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The Girl Who Put The V In Living Sincerely

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[Most friends/fans of The SCAR Project are familiar with this beautiful face. Many of you followed Vanessa Tiemeier’s journey via The Live Sincerely Project. This week marks the second anniversary of her passing. It has been a rough week for her family, the SCAR family/community, and all of us who loved the girl who put the V in living sincerely and left a V-shaped hole behind, in our hearts. For me, Facebook has been reminding me of all the lasts I got to have with her. #everydamnday. Like I’d forget or something. I haven’t forgotten, nor have I gotten over losing her presence in this world and in my life. And I hope I never do cuz how shallow would that be of me? Recently I was asked to write an article about Vanessa for SoHza magazine, honoring her memory. I thought I’d share an extended version of it here, along with a few extra pictures, because even though Facebook posted the last last on Feb. 23 when she took her last breath and went to her rest, I’m not done. Remembering V. I can’t write Vanessa’s SCAR story from her perspective. I hope someday to share her SCAR story from her husband Billy’s and her sisters’ Jess and Christina’s perspectives on this space. But in the meantime, in memory of Vanessa and in the spirit of living sincerely, here’s my story about my beautiful friend V.]

by Joules Evans

You know how a yes or no decision can sometimes feel like a coin toss…but then that yes or no somehow sends out some kind of a ripple effect that alters your course? Or how randomly bumping into a beautiful stranger at an art gallery in NYC can sincerely change your life? That’s what happened to me on a Saturday afternoon in October of 2010 when I got invited on a roadtrip to the Big Apple to see the world premiere of The SCAR Project and met Vanessa Tiemeier.

It was a Saturday afternoon on my first day in the city that never sleeps, and I was feeling the energy as I stepped into the holy hush of the exhibit, to take a private gallery tour with SCAR Project photographer David Jay and a few of the models who were on hand. I really didn’t know what I was walking into. It seemed like such a simple left turn into the gallery off Soho, but it ended up being more of that proverbial left that I shoulda taken in Albuquerque. And am so glad I did.

When my friend Shelly invited me to go to the opening with her during chemo one day, I remember thinking that I was already pretty breast cancer aware. I didn’t even Google The SCAR Project because really all I heard when she asked me to go with her was ROADTRIP TO NYC. Which meant, 10 hours in the car not the chemo lounge, and a weekend in the Big Apple that would take girls night out to a whole new level.

When I walked into the gallery and face to face with SCAR Emily’s portrait, I realized I was not as breast cancer aware as I thought I was. She was baring her scars AND a pregnant belly.

Emily

Her absolute reality, surviving cancer, was a completely different story than mine. Since I was 41 when I was diagnosed, I had already had my children, nursed my babies; they were all teenagers at that point in my journey. Emily had faced cancer, and was facing me, with child, without breasts.

And then I met Vanessa.

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She and her husband Billy were standing beside her SCAR portrait. When she shared her SCAR story, I learned more about her absolute reality of surviving cancer. SCAR stands for Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality. It’s an awareness campaign that young women can and do get breast cancer.

Vanessa’s absolute reality of surviving cancer was completely different from both mine, and Emily’s. The truth is, everybody’s is. But I had never thought about it like that because I only knew my own reality. Bumping into Vanessa that day 5 years ago cracked me and mine wide open.

Vanessa was only 25, newly married, and she and Billy were ready to begin filling the quiver…when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Vanessa had always dreamed of a really full quiver. She and her sisters, Jessica and Christina, were always very close, both growing up, and as grown-ups. They’d even started a graphic design business called Blustery Day Design together. Vanessa wanted all that and more, for the children she dreamed of having.

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Christina, Vanessa, Jessica

Prior to that opening of the exhibit, Vanessa had already fought a second battle with the disease, bared her (new and old) scars again by posing for a second SCAR photograph, and shared her SCAR story in the EMMY award-winning SCAR documentary, Baring It All, by Patricia Zagarella.

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The SCAR Project meant so much to Vanessa, because, as she told me many times, being a graphic designer, she was way more visual than verbal, and this was the best way she could articulate her new reality. It was her way of showing the world what a young woman’s absolute reality of surviving cancer really looked like.

