Aug 13, 2011

The Absolute Reality of Stage Zero

Posted by Joules Evans

[In our continuing series of interview with/blogs by SCAR Project participants, I’d like to introduce you to the girl on the other side of the proverbial microphone and the Q’s, not to mention, standing beside herself in the photo below: Jessica Dietze.]

Q: Can you tell us a little about the cancer part of your story?

Jessica: I was 23 when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with the earliest stage of breast cancer: DCIS (Ductile Carcinoma In Situ) after I had a simple bilateral mastectomy for fibrocystic breast disease. I have no family history of breast cancer so it was more than unexpected.

I was 19 when I had my first lump removed because of fibrocystic breast disease, then officially diagnosed when I was 20 and started to try anything that would offer relief. I had a couple more surgeries to remove horribly painful lumps since that was the only thing that offered relief. Right before my 23rd birthday I was seeing my surgeon for yet another lump, and asked him if he could just take both of my breasts.

My mom suffers to this day from fibrocystic breast disease and it does impact her life. I didn't want to keep suffering.

So that was in August . . . and it took until November . . . after lots of fighting with the insurance company before surgery was approved. My doctors said it probably saved my life.

With how dense my tissue was they would have never found it until it was a higher stage. One oncologist said it would have been like finding a grain of salt in a straw.

Q: What drives a girl from Nebraska to fly across the country to NYC to have fashion photographer David Jay take pictures of what [Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.] means for you?

Jessica: I did The Scar Project to let people know, stage zero or not, no matter your age, if you lose your breasts you are affected. It changes you even when you say you’re not going to let it. Going through the surgery and losing a part of you that is a big part of femininity will shake you to your core.

I loved how raw the project was and I felt this connection to the project, like it was something I had to do.

Q: What did having your portrait taken for The SCAR Project do for you? How does it feel to stand beside yourself in a [Pulitzer nominated] exhibit? Or when you see yourself in The SCAR Project book, on DVD in The SCAR Project documentary “Baring It All”, on Style Network, in Life Magazine Online...?

Jessica: When I look at the pictures in the book or at the exhibit it’s almost an out of body experience. It’s hard to grasp the fact that I will forever be different because of breast cancer. The fears, the struggles, the future of my life will always have the black cloud of cancer hanging over it. When I look at the pictures in the project it makes me feel less alone . . . helps me deal with those emotions, but yet brings out more in me than I never thought I could feel towards, essentially total strangers. My struggles over the past few years are minor in the grand scheme of life. I look up to all of the women involved and the fights they have had to face. I can’t believe that I’m a part of something so amazing. It’s surreal and breath taking to stand amongst some truly beautiful women.

I think it’s surreal to have my photo part of such an amazing awareness campaign. I think the pictures really affect people more than any other project or awareness campaign does. It was surreal to see my picture with the LIFE logo in the bottom corner but I couldn’t be any more proud to be amongst the group of women that I am. David is amazing and I hope this project continues to do all that he hoped for and more.

Q: Where you are now in your life?

Jessica: 2011 has been a whirlwind; one revision surgery for scar tissue turned into me losing both my implants due to infection. I’ve never had to face my body with no breasts. When I had my mastectomy I had immediate reconstruction.  It’s easy to be bitter about all of my complications but then I just feel guilty. I’m healthy and in July I got my implants back so I blend in with the rest of society again. I’m ready to start a family with my husband, move past all the surgeries, medical bills, and constant rut of life I feel like I have been.

Q: What surprised you most about your experience being photographed for The SCAR Project?

I was surprised at how affected I felt after we took a break and looked at the photos. I used to try and hide my emotions a lot more then I do now and I remember fighting back the tears. After I got the email from David with some of the shots from the shoot I was just in awe at how gorgeous the pictures were and for the first time since my surgery I wasn’t ashamed of how I looked.

Q: What has surprised you most about yourself through your experience with The SCAR Project...through your experience with cancer?

