From The SCAR Project

Local SCAR Project Subject “Thinking Pink” with Fox 19, and on the Style Network “Baring It All”

[this article is cross-posted at thescarprojectcincy blog.]

Young Cincinnati breast cancer survivor and SCAR Project subject Vanessa Tiemeier was featured on the Fox 19 News “Think Pink” segment for June. (Click HERE to view.) On July 9th, Vanessa will be one of four young women to be featured in the Style Network’s premiere of Patricia Zagarella’s SCAR Project documentary: “Baring It All.” (Click HERE to stay tuned for more info and the trailer, and of course, please LIKE the Facebook page:) This September 29 – October 2, Vanessa’s portrait in which she bared her breast cancer scars, will be one of 30 featured in the Cincinnati premiere of the Pulitzer nominated SCAR Project.

When I met Vanessa, she was standing beside her portrait at the New York City debut of The SCAR Project last October.

She was talking about her experience being photographed for The SCAR Project. I was struck by a number of things about Vanessa. Besides the fact that she was also a breast cancer survivor from Cincinnati who I happened to meet at an art gallery in the Big Apple when I drove there with my chemo sister Shelly to see the opening of an photographic exhibit Vanessa’s portrait was featured in…she was ONLY 29 and her hair was so long. This was probably only significant to me, because even now I still don’t feel that 45 classifies me as an old breast cancer survivor. (Though technically, I suppose it’s true that I am technically old enough to be her Mum. Hmph.) Anyway, the thing about breast cancer is that it doesn’t have no R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That’s pretty much the message of The SCAR Project, and what Vanessa (my senior in fighting breast cancer) was basically saying: Breast Cancer does not play by the rules. If you thought only old women like me get breast cancer, think again. Young women get it too.

This. Is. Wrong.

Which is why a shy girl like Vanessa would be willing to bare it all, her breast cancer SCARs, exposing them for what they really are: (Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.)

I could tell how shy she was the way she kept attempting to defer to her portrait, pointing our eyes onto it, when we were looking at her. She had something to say about her absolute reality of surviving breast cancer, but she wanted her portrait to speak. “That’s why I decided to do be photographed for The SCAR Project,” she told me. “I don’t communicate verbally as much as I do visually. It was a way to talk about it without talking about it. I know it’s cliche about a picture being worth 1000 words, but that was my idea behind it.” I could tell how proud she was of her portrait, and to be part of The SCAR Project, because it was bigger than herself with its message of breast cancer awareness for young women, like herself. I noticed this in all the young breast cancer survivor SCAR Project “models” I met that night. Each of them had bared it all, exposing beauty in spite of SCARs, and courage in the face of breast cancer, not to mention, a society where some women are sick of pink and every man’s a breast man.

This humility was probably one of the things that struck me most about Vanessa. It was not in her plans to become a face for young women with breast cancer. Her plans were simply to get married and have a big family. She fell in love and got married at 24. Nine months later…instead of the baby carriage part that was supposed to come next…she had the cancer part to deal with. Then when she was re-diagnosed three years later, before she was finished with treatment and given the go ahead to try and try to fill that baby carriage, she was faced with the absolute reality of a hysterectomy and not having children. “That was the most difficult part to swallow,” said Vanessa.

“I don’t really make plans anymore,” she continued, when I asked her what her plans were now. “I’ve learned plans are crap and to cherish the moment. This moment. I try do this day by day and spend time with the people that mean the most. Try to be the best aunt, wife, sister, daughter I can be. Yeah,” she finishes up with a happy sigh, obviously savoring the moment of thinking about each of those roles and the ones she loves.

This again strikes me. Note she didn’t say anything about her unassuming role in being one of the faces of young women facing breast cancer. Obviously, that wasn’t in her plans. But there she is, beautifully embodying it, embracing each moment.

It’s like blooming.

It’s like turning the tables on cancer. Which reminds me of this song, by Vanessa’s sister Christina Blust. Tumor you are so freaking mistaken.

