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Breast Cancer Survivor's Images Cost Her Friends, But Could Save Lives

February 18, 2014 5 min read

When was the last time you took a look at your body in the mirror? Maybe this morning, maybe last night? What did you see? Maybe you just had a baby (as I did myself), and saw the 10 pounds you still need to lose? Maybe you see stretch marks from gaining weight and then losing it? Maybe you see someone who is too skinny? Overweight? Or, maybe you can look in the mirror and see a beautiful body staring back at you. But maybe, you look in that mirror and see a body with the scars from surgery. The deep scars that will never go away.  The scars of a cancer survivor. The scars that mean you are ALIVE. Now imagine being that cancer survivor, and knowing you may be able to make a difference in the life of someone else by sharing your courageous journey. To create awareness in hopes that many others won't have to go through what you went through, and/or be able to detect the signs of a deadly disease before it is too late. If you could do this by sharing images of yourself, of your personal scars, would you? That is just what this woman did, and it cost her over 100 friends by doing so. Beth Whaanga, a Brisbane, Australian mother-of-four is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer on her birthday last year at the very young  age of 32. She was also later told she carried the breast cancer gene BRAC2. This gene puts one at greater risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Therefore, last November she underwent surgery and had a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy, lymphadenectomy and melanoma lumpectomies. These are the scars she bares from these surgeries. 

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  Imagine being a mother-of-four, and finding out you have cancer at 32. You think of your life. You think of your children, your family, and their lives. You would do anything and everything to never miss a moment with them. You would do anything you could to save your own life. Beth teamed up with Australian photographer Nadia Masot, and started the Under the Red Dress project, promoting cancer awareness by photographing cancer survivors. Before Beth posted theses photos (WITH Facebook's blessing), she  posted this message on her site:

"WARNING. These images are confronting and contain topless material. They are not in anyway meant to be sexual. 52fd20d338fb2The aim of this project is to raise awareness for breast cancer. If you find these images offensive please hide them from your feed. Each day we walk past people. These individuals appear normal but under their clothing sometimes their bodies tell a different story. Nadia Masot and I aim to find others who are willing to participate in our project so that we might show others that cancer effects everyone. The old and the young, age does not matter, self-examination is vital. It can happen to you."

Just hours after posting these images on Facebook, she had over 100 friends un-friend her. Not only did they un-friend her, but tried to have Facebook take the page down. Facebook contacted Beth to let her know the images will NOT be taken down. Many found issues with the images calling them pornographic, and the wrong medium to publish them in. Beth told The Courier-Mail,

“That’s OK, everyone is allowed their view – that’s what social media is. I have exposed myself to millions of people, and if that gets one person to check their body then that’s what I wanted.”

However you feel about these images, one thing stands clear. Cancer does not discriminate. 52fd2182e8e92Cancer can affect you, your family, your friends. Basically anyone you love and care about. It can affect anyone at any age. Breast cancer also happens to be the leading cancer affecting women. About 1 in 8 womenwill develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Think about that. This could be you, your close friend, your mother, your neighbor, your daughter. Awareness is key. This is what Beth was hoping to do with her portraits. When I look at these images, I see nothing short of courageous. I see a fighter. A mother. I see someone who is aggressively and proactively fighting against a disease that could take her life. I see a beautiful woman. I see a woman who was brave enough to post these very raw and unedited images to show others the real face of cancer. If these images left others with a different message, then so be it. If it saves even one life, it's worth every bit of the 100+ so called 'friends' she lost on Facebook. When I first looked at these portraits, I thought about how young she was to hear the words, "YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER". I thought about her 4 kids. I thought about the very frightening, but necessary decision she found herself facing to undergo these surgeries. I then thought about myself. I admit to NOT doing regular breast exams. I have had a couple scares that led me to get a mammogram at 35 years of age, that thankfully came back normal. But what if it hadn't? I remember sitting in the waiting room to be called in for my exam and taking a good look around at all the other women sitting next to me. Some with visual signs of chemo and/or radiation. Some older, some younger. What was their diagnosis? After seeing these images, I hope to be more proactive about self exams. I hope Beth's journey can inspire others to do the same. Beth told the Huffington Post,

"If the 'Under The Red Dress' project helps one man, woman or family deal with their battle with cancer, or helps one person in their preventative journey, than I'm very happy."

52fd216e9dd6cTake a good look at her. This is Beth's story. This is how she chose to tell it. This is how she hopes to save the lives of others. She may have the scars of these many surgeries, but she also has her life. There are millions of others out there that lost their battle. Detection is key.   Make it a habit to check yourself regularly. If something doesn't feel right or seem right, talk to your doctor. It's always better to be safe then sorry. Beth recently posted on her Facebook page: "The aim of the photo shoot was to make women and men aware. Aware of any changes to their body, to show that cancer does not discriminate between gender, race, or age. It effects all of us. For those of us who have been lucky enough to prevent their condition from continuing or occurring we have a responsibility to make others aware. Check your breasts/ pectorals under your arms and neck. If you find anything don't brush it off, better to be safe and alive." If you want to learn more about the Under the Red Dress Project, click here. The first step is detection and knowing what to look for. Be vigilant and never think anything is too small to bring up to your doctor. Be proactive and spread the word just as Beth has. This one step may save the life of someone you know. tumblr_mc5ch7vdhA1r84x6po1_1280                     All portraits by Nadia Masot

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