Jessica: How emotional and continually affected I am by it. Having stage zero breast cancer is hard, it’s almost like people don’t believe me. I didn’t show any outward signs of the typical cancer patient so everyone just assumed I was, am fine. Toss in some guilt as to why I was lucky enough to have mine caught so soon and feeling overwhelmingly blessed that it was—it’s tough. It’s confusing when doctors don’t know what your future risk factors are and you feel like you are just in this guessing game with cancer. Some days I feel like I’m consumed with all the “what ifs?” . . . other days I’m ready to tell the world it could happen to anyone!

Q: What's the best thing that has come out of the scar project for you personally?

Jessica: I think it has made me stronger and sensitive to others and the challenges they face in life. It has also given me a confidence I’ve lacked my whole life, I feel powerful and beautiful. I also feel fulfilled to be part of the awareness campaign.

Q: What do you hope happens because of The SCAR Project?

Jessica: I hope the project brings light to early detection. That it gives hope and courage to anyone facing breast cancer. I also hope that it opens people’s eyes that may not be directly affected, that cancer can happen at all different stages and be more accepting of the effects it has on those dealing with it.

Q: Will you be able to come to Cincinnati for the exhibit this fall?

Jessica: We will be road tripping from Nebraska!

Joules: Yay! Cincinnati, The SCAR Project Cincy Team, and I look forward to hosting you and the other SCAR Project subjects who will be gracing our city and helping spread awareness about early onset breast cancer. 

Q: They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. What’s the message of your picture?

Jessica: Sadness, imperfection, pain, strength and confidence.
Joules: I don’t mean to have the last word here, but I’d like to add one more word: Beauty.

For more articles online about Jessica’s story, please check out:


  1. This is such an amazing project.

  2. But you are alive....and that is everything!

  3. Jessica, your strength, and all of those like you, is outstanding. I only hope that if I was put in the same position, I would be able to come out as strong and as beautiful. I hope your mother's suffering ends soon. All my best,

  4. Jessica, your story is powerful, and to me personal. I had a tumor on my ovary, which--while huge--was completely benign, but they found cells on the ovary that were stage A 1a ovarian cancer. That's the stage that nobody gets because ovarian cancer is asymptomatic until later stages. The tumor, in effect, probably saved my life. Your story-albeit your breast and not your ovary--has some parallels.

    And then, in the hospital after the surgery removing tumor, performing a hysterectomy, oopherectomy, removing the omentum (a part I didn't know I had) and my appendix because they were in there, I basically had to recover from surgery. No chemo, and no radiation. I was lucky. And on the cancer ward, I felt almost like apologizing to these people who were so clearly impacted so much more than I by their cancers. I felt like a fraud.

    I found though, that the other patients didn't think so. I think it was that I felt lucky, and who feels lucky on the oncology ward? And then I felt undeserving of being there, less valid, you know? This was several years ago, and looking back I think I projected my own feelings onto the other people. Maybe you did the same with your stage zero cancer.

    ANyway, for those reasons, your words really resonated with me. Stay strong, congratulations on your family planning, and thanks for participating in the SCAR Project. It's amazing.

  5. Thank you for your courage and strength in being a part of this awesome project, Jessica. I am a bc survivor, dx'd at 40, finding a lump a week before my first mammogram. I really appreciate your openness in sharing these words, "How emotional and continually affected I am by it. ... it’s almost like people don’t believe me. Toss in some guilt as to why I was lucky enough to have mine caught so soon and feeling overwhelmingly blessed that it was—it’s tough. It’s confusing when doctors don’t know what your future risk factors are and you feel like you are just in this guessing game with cancer. Some days I feel like I’m consumed with all the 'what ifs?" . . . other days I’m ready to tell the world it could happen to anyone!"

  6. I, too, was DCIS stage 0. I opted for bilateral mastectomy-no reconstruction. I feel so lucky. Both of my maternal predecessors were lost to breast cancer. Sometimes I feel like people look at me like I'm a freak. The scar project has given me a sense pride.

  7. Jessica,
    I was so glad to find this interview and hear that you are doing well although I'm sorry about the setback with your implants. DCIS is such a weird diagnosis because some people don't think it's "real" cancer. My running joke with my oncologist was "It's close enough! Someone sign me up for the fake mastecomy!" I think it's so wonderful what you and all the other young women have done through the Scar Project. As I said in my blog when I wrote about you last year, you are warriors and you are beautiful. Kudos to David for this amazing project.