SCAR Project Cincy – The Cocktail Party Fundraiser Report

The SCAR Project Cincy Exhibit Planning Committee, from left to right: Shelly Emrick, Litsa Spanos, Vanessa Tiemeier, Joules Evans

Thanks to everyone who turned out for our SCAR Project Cincy Cocktail Party Fundraiser event on May 20th. It was a beautiful evening and a fantastic kick-off event toward bringing The SCAR Project to Cincinnati this fall. We believe it will be one of the most beautiful meaningful art exhibits to grace the Queen City.

For those who are new to this blog, The SCAR Project is a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay. Primarily an awareness raising campaign, The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women. Like Vanessa, local subject of The SCAR Project and part of our Cincinnati planning committee. Vanessa was first diagnosed when she was only 25 years old. She’s actually been photographed for The SCAR Project twice. Once at 25, after her initial diagnosis, and sadly a second time when her breast cancer metastasized three years later.

Vanessa and I met at the New York City premiere of The SCAR Project exhibit last October. I was standing next to her standing next to her picture when we realized we were both breast cancer survivors from Cincinnati. We’ve been working together to bring the exhibit to Cincinnati ever since. Thank you Vanessa, for your strength and vulnerability to show what the SCAR Project is all about: Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality. You are beautiful.

Vanessa speaking at the Cocktail Party Fundraiser about being photographed for The SCAR Project

Thanks also to Litsa Spanos of Art Design Consultants for being such a gracious hostess for the cocktail party fundraiser and The SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit. Thanks to Elegant Fare for their generous donation of appetizers for the fundraiser. We are so lucky they have so generously donated their catering services for The SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit. And thanks to the Kicked-In Fence for providing live music for the evening. Especially this song (which, obviously means a lot to me, since my kids are in the band and they wrote “Cancer is a Bitch” for my last chemo cocktail).

The Kicked-In Fence

The Cincinnati premiere of the international, Pulitzer nominated, photographic exhibit will be September 29 – October 2. The exhibit will fall on the heels of the September 24th Cincinnati Race for the Cure and on the cusp of the October 9th American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. (I plan on participating in both events and will have a Team Shaken Not Stirred registered in both in case anyone would like to join me.)

The SCAR Project Cincy Exhibit Planning Committee is excited to announce that we have recently designated a local breast cancer organization, Pink Ribbon Girls, to be a primary beneficiary of proceeds from the event. We’re also really happy to work with Pink Ribbon Girls to bring this event to Cincinnati, which will in turn raise awareness for the Pink Ribbon Girls and all they do to support Cincinnati breast cancer survivors. And by do, I mean to say, have done for the past 10 years, as Pink Ribbon Girls are fast approaching the double digits in years of reaching out to local breast cancer survivors. Happy birthday, Pink Ribbon Girls. And thank you for everything you do.

Boo-boos, Bandaids, and the Big Scheme

In the big scheme of things I know a bandaid is not a really big deal. I had my 3-month check-up with my oncologist last week. It went well btw, despite all the bandaids that might as well have been “out of service” signs on all my veins that kept blowing during the blood draw. Which was the most confusing part, because with mi amore del vino tinto, who’d’ve expected my blood to just sit there, like an upside down bottle of Heinz (in the pre-squeeze bottle days) singing “Anticipation” like it’s some kind of a comedian when it’s really just a condiment. Anyway, after the first nurse struck out, we called in Fatima aka the pinch hitter if you know what I mean. And by that, I don’t mean she’s mean. But she can hit a vein and pinch a drop or two of blood in a pinch like nobody’s business. I helped a little by hulking out the iguana veins in my hand just so she wouldn’t be intimidated by all the holes in my arm, but I have to give her props. Even if she gave me boring bandaids. I guess they were out of the Sponge Bob bandaids. Whatever. I got over it. And my oncologist gave me two thumbs up at my appointment, followed up by a good report on the blood test. So you can see why I didn’t feel like holding a grudge about the boring bandaids.

See this boring bandaid?