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A broken pinky finger, slammed in a drawer, and one precautionary Pet Scan later—which “lit up like a Christmas tree”—ended up as a Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. I don’t know what that feels like and I hope I never do, but she told me what it felt like to her. “I used to be super upbeat and positive like you after getting knocked around by breast cancer the first time. But the ultimate blow of hearing it’s back is a whole another story. Not so pink and fuzzy. Or hopeful. There is no cure. There is no finish line. There is only fight for your life for the rest of your life.”

The thing about Vanessa was that even though she knew she was living on “borrowed time” she was not going down without one helluva fight, nor having wasted that precious gift of time. Her mantra was LIVE SINCERELY, which she had tattooed on her left calf, with a pink peony, her favorite flower. That was her pink ribbon. Her message was basically, “don’t wait till you find out you are dying to really live.” This is how she lived and loved and fought. Fierce. Both for herself, and for other young women like her.

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And there she was, standing beside her SCAR portrait, sharing her SCAR story.

When she mentioned she was from Cincinnati, something sparked in me. As much as she was standing there, literally, beside herself, next to her portrait, I was feeling quite beside myself, to tell her that I was also a survivor from Cincinnati. I told her how moved I was by the exhibit, her SCAR portrait and story, not to mention the crazy beautiful serendipity of our meeting…and would she like to work together to try and bring the exhibit to Cincinnati? “Yes,” she said, simply. “Let’s bring it.”

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Somehow we did. Neither of us had ever done anything like producing a breast cancer event, let alone a major art exhibit before. We really didn’t know what we were doing. We fumbled around trying to find a proper venue for quite awhile. But then we met Litsa Spanos, owner of Art Design Consultants. When she heard about The SCAR Project, she offered to host the exhibit at her gorgeous “Gallery in the Sky” downtown.

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But it almost didn’t. After 6 months of intense planning. Two weeks before the opening of our Cincinnati SCAR exhibit, Vanessa, who’d been dealing with severe headaches, got a bad report from the scans. The disease had spread to the lining of her brain, requiring immediate radiation. We talked about canceling the exhibit but Vanessa’s response to that was basically “the show must go on.”

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Vanessa’s sister Christina Blust at the Cincinnati opening.

Somehow it did. All I know is that we were an awesome team. We ended up raising $13,500 for our chosen local beneficiary: The Pink Ribbon Girls, and $7,500 for The SCAR Project. All I know is it had everything to do with Vanessa putting herself out there as the face of young breast cancer in Cincinnati. All I know was getting to work with Vanessa on something so beautiful and so much bigger that us all, changed my life. And I know Litsa feels the same way.

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All I know is when the cancer wouldn’t back down, went to her brain, and kept progressing, Vanessa didn’t back down one bit either. She and her sisters created The Live Sincerely Project, to be her legacy, based on her motto. She spent the rest of her days sharing the project and encouraging people to take the pledge. A few of my last memories of my beautiful friend Vanessa, were of her hoping her movement would keep spreading, of her checking to see where in the world people had taken the pledge to Live Sincerely, and of her making 100’s of Live Sincerely signs with different fonts and borders. All I know is: Take that cancer. Vanessa won; you lost. She is free of you now but lives on in the hearts of everyone who was lucky like me to know her, or who will hear about Vanessa through The SCAR Project or her Live Sincerely Project. All I know is that despite everything you tried to throw at her, she still left a beauty mark that she was here.

When I think of Vanessa, I think she answered the poet Mary Oliver’s most poignant question so beautifully: “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” Live Sincerely.

RIP V

The SCAR Project Will Premiere in Birmingham in January With David Jay’s Alabama Project

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

THE SCAR PROJECT: BREAST CANCER IS NOT A PINK RIBBON                      

AND

THE ALABAMA PROJECT: THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF HEALTH CARE

TO PREMIERE IN BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA JANUARY 7-31, 2013

Birmingham, Alabama—December 6, 2012—Two groundbreaking photographic exhibitions shot by fashion photographer David Jay are set to premiere at University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Visual Arts Gallery: The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Is Not A Pink Ribbon and The Alabama Project: The Civil Rights of Health Care.

The dual exhibition opens January 7 and runs through January 31, 2013. There will be a ticketed opening night gala on January 11, 5-9pm. General admission to the exhibitions, is free. Private gallery tours with photographer David Jay will be available. Regular screenings of Baring It All, the EMMY Award winning documentary about The SCAR Project will be shown throughout the exhibition.

