It takes guts to pose naked for a photograph. But it takes even more to face down stage-III breast cancer.
Hannah Marlow did both. The 33-year-old participated in the SCAR Project, a collection of large-scale photos of young breast-cancer survivors taken by New York City-based fashion photographer David Jay. Marlow will tell her story, and present her powerful portrait, at the 16th Annual Breast Cancer Conference presented by the Vermont Cancer Center in South Burlington on October 4.
Marlow was 29 when she found the lump in her breast. The upstate New York resident knew something wasn't right. But when she visited the hospital for a mammogram, doctors did an ultrasound instead and told her it was just a cyst.
She was still convinced something was wrong. So she made another appointment for three months later at Fletcher Allen Health Care. By then, the lump had grown to nearly the size of a golf ball, and her nipple had turned inward.
A few days after a biopsy, she got the call: She had stage-III breast cancer.
Marlow had six rounds of chemotherapy and 17 lymph nodes removed before she underwent a mastectomy in 2010, followed by radiation.
"A new summer began and I felt good," she wrote in an essay on Fletcher Allen's blog. "I was on the upswing. I felt brave and confident. I had accepted that although the cancer may come back, I was ready for whatever life would bring me and I could show young women that they could do it too. That’s why I did it."
Marlow was intrigued when a friend told her about the SCAR Project. So Marlow and her husband, Josh, traveled to New York City to meet the photographer."David was warm, caring and interested to hear my story," she writes in an email. "Josh likes to tell people that I had my shirt off before David said, 'Take your shirt off.' He is pretty close to being right. My photo was one chosen for the premiere in NYC and it has traveled, along with other 'SCAR Girls,' all over the country: NYC, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and soon, Houston."
She continues, "Would I take the picture again? I still don’t know. When I see my photo, I still see a brave woman who beat the odds — or has for now. That is what I want women who have just been diagnosed to see. But many times when I look at it I see someone who is still fighting. I see someone who will be judged by someone who hasn’t had to go through breast cancer for not having both breasts removed. I see someone who has yet to learn to love her 'new' body and feels fear, unfairness, pain and moodiness. I see someone who has compassion for the too many who have the same looks on their face, someone who gets upset when people can’t understand what she is going through — even though it isn’t fair for her to do that — and someone who wonders when all of this will end and these thoughts won’t exist. Although I would rather other women not have to see that, that is my reality."
Hear Marlow speak at the 16th annual Breast Cancer Conference presented by the Vermont Cancer Center, Friday, October 4, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center. Info, uvm.edu/medicine/vtbreastcancerconference.
Photo courtesy of the SCAR Project.