It’s not the one I was talking about a second ago, but I just thought about it when I was talking about bandaids, and then I felt kind of bad for giving Fatima such a hard time about sticking a boring bandaid on me since it turns out I’m a freaking hypocrite and buy boring bandaids myself. (In my defense, they are cushioned, not to mention, water resistant, which has come in handy with all the rain this spring.) Anyway, this bandaid is from a biopsy I had done on Monday. There’s another place on my right shoulder as well. I don’t mention the biopsy out of worry. I almost didn’t mention it at all. Not even to my oncologist because, no offense, but the idea of more doctor’s appointments made me feel sick. Plus I’m super busy editing my book about my cancer story and I like the ending the way it is.

I have so many friends and family who are writing more chapters in their own cancer stories and honestly it breaks my heart right underneath that bandaid.

Like my friend Kristi, who I wrote about recently and pray for constantly.

Like my Uncle Bill who is fighting stage IV prostate cancer in Indiana and my cousin Kaye who is fighting stage IV pancreatic cancer in Florida. Like our friend Don who is fighting stage IV colorectal cancer.

Like when I walk out the door tomorrow. If I look to the left I’ll think a friend’s sister who is fighting ovarian cancer. Right next door, is a friend who just celebrated his own 5-year cancerversary, while grieving the forth anniversary of the passing of both his wife and daughter within a month of each other from two different cancers. Then I drive past the street of a tennis girlfriend who was fighting stage IV kidney cancer when I was just beginning my battle, but now she’s resting in peace. On my way out of the neighborhood I pass another tennis girlfriend’s house; she’s fighting stage IV breast cancer.

I have a little route of errands I run most days. In the course of my errands, the mother of the owner of the mediterranean bistro where I get my carrot juice, a sweet mutual friend she introduced me to, the mother of my bank teller, the mother of the owner of one neighborhood salon, the mother of a nail tech at another, the the mother of a hair stylist at another, and the cousin of the postal clerk…all fighting breast cancer.

Like my friend Vanessa who I get to work with a lot these days. She’s one of the subjects of The SCAR Project exhibit who is working with me to bring the exhibit to Cincinnati in September. She was actually photographed twice for the exhibit. The first time, after she was diagnosed at only 25 years old. Then again, sadly, when the cancer metastasized almost but not quite three years later.

Which is just about the point I am in my journey. Which is why it’s hard not to “go there” while I’m waiting on results from a biopsy from Monday, or having an MRI tomorrow (which is also nothing I’m worrying about, we’re just keeping tabs on some issues I’m having, probably resulting from the “Vespa Incident.” On top of chemo brain.)

I hate the way the lines blur when people I love are dealing with cancer and I end up thinking about myself and hoping my cancer doesn’t come back. It makes me feel like a jerk.

Even though they’re not sitting there thinking I’m a jerk because they’re busy fighting cancer and hoping for a cure.

I think it’s cool the way the lines blur between finishing treatment and being finished with cancer. I’ve been finished with treatment for a little over a year. I hope cancer is done with me. But I’m not done with cancer. I have a lot of peeps I love, too many peeps I love, who are still fighting cancer and hoping for a cure. Which is why this is not so much about my bandaid but a request for some prayer to cover all my peeps I mentioned underneath.

Introducing SCAR Project SuperSURVIVORmodel Vanessa Tiemeier

I’d like to introduce my friend, local SCAR Project SuperSURVIVORmodel Vanessa. She and I are on the SCAR Project Cincinnati Exhibit Planning Committe to bring the SCAR Project Exhibit, which premiered in New York City last October. That’s the when and where I met Vanessa. SCAR Project photographer David Jay was giving a private gallery tour and as we approached Vanessa’s portrait she was standing right next to hers.

I was just about as beside myself as she was, literally, standing beside herself, to run into a fellow Cincinnati Survivor in the Big Apple.

Vanessa was diagnosed when she was only 25 years old. Yes, young women get breast cancer. That’s a point The SCAR Project is out to make. The stats are out there for anyone to clearly see, but everyone knows a picture is worth a 1000 words.

