[In our continuing series of articles about/interviews with The SCAR Project subjects, we'd like to introduce guest bloggers Heather Printz Salazar and Diana Featherstone. Both of them work with the Pink Ribbon Girls of Dayton and both of them will be at the cocktail party/documentary showing Thursday evening from 6-9.]
Heather Printz Salazar
|Heather and her daughters, Lexi and Cara|
It was 2007 and I was in New York taking some teens on a mission trip around the city before I participated in the Scar project. My mom and dad flew in with my daughters Cara and Lexi, our son Caleb was with me on the mission trip. My oldest son and husband were back home for his basketball game. The whole experience was very surreal. I had been going to New York since 8th grade and I am in love with NYC, however, it was my parents' and kids' first visit. We woke up the next morning to go meet David and do the shoot. My head was spinning. “Should I be doing this?” “Should I allow my girls to participate?” “What were my parents really thinking?” I got out of the shower and total peace just came over me. I sat all 3 kids down on the bed and explained to them why we were doing this. I told them breast cancer was not pretty, it was very ugly and difficult. They were each sharing their thoughts about when mommy was sick, lost her hair, couldn’t drive, and getting medicine in her veins for a year. I told them our story is a little different because Lexi’s mom had died from breast cancer, despite the fact that I got breast cancer too. I told them God made us a family, but both girls have be aware about breast cancer. I told them we were participating in a project that shows the world the truth about breast cancer, and that we were working to end breast cancer so they don’t have to worry about it anymore.
Breast Cancer had first come into our lives boldly in 2002 when I met a young woman, Alexis, who was nearing the end of her battle with stage four breast cancer and needed a home for her baby girl. I prayed about this and told my husband Steve I thought we should adopt her. His first response was: What? We already had three small children. Five weeks later, we had a new baby. Lexi.
Throughout the next year, we took Alexis to chemo, doctors’ appointments, and then hospice. It was so incredibly painful to watch someone so young go through so much. Alexis was raised in the foster care system and had very little support. Before we had met, she went to her mastectomy by herself. Then she took a cab home from her mastectomy. Alexis had experienced so much adversity throughout her life and she wanted to ensure that her baby grew up secured and loved. Alexis died at the young age of 24.
Two years later, with no family history, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31. All I could think about was seeing Lexi’s mom die from this terrible disease. Would my children grow up without a mother? Would Lexi lose two mothers to breast cancer?
I truly believe that Lexi’s mother is my guardian angel; she probably saved my life. She had been unaware that young women could get breast cancer, and her initial diagnosis was late stage. Afterwards she would tell everyone she knew to check their breasts. If I had never met her, I highly doubt I would have ever performed a self exam, and I would have been dead before my first mammogram.
That was our background as we all piled in a NYC taxi cab to the studio for my SCAR Project photo shoot. As soon as we met David and Joanie, I knew we were doing the right thing. David was sweet, professional, loving, and passionate about the project. He captured exactly who we are and what we stand for as a family. My husband cried the first time he saw the photo. I left empowered to do what I was called to do.
Through my life experience, I feel passionate about supporting women through breast cancer. I cannot express how excited I am to start Pink Ribbon Girls of Dayton. There are no specific groups in the Dayton area for young women dealing with breast cancer. Through this non-profit organization, young women are offered education and awareness for early detection, support, and an outlet to express fears. As I know firsthand, breast cancer is NOT prejudiced, it doesn’t care if you’re black, white, rich, poor, young or old. It can interrupt your life when you least expect it. We need to leave a legacy with our children’s children by curing breast cancer. Until then, we need to support the women fighting the disease so they can be around for the cure.
[And that's when Heather heard about Diana, who had just moved to Dayton a month prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer. "Heather showed up at the doorstep with flowers," said Diana, who was 32 when she saw a lump in the mirror. Thankfully, her doctor ordered a mammogram.]
Before I arrived, I was very nervous about not being model material. David was used to photographing beautiful women for fashion magazines. I was a mother of two from the Midwest who survived chemo by eating macaroni and cheese. Lots of it.
It turns out, my worries were completely unfounded. David and his team made my husband and I feel completely comfortable from the minute we stepped in the door. His dog even helped herself to a snack from my purse. After trying on a few looks, the resulting photo was one of empowerment and strength...something I really needed at that time.
My husband, McKay, saw me and my scars in broad daylight for the first time that day. This is what the SCAR Project gave back to me. This is why I am so passionate about the story he is trying to tell.
As survivors, we spend a lot of energy making the people we love around us feel ok. Partly because we want to move on as much as we can, because we donʼt want to scare people away, because many people donʼt want to see beyond the pink.
These photographs, and the people committed to sharing the stories behind them through film, exhibitions, online media and more, lift the curtain on the effects breast cancer. I thank them for their efforts on behalf of myself, and everyone else who has been told that they were too young for breast cancer.