Join Hannah Marlow and hundreds of others at the 16th Annual Vermont Cancer Center Breast Cancer Conference on October 4, 2013. Hannah is one of many presenters. She will present the film “Baring It All,” an Emmy Award-Winning documentary on the Pulitzer Prize-winning SCAR Project during the conference. Learn more at www.thescarproject.org. Register here.
Pose topless? I did. Allow for a large-scale topless photograph of myself to be displayed in a gallery? I did. Why? Would I do it again?
In May of 2009, my husband and I found a lump. Days later, I was being told that I had a cyst and to come back when I was 35, but I knew something wasn’t right and scheduled an appointment in Burlington for the end of August. September 2, I was alone when I received the call that I had Stage 3 breast cancer.
I had 5 months of chemo, two surgeries and radiation. A new summer began and I felt good. 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.
In 2010, my husband Josh and I visited NYC so I could be photographed for The SCAR Project by David Jay, a fashion photographer who was taking large-scale photographs of women ages 18-35 who had been affected by breast cancer. SCAR stands for “Surviving Cancer: Absolute Reality.” David was warm, caring and interested to hear my “story.” 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.
My bravery didn’t last. Two and a half years on Tamoxifen brought me to a breaking point and a hard decision to stop taking it. My life was not where I thought it should be for someone who had worked hard to stay positive. I was depressed and knew that if I didn’t stop taking it, I could lose my life in another way. I am now feeling better in a sense that I can actually face the demons that have haunted me for those 2 ½ years.
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.
Hannah H. Marlow is a 4-year breast cancer survivor.