Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Last month I traveled to Lockport NY to photograph a woman whose story intrigued me. Pamela was diagnosed with breast cancer, had treatment and a recurrence just after 5 years from her original diagnosis. As a result of the recurrence, she had a bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction. One day at work, her supervisor told her she looked like a little girl without her breasts.

Embarrassed, angry and confused, Pamela filed charges and ultimately settled the case in her favor. Although she was OK with the outcome of case, she remained disturbed by the comment or rather the feeling that society requires women to have breasts. She decided to have reconstruction.

When I photographed Pamela, she already had tissue expanders. Tissue expanders are hard inflatable implants that are filled over time to the desired size. They stretch the skin or tissue to prepare it for the final implant. Surgery was scheduled for 8 AM on Saturday, April 4th. I photographed Pamela before and after the surgery. I arrived at her home just a few hours after the 2 hour surgery. I was amazed she looked so well. It was this shoot that produced the photograph here. When I sent Pamela the final version she had a violent physical reaction. She wrote:

It is powerful to see your self in a photograph. Over the last 7 years I was fearful to express how I felt about my body image. I felt incapable of giving my feelings. When I saw the photos taken by Christine, they penetrated my soul and took away the numbness I realized I had succumbed to. While on the outside I seemed accepting of this disease and "surviving", I really sense that this recurrence, and all the emotion that it brought, made me see myself as damaged, reluctant to accept that people loved me for me, exhausted and angry that I had to keep saying thank you when people told me I looked great and at the same time, happy that it was me with the disease and not my sisters. I have always seen myself as a strong woman. I feel I have survived so much and this disease, as embarrassing as it is, ravaged my body & in which I had little control. When the incident with my executive director took place, I knew the routes to take with authority & followed the chain of command, but in the end, I felt "dirty". Thus, I had the reconstruction of both breasts, which took me to a size A-B. The day of surgery I felt tired, but satisfied with the results. A week later, I started bleeding on the right side and oozing on the left. I became very ill and was given antibiotics for 10 days. After 6 weeks of infection and pain caused by the implants, I've decided to have them removed. SAY NO TO BOOBS! I have learned that I am me and I am okay with me, inside and out. While I still think about the comments made to me about not having breasts, I know they do not define me. I plan on living a happier life without worrying what others think as they pass me on the street. I know the real me and I surround myself with those who also know me, the real me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Practice Happiness

The last two weeks brought devastating news in my breast cancer community. Two of my friends are being tested for possible metastatic breast cancer. Another friend found out her cancer has advanced further in her body and another, Paula, was being kept comfortable at home. I found out on Facebook yesterday, that Paula died on April 6th.

This kind of news is not uncommon in my community. Gaining members and losing members can sometimes feel like the same emotion. Grief. It's the nature of the group. Nothing can be done about it except maybe distancing myself. Another friend...a non survivor often asks when I will do just that? When will I have enough? When is it enough? My answer: when my work is done or when I completely burn out. Whichever comes first. The thing is, I don't want to burn out. I don't want to get to the point where I just can't do it anymore. I can't show up in an email, the phone or in person. I've been working on allowing myself to feel as happy as I've allowed myself to feel as sad as I've had. I'm hoping the balance will enable me to stay in the game and not run from the stadium. This practice, this happiness practice works very effectively for the most part. I practice controlling my thoughts. I practice being in the moment. Everyday, I program my iPhone to ask me if I am allowing room for Happiness. I am allowing room now. I am making room now.

Then the news comes. Advanced cancer. Death. Am I making room for Happiness now? It seems more difficult. It is more difficult. I can easily go to that dark cancer place and start thinking about all those who have gone before me. Or, I can chose not to. I can acknowledge the sadness, the fear, the anger and then let it go. I can be in those emotions and come out of those emotions. Is it easy? No, it is a practice, and today, I am practicing really hard.

In memory of Paula Zoromski