Vicky Saynor, a 43-year-old Hertforshire resident and a mother of four, discovered a lump in her breast at a rather unexpected time. She and her new husband were in a posh airport lounge awaiting their flight to India for their honeymoon, and the lounge bathroom had large mirrors. She had uncharacteristically chosen to wear a dress that showed some cleavage, and she says she saw the lump in the mirrors and immediately knew something was amiss. She gave herself a breast exam right there in the bathroom and felt the lump bulging beneath her skin.
“Our honeymoon was frankly not as it should have been. I wanted to be home and at the doctors and getting this damn thing checked out,” remembers Vicky. “I tried desperately to put it to the back of my mind—but only on the last day did I truly relax, and that’s because I knew I’d be at the doctor’s in less than 48 hours’ time with some reasonable medical opinions.”
Vicky was subsequently diagnosed with grade III stage I breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy and a lymph biopsy, followed by chemotherapy. Luckily, the tumor was caught early and was very treatable. If it weren’t for the fact that she ran across a new acquaintance who had written about a friend dying of breast cancer, however, she says she would never have started checking her breasts at all and wouldn’t have discovered the lump so soon.
That’s why Vicky believes cancer awareness campaigns are so important. Except that most of them don’t seem to be doing their job. None of the frilly and “glossy” pink awareness campaigns had ever been enough to convince Vicky to check her breasts, and none of them represented anything close to what she looked or felt like while she was going through treatment.
And so #TrueCancerBodies was born. Vicky started the collective and got a great group of women and men together for an April 14 photo shoot to show the world exactly what cancer looks like.
“I wanted some good to come out of all this fury and disappointment that was being shared on both social and traditional media,” she says. “So I started to reach out to some inspiring cancer friends that I knew and we stumbled somewhat into an agreement that for far too long, cancer has been portrayed as fun, happy, fluffy and often pink. It also annoyed us that even though there are over 200 different cancers, that breast cancer especially dominated the narrative of major supporting retailers and corporations.”
The people in the True Cancer Bodies campaign, who range from 26 to 57 years old, have all types of different cancers, such as breast, lung, liver, and colon cancer. They have scars on different parts of their body, bald heads, colostomy bags, and other unpleasant physical changes that cancer and cancer treatment have left them with. It may not be pretty, but it’s raw and real, and absolutely breathtaking.
Vicky now affectionately refers to her three-centimeter tumor as “Jerry” and isn’t shy about talking about him. She hopes that sharing her experience can help encourage other people to do self-checks and screening when appropriate in a way that standard campaigns can’t.
“The prognosis of so many cancer cases could be better if the population’s awareness was improved,” says Vicky. “We strongly feel that the best way to do this is by showing what cancer really looks like – the bald heads, the scars, the mastectomies. A picture of a 35-year-old woman with a stoma bag is the real face of cancer and is exactly what is needed to be shared to increase awareness of early detection techniques.”
Thank you, Vicky, for filling a gap in society’s understanding of cancer when you saw it. With any luck, your campaign will save countless lives for years to come!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?