A picture also puts a face to the sad reality. I hope it also puts some traction in our race for a cure. Look at these pictures. Please, look at these pictures and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that we’ve had enough breast cancer. I know I’ve had too much breast cancer. And I have way too many friends living with breast cancer and way too many friends I’ve lost to breast cancer. Breast cancer is a bitch.

While I don’t feel like glorying in anyone’s death on this blog or in my life, the way I figure it, if we here in America can find Bin Ladin, I have to believe if we put some red, white, and blue behind all the PINK, we could do away with breast cancer and give the color pink back to little girls who won’t have to grow up and THINK PINK.

Dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone The SCAR Project is an exercise in awareness, hope, reflection and healing. The mission is three-fold: Raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.

And with that, I’ll just hand the mic over to Vanessa (who is #103 on my list of 1000 gifts, btw):

"I think sometimes I am so good at putting on a pretty face and acting all put-together that some people don't realize the extent of everything that breast cancer survivors go through."

I heard about The SCAR Project through a post made on the Young Survival Coalition online survivor forums. David Jay put a call out for breast cancer survivors willing to travel to NYC to be photographed. I was intrigued but hesitant. I kept wondering if I would really want to or be able to show my scars to strangers, and expose myself like that. But after I emailed another young woman who had already participated and she urged me to go for it, I was excited to make the trek!

I took a 16-hour Greyhound bus ride from Cincinnati to New York City with my husband and younger sister. I was nervous meeting David in a city I had never been. My husband and family shared my nervousness, but supported my decision to want to take part in the project. My motive being that I don’t want to be part of the mold that breast cancer survivors have been confined to. It’s not always pink ribbons and charity runs. Breast cancer oftentimes is glamorized and commercialized.

I think sometimes I am so good at putting on a pretty face and acting all put-together, that some people don’t realize the extent of everything that breast cancer survivors go through. My outward scars and spoken words are only half of the story. They don’t show the emotional and private struggles that are continuously present. They don’t show the burden that my family has willingly endured. They don’t show the lifestyle changes and limitations that come with breast cancer.

David Jay embraces the everyday, personal, true happenings of life, and through his photographs, beautifully portrays every woman’s unique situation. As part of The SCAR Project, I can “just be me”. No covering up or masking the truth. No pretending that everything is fine.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to be a part of this project, and am honored that my photo is one of the ones selected to be in the exhibition. I am excited to represent Cincinnati when the exhibition comes here on September 29th, and look forward to sharing this ground-breaking exhibit with my home-town. After all, breast cancer is a part of my life but it does not define me. It will never be ALL that I am or ALL that I do. I can’t wait for my friends, my co-workers, my community, and the world to see me…as I really am.

—Vanessa Tiemeier, in her own words.

The SCAR Project Cincy

The Pulitzer nominated SCAR Project Exhibit is coming to Cincinnati September 29-October 2. The SCAR Project is a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay. The SCAR Project premiered in New York City last October. Cincinnati will be the first city outside the Big Apple to host the collection, which puts a raw, unflinching face on the young women—underneath the pink ribbon.

[Cincinnati Exhibition]

The SCAR Project

Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.

Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon

Photography by David Jay

Pictured above is local breast cancer survivor/SCAR model Vanessa Tiemeier. The SCAR Project Cincy is dedicated to her, and to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in young women ages 15-40.

The SCAR Project subjects range from ages 18 to 35 and represent the often overlooked group of young women living with breast cancer. They journeyed from across America and the world to be photographed for The SCAR Project.

The SCAR Project mission is three-fold: Raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering.

This is why we are so passionate about bringing The SCAR Project to Cincinnati, where we have a ridiculous high incidence of breast cancer.

Let’s do something about that.

Litsa Spanos, of Art Design Consultants, will graciously host the Cincinnati Exhibition of The SCAR Project, brought to you by the Cincinnati Committee: Joules Evans, SCAR model Vanessa Tiemeier, Shelly Emrick, and Litsa Spanos. The exhibit will run September 29-October 2, 2011. Stay tuned for details and ticket information.

This blog will chronicle the SCAR Project coming to Cincy.