This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel to New York City for boudoir sessions and photograph a young woman who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
I should have known that I would encounter life-changing experiences on this trip, as boudoir has led me to in the past. Though, between the details of planning and traveling, I didn't realize exactly what an impact that these sessions would have on me.
The only way I can describe this young woman, who story is about to be told, is truly radiant, with an inner light and beauty that transcends anything that I could express in words.
Our experience together was nothing short of spiritual for me.
The moment I walked through her door, saw her adorable pixie cut, which had recently grown back after chemotherapy treatments, I felt an instant surge of connection and desire for artistic expression.
When she shared parts of her journey with me, like how it felt to look in the mirror at 27 years old, with no hair, no eyebrows, no breasts and a tired body, I finally understood what it might be like to have the femininity that you once knew stripped away from you.
With a serious, yet grateful heart, I began to photograph her.
The silence in her room was comfortable, and it brought me to a meditative, compassionate zone where I prayed that I would be able to give her beautiful body and soul the justice that it deserved.
Here is her story, in her words.
"In June 2016, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer at the age of 27.
Overnight, I was thrust into a new reality, where I had to make life-altering decisions, while hardly processing the fact that I had cancer. Two weeks after my diagnosis, I was scheduled for a double mastectomy, followed by fertility treatments to freeze my eggs before moving forward with six months of chemotherapy, one year of immunotherapy infusions, additional reconstruction surgeries, and several years of medication.
The entire experience left me feeling completely disconnected from my body. I felt that everything that once defined me as a woman - my breasts, my hair, the possibility to conceive - was taken away from me overnight. When I looked in the mirror, I no longer saw myself. I no longer saw a woman.
Instead, I felt like I had become a human pin doll, whose body was poked and prodded on a regular basis, being filled with chemicals that made everything about me feel unnatural. My body was no longer private. I had to expose myself with every doctor's appointment and relinquish any control I thought I once had. My body no longer felt like "mine."
As I progressed through my treatment, I began to try to heal the incredibly deep wounds I acquired - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. After reading one of Rebecca's blog posts, the thought came to me that maybe I could benefit from doing a boudoir session to help me establish a connection with my body again. I thought that perhaps a boudoir session would help show me what I no longer saw in myself.
Once the session was booked, it became a goal for me to reach. In the months leading up to the session, I finished chemotherapy and fought to slowly strengthen my weak, unrecognizable body. I kept envisioning the day of the session as the day my body would be strong and healthy again; the day I would have hair again; the day I would start to feel like a woman again, and the day I would feel more like myself again.
The day finally came.
I had requested something a bit different than a typical boudoir session - no clothes, no lingerie, no makeup, no hair styling, no music, nothing. I didn't want to allow myself to hide behind anything because I felt as though I had been living in hiding since my diagnosis. The session was real, unfiltered, and intimate. It was a true exercise in getting to know my body again.
A few weeks later, I received a message from Rebecca with a single shot from our session. She was reviewing the film and wanted to send me a sneak peak. I quickly looked at the small picture on my phone and immediately closed it. I saw a different body in that picture - a body that I still did not recognize as my own, and I panicked.
A few hours later, in the privacy of my home, I opened the picture again and this time I forced myself to study it. It was true, my body was different as a result of the multiple surgeries and intensive treatments I had to undergo, but for the first time since my diagnosis, I was able to recognize beauty in my body again.
The boudoir session was truly an emotional and cathartic experience. Through her lens, I was able to see a new self, a new woman, that I was having trouble seeing on my own."
When she shared this with me, I could barely speak and tears were forming in my eyes.
It is times like these that I feel I have truly found my calling in life.
Being a boudoir photographer has so many layers, both physically and emotionally, which continue to unravel beautifully in my life.
I will never forget this experience. One that has re-defined the ways I perceive breast cancer as well as the healing powers of boudoir photography.
Thank you to my client, who I now call a friend. I am beyond grateful for you.