Doing a boudoir session for myself was something I had always thought about. Rebecca's work made me feel it was possible and her gift of truly capturing a women essence, was so obvious in her photography. I felt her work was soft and delicate, evocative of the atmosphere these sessions are taken in. It was refreshing to see women portrayed artistically, in a powerful and beautiful manner, rather than purely sexually. So for me, when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, at the tender age of 29, I began to understand more about the beauty in having a session like this for yourself.
After being diagnosed, 2 weeks past without knowing whether I would live or die. It was a surreal time in my life to say the least. Waiting to know what stage the cancer was at, and whether it had spread. During those weeks, Asaf, my loving boyfriend and I spoke openly about what was happening, we kept busy, trying to keep negativity astray or this deep fear from taking over our days, who knew, it could be one of few left. But what kept me up at night, was not the thought of my life ending, but how those who loved me would cope after I was gone, knowing what kind of pain they would have to endure broke my heart.
Truthfully, I became fearful of my body. As though it was against me. Never did I think it could harm me to such an extent, and with no warning. There was no control and something inside was hell bent on killing me. The day the scans came back, the doctor confirmed, that despite the extremely aggressive nature of the tumor, we had caught it, just in time and there was no spreading. I was Stage 1b1 .Yes, I had a 7 hour operation, two weeks of hospitalization, the removal of my reproductive organs, the possibility of having to go through chemo after, and months of recovery to face, BUT in that moment, the only thing I could do, was high five my stunned doctor and call my parents. I was going to live. I had a fighting chance. And, I had no doubt I was a fighter. I felt extremely blessed that I would have the chance to live.
I remember on the last day before I was able to go home, my doctor turned around and she said "Head home now, rest and let your body heal itself." It was amazing to hear this, that my body would actually fix itself, it would be on auto pilot to rebuild me and make me stronger. I think in that moment, I forgave it. I forgave my body for what had happened and vowed, to work together in the future, in making me strong and healthy once more
Back home, it took almost two months to out walk my 80 year old neighbor. Olive (Our Yorkshire Terrier Daughter) was extremely patient with me and we were stunned at the clear level of understanding she had over the situation, looking up to me often during our walks, checking if I was okay. I was determined to strengthen my body, so from doing one excruciating sit up after 3 months to doing 2 daily sets of 10, it was a huge accomplishment. When you understand, that only you can truly give importance to your achievements, it becomes easier to feel grateful for them and celebrate them within every day, no matter how small they might seem.
On a very important side note, I often hear that women are being told by their gynecologists that 3 years between pap smears is enough. Frankly, that is BS. If I had waited 3 years between mine, I would not be here today. My tumor had grown from nothing to 4 cm within a year, without any signs or symptoms. Now, this isn't a scare tactic, but to be honest about our medical system and the responsibility, that all too often slips from our level of importance, of staying aware of our health, especially when young.
Learn to know yourself, both men and women, understand and listen to your body, invest in it, through exercise, medical check ups, your lifestyle and probably the most important investment, yes, it's cheesy, but so so true, through self love. I think that this is one of the most important messages I can impart upon others.
Throughout the process, I was pushing to do the boudoir session because a lot of women wait until they feel "perfect." I came to the realization, its not about perfection, this illusion we are taught to run after, but just in finding the time to celebrate yourself as you are, now. I'm very grateful to have always had a healthy body image, but this didn't just happen, its something you work on each day, through action and self worth. My parents have been such an inspiration in this and raised both my sister and I to believe that our bodies weren't, by far, the most relevant feature we could offer the world. I think many times, parents unknowingly let their daughters believe their bodies are a selling point in life, a resource to tap into, and this massive pressure for perfection follows. For me, the lesson we received loud and clear, was if you want something, it's up to you to strive for it. Only you can stand in your own way.
I am a photographer myself, and I did have some fears about committing to the boudoir session. Worried of being on the other side of the lens and becoming the center of attention for that moment in time. The final push was meeting Rebecca, such a beautiful women inside and out, her compassion and true devotion to her art, pulled me in and got me to a natural level of comfort in front of the camera.
Before the session I was nervous and said to Asaf "Baby, I feel pressure to get this right" whatever that meant, but his answer was what I needed “Don't think about the final product, think about the journey that brought you here and enjoy the moment for what it will be” And he was right. The experience of working with Rebecca and Cassy, is something that will always stay with me. Our time together was uplifting, filled with stories, chatter and laughs, those hours became a reflection of the person I am and had become, and sharing this in such a naked and intimate fashion, never felt safer.
The first preview I saw caught my breath. Wow, to see yourself in another's light, it was captivating. I could see myself, not just in a smile and moment, but I could see my stories, my life, resting in those eyes. It was powerful. Asaf said, its you. He joked when I sent him one of the previews, me sipping a cup of coffee and said, it looked like a coffee commercial and he would without a doubt 'buy out the store'. Even though it's not always necessary, getting the validation from the man you love definitely put a smile on my face. He was very much emotionally connected with the photographs, saying he felt he was looking at the real me.
The final images I received were all I'd hoped for, Rebecca very much captured the depth of my story and in her signature frames, brought out a refreshing portrayal of who I am, from her own unique and artistic approach, that is almost iconic. Spending the morning with her, there was no denying the strong bond we had and that truly reflects in the photos. The fact that the session took place in my home, where we live, where we went through everything these past 7 months, our very own sanctuary, it was perfect. It was a excellent milestone at which to celebrate my body and life.
My advice for anyone, especially those in the midst of a serious health issue? To surround yourself with people you love, nobody who is going to make you feel worse, watch comedies, eat great food and keep busy. Laugh, be happy and strive for the silver line of joy. So many people wait for the 'permission' to be happy. Make your life happen on your own terms, its short and glorious, and should never, for a second, be wasted on somebody else's validations of it. Why wait to celebrate yourself and the women you are?
We may never know the hundreds of stories of others, as my daddy says 'Ships passing in the night', but we know ours and should take that time to celebrate and embrace them. A phrase I heard, stayed with me the other day "We are more than our mistakes", I think the last word can be replaced in so many ways, and still remain inspiring. For me, it would be "You are more than your tragedies."
Hair and Makeup by Cassy Avraham