Jul 29, 2011

"Yeah, I'm a SCAR project groupie..."

[In our continuing series of articles about/interviews with The SCAR Project subjects, we'd like to introduce guest blogger Sara Bartosiewicz-Hamilton. This article is cross posted at Sara's blog: slbarto.blogspot.com. Please visit her site for more about her story.]

I am so excited - this fall, the SCAR Project is going to be going to Cincinnati, Ohio!! I am hoping I will be able to share the exhibit experience with some of those closest to me...

Everytime I think about the SCAR project, I get an overwhelming feeling of deepest gratitude. I can pinpoint the experience of going to NYC and posing for David Jay as the first time in my life where I truly embraced myself. It would also be the first time that I met three of my "SCAR sisters": Jessica, Melissa, and Gabrielle. 
These beautiful women embraced me, encouraged me, and "showed me the ropes" of breast reconstruction. 

My story is slightly different than many of my SCAR sisters...I never had breast cancer. I was 29 when I found out I have the BRCA2 gene mutation. Because of my family history, I immediately signed up for a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy (PBM). At that point, having a mastectomy prophylactically was not well publicized. As a result, there were people in my life who thought I was insane for cutting off seemingly "healthy" body parts. It was difficult to try to deal with the procedures and the changes to my body while also trying to explain or justify my decisions to those around me. I created a blog to journal my decisions and journey...I was determined to share my story so that those who would have to make similar choices would not feel the loneliness and judgement I felt.

My blog, at the time, was via myspace...Jessica found me there. She and I became friends. One day, she emailed me about a project - the SCAR project...she told me that she was meeting two other girls in NYC and she thought I should come as well. I looked up the website and immediately emailed David Jay. I explained my story and the fact I did not have cancer but I thought my message was important as well...and, thankfully, he agreed to have me come and pose for him.

I was so incredibly nervous. My youngest sister lives in NYC so I had flown out and stayed with her and she accompanied me to David's studio. Thankfully, Jessica, Melissa, and Gabrielle were also there and very supportive - they had already finished posing. I brought a picture with me...a picture which helps tell my story. In the picture I'm holding is my mom and two of her sisters: one who has had breast cancer, one who has not had cancer and does not have the gene, and my mom, who has not had cancer but has the gene. Even though each of their stories is a little different, every girl in the photo lost her mother to cancer - my nona died at a young age from breast and ovarian cancer. The little girls in the photo would grow up and face multiple siblings who fought various cancers, multiple relatives who would die from cancer. 

I flew back to NYC last fall - the opening of the SCAR Project exhibit. It had been three years since I had posed. It was a surreal experience - something that changed my life was now going to be on display for the world. My youngest sister was my date for the night. We met up with Melissa and Gabrielle and went into the gallery. 

Sara, Melissa, David Jay, Gabbrielle
It is difficult for me to describe what I felt when I first stepped into the bright white gallery where the photos reach out to grab you - awe, inspired, nervousness, comradery...the list goes on and on. I was able to meet more of my SCAR sisters...it was strange because it was difficult to pick each other out of the crowd, apparently, we all look slightly different with clothes on! I attempted to verbalize my gratitude to David Jay but, of course, ended up blubbering like an idiot...ha! Thankfully, I had come prepared with a card that spelled out my gratitude to a man with the most tender of hearts who captured the strength and beauty of me and my SCAR sisters...

Today, I can tell you, I am fortunate to call even more SCAR sisters my friends. We are a unique group of women each with different stories and different challenges. Yet, we all come together and support each other in these journeys. I am hoping to meet up with many of them in Ohio this fall...and, I think, many of us will be holding an incredibly special sister, Jolene, close in our hearts.

The SCAR Project has taken on a life of its own: a book, a documentary, a website, ayoutube video, a facebook page, and a plethora of articles. I am in awe and so proud to have been a small part of this Pulitzer prize nominated project. My hope of sharing my story has been realized many times over...I often read the FB page and am thankful as I see women who are finding comfort and hope in the photos. That is what this project is about - waking people up to the reality of what cancer is...and, at the same time, helping all of our sisters realize the beauty in their strength and scars.

I'm a SCAR project groupie...I wish I could make every opening, unfortunately I won't (I'm REALLY bummed Italy is a no go for me!)...but, this fall, you, me, and Cincinnati!! Please check out their blog for the exhibit - they will be featuring many of my SCAR sisters and getting the word out so we can raise money for a fabulous local organization!

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