The SCAR Project is a series of large-scale portraits of young women confronting breast cancer shot by fashion photographer David Jay. The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on young women and breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of the many brave, young women fighting this disease. The SCAR Project subjects range in age from 18-35 and represent the often overlooked, group of young women living with breast cancer in our country today. They’ve journeyed from across America and the world to be photographed for The SCAR Project. More than 100 women have been photographed thus far.

The Alabama Project: The Civil Rights of Health Care is a subset of The SCAR Project. In this project Jay documents a group of young women in Alabama, all in their twenties, battling not only breast cancer but the healthcare system itself. From hospital room to the living room, Jay’s poignant images capture each woman’s faith, perseverance, and beauty.

Producers: Cynthia Ryan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English, UAB Birmingham & John Thomas Fields, Interim Director, UAB Visual Arts Gallery.

Sponsored by: University of Alabama at Birmingham, Susan G Komen North Central Alabama & Susan Mott Webb Charitable Trust

Contact: Cynthia Ryan email: cynryan@uab.edu phone: 205.934.8600

For more information on The SCAR Project visit the website: www.thescarproject.org and www.thescarprojectblog.com. Follow thescarproject on Twitter and Facebook.

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“Baring It All”, The SCAR Project Documentary by Patty Zagarella Wins an Emmy Award!

Tune in to (or TIVO) the Emmy’s this Saturday to see Patricia Zagarella’s Baring It All take home and Emmy for her groundbreaking documentary about The SCAR Project!

Bravo to Style Network’s Taylor Hennessy, “Baring It All” Co-producers Nicola Bates and Patty Zagarella (also director and filmmaker), and SCAR Project Photographer David Jay for the win!

“Baring It All” follows fashion photographer David Jay, into the worlds of four young breast cancer survivors, exploring their journeys and being photographed for the SCAR Project. “Baring It All” portrays what: [Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.] Is really all about, for them (and for the more than 10,000 young women like them, who are diagnosed each year).
“Baring It All” uncovers what’s beneath the pink ribbons. To view trailers for Baring It All click here and here.

