Beauty After Breast Cancer: kickstarting a photography book on our bodies, in treatment and beyond

"Katelyn — Wife, mother, nurse, dancer. Preventative mastectomy at age 29 due to high family risk, with silicone implant reconstruction." Photo: Joseph Linaschke

My good friend Joseph Linaschke, who photographed me during my treatment for breast cancer, is Kickstarting a book by breast cancer patients for breast cancer patients: "Beauty After Breast Cancer." I'll be in it, along with many other women living their lives post-diagnosis.

Joseph shot all the beautiful portraits. I hope you'll consider supporting it, and when it's published, I hope you'll consider helping to spread it to hospital waiting rooms and support centers and the hands of women all around the world who may benefit from it.

Toni, photographed by Joseph Linaschke.

Toni, photographed by Joseph Linaschke.

Here's the project, in Katelyn's words.

Losing my breasts to a mastectomy made me feel less feminine, less beautiful, less like me. It was easier to find my beauty and sense of self again through a camera lens that was not colored by my fear, my grief, my self-consciousness. This book will be a collection of portraits and stories of those who feel able to share their experiences of rediscovering themselves. This is those of us who have gone through a battle that threatened our lives and our sense of ourselves, giving a tremendous gift to those who will follow us. The gift of knowing how to hang on to yourself.

What if among the many overwhelming materials you see at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis there was a simple book that inspired hope instead of fear, and showed beauty instead of disfigurement? It sits on the doctor's waiting room table and begs to be picked up and paged through.

As you sit in that office asking yourself what you will look like if you make a choice to have surgery, you currently see small, clinical-looking pictures on the doctor's back room computer. And then perhaps your doctor connects you with another woman who has undergone a similar surgery. You meet up with her at a coffee house and get a cup of coffee before going into the bathroom. You wait for it to be empty before the other woman raises her shirt to show what your own body may one day soon look like. Or perhaps (maybe worst of all) you go to the Internet and search for images of mastectomies, and see everything from "ok" to truly horrifying. This all feels cold, and uncomfortable, and almost seedy at times.

What if when you go into the doctor's office you see a book of amazing, beautiful women of all ages who are showing different versions of mastectomies, lumpectomies, reconstruction, or not. They are just there on the table: proud, feminine, and unashamed. Would that change your experience? I believe it would. I believe it would make a tremendous difference. I believe it would create understanding, hope, and a better ability to talk about feelings and options without feeling alone or judged. Therefore, I will see it happen.

"Beauty after Breast Cancer" is a coffee table style book for surgeon's offices, cancer centers, and breast centers that shows women facing surgery the changes in their appearances that they need to adjust to, and the changes in their self-confidence and sense of beauty that they don't need to make at all. For here are 33 women, seen through the unbiased lens of a camera, that is not colored by grief, fear, or self-consciousness. They are beautiful, and not at all lessened by their experiences. If they can do it, you say, so can I.

And I'd like to emphasize, for those who skim this post quickly and may not take away this message: it's totally okay not to have any reconstructive surgery. There are no bad choices. It's your body. Your life. And for our sisters with metastatic disease, there is no "after breast cancer," because they'll be living with breast cancer for the rest of their lives. This book will include women with mets, it's about life after the diagnosis of breast cancer.

"Katelyn — Wife, mother, nurse, dancer. Preventative mastectomy at age 29 due to high family risk, with silicone implant reconstruction." Photo: Joseph Linaschke