The Real Side of Cancer

When AnnMarie was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to take matters into her own hands and find out what was really going to happen to her. Read more to learn about her journey to discovering the real side of cancer.

I have no doubt in my mind that cancer changes you. The changes are physical and emotional, which makes for a very intense journey. It takes your body and mutilates, deforms, scars and transforms it into a foreign being. It takes what you knew to be yourself and turns it into someone else. It is really like living in someone else's body. I cannot express to you how scary it is to live in a body you don't know or, in some cases, can even feel.

Not knowing what to expect is so frightening.

As I began my reconstruction process, I decided that I needed to see what the doctors tell you, but never show you. They show you those great pictures of what you will look like AFTER a surgery but you never see how you will look during the process. So I sought out web-pages like The Scar Project to show me what was really going to happen to me. Immediately, I was empowered by these women and their strength. I needed to see their scars, tears and support in order to understand that I was going to heal. I found the images of Kerry Mansfield and cried hard. I was talking to a friend at 1am and freaking out that my body was going to do that. I asked myself the typical questions - "How can this be happening?" "How was I going to be ok?" Looking at images like this scared me, but somehow comforted me as well. I could see that Kerry was still standing, she was alive and she was stronger. These photos took the unknown out of the picture for me - and that helped me beyond words.

That's why I decided to have one of my best friends, who also happens to be an amazing photographer, take photos throughout my journey. As Genevive took the photos, we had no idea what we were going to do with them or if we would ever show them to anyone. But I kept thinking of the images that I saw and how they helped me and asked myself if I could help others through my images. That's why I created "My Journey Through the Lumps" - an exhibit with all of the graphic, uncensored images. More than 550 people attended and we raised more than $12,000.00. Who would have thought? Revealing myself like that made me feel vulnerable, but it also made me feel powerful. I wanted people to see the real side to cancer - I wanted them to see the pain I was experiencing, even though I didn't "look sick". My girlfriend Karen looked at me and said, "I had no idea what you went through." That was exactly the message I want to send.

There is such an intense reality to the change in my body.

I try on my clothes and they don't fit the same.I didn't just lose body parts, I also gained 20 pounds. But it isn't about the weight - it is about the scars that hurt so badly, the alien body that is now "mine" and the loss of feeling in my breasts. I do not feel sexy or sexual because cancer changed that. Having a full hysterectomy did not help. I feel like a hollow woman with no feeling in her breasts. When the boys are asleep at night and my husband is snoring next me, I cry a lot. I hate what cancer has done to my body and my friends. I cry because there is nothing I can do about it.

There are something that I can do, though, so I try my hardest to show people the real side of cancer. You can slap a pink ribbon on breast cancer and call it awareness but that is not what cancer is about. Don't get me wrong, I love PINK - boas, ribbons, sparkly things that are pink, tattoos that have ribbons - all of it. But I am what is behind all the pink. This is life, this is my life. Facebook called images like The Scar Project pornographic/offensive and wanted them removed. Seriously? There are images and pages on there that are over the top crude and beyond offensive but they are still up and not getting any attention. Luckily, my friend Sarcastic Boob was not going to stand for this. She made a petition and urged people to sign it and through, received more than 20,000 signatures. Facebook saw the importance and overturned the ruling. This is the movement I wanted from the day I posted my first picture. I am proud to be a part of this yet at the same time I am pissed people still are telling me these images are pure nudity. I just cannot wrap my head around that.

I am healing and that is a long process.

These images are showing that scars take time to heal - it doesn't happen overnight. They also show strength, courage and power. Thank you Facebook, David Jay, Scorchy Barrington and all of the women who live with these scars. This is what the pink ribbon should be about. The images show the healing process, and anyone who thinks otherwise is, frankly, a dumbass. This is awareness - this is LIFE.

This is now my reality and I am making a difference with my pink breast friends next to me. This proves to me that stupid dumb breast cancer will never have me! After all, my tiara didn't fall off once. I remain a princess with a pink boa, stilettos and a whole different look on life.