In the rolling out of the red carpet for Saturday night’s Emmy’s, I interviewed “Baring It All” filmmaker Patricia Zagarella. So without further ado, how about some lights, camera…and action (cue up the first question, enter Patricia Zagarella for the answer parts):
Q: First of all, congrats and namaste on the Emmy, Patty! How cool is it to win an Emmy for a passion project like The SCAR Project?! 
A: This is the most incredible honor BUT the award really belongs to all the courageous young women who participated and to David Jay.
Q: How did you find out about The SCAR Project?
A: David Jay and I have a mutual friend, who was visiting NY from Australia. She randomly bumped into David while on her visit and he told her about the Scar Project. She then sent me a link and my co-producer, Nicola and I, were blown away by the photographs – the beauty and the pain, every image and every woman’s eyes screamed a different story we wanted to learn more.
Q: What inspired you to start filming the documentary?
A: When I first saw the SCAR Project I was captivated by the raw reality conveyed by his photos. Striking and beautiful, yet confronting and almost brutal, they pushed me to a place I normally contentedly avoided. I was both shocked and saddened, but drawn to the images like a magnet. Despite that the photos spoke volumes, I had a barrage of questions screaming in my head, not only about the young women in the photographs but also about the photographer: Who was he? Why was a successful fashion and beauty photographer photographing young breast cancer survivors? Why did he embark on this journey and what motivates him to continue?
Fascinated, I reached out to David Jay – who reached back with enthusiasm and warmth. I then met a genuinely kind and caring man, whose world had been turned upside down when confronted by a close friend’s body after a mastectomy. He told me that he dealt with it the only way he knew how, by taking her picture. And the rest is history.
Q: Can you describe the process, and the emotions of filming such painful images? (ones that most breast cancer patients haven’t seen before they have a mastectomy–hopefully The SCAR Project will change that.)
A: We were an all female team during the photo shoot sessions, our goal was to be unobtrusive and document the event, what we experienced was a palpable transformation taking place before us. Women would come to the door broken and nervous and by the time they left, they had a renewed sense of pride, hope and strength. Every single woman exuded beauty that came from her resolve and attitude, which David captured perfectly.
It was a very special experience, albeit a tough one, being able to capture this transformation, to be able to share in the anguish, the pain, the tears and the laughter.
Q: What were some of the hi-los of filming this project? What surprised you most about filming “Baring It All”?
A: Meeting and spending time with these amazing, strong young women has been an incredible high. I have been touched in a profound way by all the women we met, and I’ve learned so much from them – celebrate life and live in the moment. I remind myself of that daily.
The lows have obviously come when confronted with beautiful young girls struggling to beat this horrible disease.
What surprised me most was the enlightened attitude of such young women and their strength in the face of their mortality.
Q: How did you get into filming?
A: I started working in TV & film in Australia after graduating from University. My first job was working at a TV station and it just went from there.
Q: What do you consider your particular calling in the film industry to be?
A: I enjoy producing, finding compelling stories and character, and then finding the right team to execute that story. I really love meeting people and learning about them, and under the pretense of filmmaking I get to ask lots of questions most people are afraid to.
Q: What other film work have you done?
A: I started working in narrative features, but then about 7 years ago I was presented with the opportunity to co-produce a documentary, and from that point on I was hooked. I loved telling real stories by real people. Who needs a script, real life is far more compelling, heart-warming, and heartbreaking.
Q: The doc was originally titled “Don’t look away”? How did it go from there to “Baring It All?”
A: The doc was originally titled “Don’t Look Away”, a title Nicola my co-producer came up with. We decided on that title early on because people’s initial reaction at hearing about the subject and photos was to look away. The entire message and point of the project was to remove the stigma and normalize something that so many women undergo but no one ever sees or talks about. We wanted people to look at the photos, look at the women, at the scars, and at their eyes. The name was changed when the Style Network came on board as they felt that “Don’t Look Away” didn’t adequately describe what the film was about. After much back and forth, we settled on “Baring It All” as the new title.
Q: How did the Style Network come on board with the documentary?
A: Two great women, Beth and Andrea from Remarkable Content took my trailer to the Style Network about a year before they actually came on board. The VPs at Style thought it was an important story to tell and one that their viewers could connect with, however one-off documentaries were completely out of the realm of their usual programming that it just didn’t work. They came back to me about a year after our initial conversation and the VPs had come up with an over-brand series called Style Exposed, which would include one-off documentaries. “Baring It All” is the first in the Style Exposed series. Hopefully  tonight’s success for Style compels and propels them to continue to produce one-off documentaries with heart.
Q: Is the documentary available on DVD?
A: The DVDs are available through Amazon. The SCAR Project, Volume 1 book is also available on Amazon.
Q: How would you articulate the message you hope people get when they view your doc and the SCAR Project?
A: I want people to see that there is true beauty in strength and hope in the face of despair. There’s power in optimism and it’s ok to have scars and to look at them and let people see them.
In line with the SCAR Project message, the goal is to raise awareness and let people know that young women can and do get breast cancer. Early detection is the best prevention, therefore the more people who see the film or the SCAR Project photos the bigger the impact.
Q: How can people follow you, support the amazing things you are doing like this documentary?
A: People can keep up to date with my work via my website atwww.lostinvision.com or via Facebook.
Q: What are you doing next?
A: I’m developing a project that deals with alternatives to incarceration, with a focus on young women who are at risk, and we hope to help transform their lives before it’s too late.
Q: I have to ask… did you sleep with the Emmy? I mean… who wouldn’t?
A: LOL those wings are spiky! It was a night to remember! I’m on cloud 9 and SO PROUD of everyone involved with The SCAR Project & Baring It All, especially the amazing, powerful and beautiful young women living the reality of breast cancer, thank you for sharing your stories.
Q: Not really a question, but I’d just like to thank Patricia for a brilliant interview and also say “go break a leg!” in re: the “Baring It All” award at the Emmys this Saturday night. And I’ll just go ahead and say BRAVO! because I know it’s going to, as The SCAR Project intends: Raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens. So kudos Patricia. Cheers and kudos.
I’d also like to give a little shout out to Cincy SCAR girl Vanessa Tiemeier’s sister, Christina Blust, whose music plays the soundtrack to her sister’s SCAR story in Baring It All. Click here for more of Christina’s music.