Death and Hard Choices and Fake Eyelashes.
Typically during a boudoir session and after I am told hold I changed someones life but when Miss Sara D. came into my studio it was my life that changed forever.
This is Sarah’s Story!
I was in 2nd grade when my aunt Joy passed away. It wasn’t a pretty passing although she was a beautiful person. She was my first education on the concept of death. I remember hair loss and staples and feeling her cold, lifeless hands. I remember my mom’s tears and my aunt Barb asking me if I wanted to hold Joy’s hands longer but I didn’t want to because they were cold and I didn’t understand why. My teacher pulled me aside in class to read me a story about death. I don’t remember anything about the book other than there being fall leaves on every page and my teacher crying and I didn’t know why she was crying because she didn’t know my aunt Joy, but I understood that death makes everybody sad.
People continued to die as I continued to grow. My mom enrolled my brother and I (with our permission) in a clinical trial which discovered that we all carried the BRCA2 gene mutation. I was a teenager when I learned I had an 87% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and a 50% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer, as well as higher risks of skin, stomach, pancreatic and other cancers. I wondered who would hold my cold hands.
The genetic counselor told me there were options, that my life could be saved and so I began my routine screenings (physical exams, blood work, mammograms, pelvic ultrasounds and breast ultrasounds). I started to feel sick even though I didn’t have cancer. I am and have always been thankful to my mom for encouraging us to get genetic testing done because I know that it saved my life.
When I was a senior in high school my mom was diagnosed with an aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. I was rummaging through her closet after school one day right after she was diagnosed. She wasn’t home from work yet and I had a bad habit of testing out her lotions and perfumes without her permission. I found a red wig and I broke down sobbing. She was preparing herself for the hair loss that would inevitably come. I was angry because she had blonde hair, not red, so the wig was the wrong color because my mom wouldn’t look like my mom. I heard the garage door opening as I was holding the wig so I shoved it inside of her drawers, went in to my room before she could find me with the wig and then pretended to be upset about the upcoming AP tests that I didn’t give a shit about.
She went through endless rounds of chemotherapy, more surgeries than I could count and infections that caused her to knock on death’s doorstep more than once. She lost her hair and sometimes she wore the red wig but sometimes she went without any wig. I let go of my anger because I realized it was really just sadness and fear. She lost her energy and I started to see her bullshit smiles when she was in pain but wanted to protect me from sadness, just like my son can read the bullshit smiles on my face now. She fought for us and she lived to tell the stories. She still lives and she gets to see the smiles on her grandkids’ faces when she bakes them cakes shaped like bunny rabbits.
At the age of 31, I was finished having kids and I was ready to get the show on the road. I had my healthy, non-cancerous breast tissue removed (and replaced with implants) via preventative double mastectomy. I had years and numerous oncologist consultations to confirm that this was the right decision for me, so if you tell me that I should have just juiced more green vegetables in order to prevent cancer then we aren’t going to talk anymore.
My nipple-sparing double mastectomy with direct to implant over-the-muscle reconstruction occurred in January of 2018, followed by a breast lift and fat grafting (liposuctioned from my stomach) in May of 2018. Over-the-muscle reconstruction often causes noticeable rippling in the breasts, as there is no fat to create a smooth look, so fat grafting helps create a more natural look.
At the time of writing, I’m preparing for my third and final reconstruction surgery which will involve changing out my implants for a type that don’t ripple as much as well as a second round of fat grafting, a tummy tuck and abdominal repair (separated abdominal muscles sewn back together).
With each surgery, I sink into a temporary depression, a loneliness that even the brightest of texts doesn’t heal. I have to tell my children that I won’t be able to pick them up for another six to eight weeks, for the third time this year. I’m 3 months post-op at the time of writing and my two year old still wakes up each morning with her arms stretched out to me, asking, “mama, no boo boos?”.
I never doubt my decision as being the right choice but I struggle with the scars around my nipples and stomach. I know they’ll fade over time but I’m very impatient. For some time after my first surgery I felt like a damaged item. There really is no representation of women with scars on their breasts in movies, television, magazines or porn. I understand why but I still wish that the scars were on my ankles or my shoulders. I wonder when to bring this all up when I begin dating someone, and I hope that he’ll just read my Instagram or my blog instead so I never have to say another word to him about my breasts.
Shortly after my first surgery, I recognized myself to be in a mental state where I would benefit from trying something new. I couldn’t travel yet so I booked a boudoir photoshoot for myself. The idea of shooting images in lingerie with ripply breasts (and then not knowing what to do with the images) felt uncomfortable. I decided that I had become accustomed to physical discomfort and that some level of emotional discomfort would heal me.
The day I shot boudoir was one of my favorite days of 2018. I felt really beautiful and I realized that I had no reason to not feel that same level of confidence on a daily basis.
My cousin Renee is a model. I love watching her journey unfold as she travels to Los Angeles and New York and shoots for really cool companies. Renee encouraged me to do more photoshoots. She gave me some connections and tips and over the course of six months, I went from paying for photography to accepting some pretty awesome gigs, but more importantly I found a new side of myself and I began to smile more frequently.
Posing is physically demanding. It challenges me. My back muscles ache and my balance is thrown off. Channeling emotions into my face is difficult, and that’s why I like it. Plus I love having other people do my hair and makeup and put on fake eyelashes, since I don’t know how to put them on despite many attempts.
Through the past six months I’ve experienced more of myself than I have in the previous 31 1/2 years. I learned that sexy doesn’t end because you have scars or because you’re a mother. Beauty isn’t created by fitting into a mold. It stems from knowing who you are. I’ve heard that before. I’ve been told it but I did not drink it in until I experienced fucking things up, being sad, struggling and then learning how to create happiness.
I’m aware that a short term depression is coming. It’s already starting to creep in, reminding me of important dates and limitations. I’m also aware of how temporary it will be, and how strong I am. I hold my son’s hand as I walk him to his classroom, sometimes. Sometimes he’s too cool to hold my hand. When he lets me, I look down at his little hand, cupped in mine and I think about how warm our hands are. I think about how much life I have left and how I’m going to buy bunny rabbit-shaped cakes from the grocery store for his kids since I suck at baking. I decide I’m not going to waste any more of my time here. I’m going to start talking about messy things and failures and fears and also accomplishments and greatness, because I can and I should.
Last Note Review: My time @boudoirego was absolutely amazing! The studio was clean and beautiful and has so many options for shooting. Anna and Johanna made me feel so comfortable. The coolest part: making a deep, lasting connection with someone. Anna and I spent time talking about some “Real Shit”. We talked cancer and testing. We talked about scars and fears. We talked about failures and self acceptance and self-love. It was what I needed to give and receive. Having beautiful photos is just icing on top of the cupcake! For this, I am extremely grateful.