facebook says yes to post-mastectomy photos

ThinkProgress: Facebook Promises to Stop Treating Photos of Breast Cancer Scars Like Pornography

CNET: Breast cancer activists win battle with Facebook over mastectomy photos

Huffington Post: Facebook Revises Wording of Policy on Post-MastectomyPhotos

The Daily Dot: 20,000 people convince Facebook to officially embracemastectomy photos

Medical Daily: Facebook Mastectomy Photos: Social Network ‘Clarifies’ Policy, Allows Breast Cancer Survivor Photos After Viral Backlash

TIME: Facebook Is Officially OK With (Some) Mastectomy Photos

Boston Globe: Facebook changes policy to allow post-mastectomy photos

Shape Magazine: Facebook Allows Post-Mastectomy Photos

Telegraph: Facebook allows mastectomy photos after breast cancer patient’s petition

The Inquisitr: Mastectomy Photos Allowed By New Facebook Policy

Daily Mail: Facebook launches new policy allowing mastectomy photos after breast cancer patient’s 20,000-strong petition

Herald Sun: Facebook allows post-mastectomy photos following petition