OK, kids. Let me tell you a story. It’s a story of a beautiful young woman named Ariana who, in January of 2016 walked into my Boudoir booth at the Massachusetts Wedding & Bridal Expo and booked her bridal boudoir photoshoot. At the time all I knew was that this really sweet woman with the vibrant smile had booked me to help her create a super wonderful gift to give to her soon-to-be-husband.
Fast forward to September of the same year. Ariana walked into my studio and brightened up the whole place with that wonderful smile and happy attitude. You would never know that this beautiful, radiant young woman had just fought the battle of a lifetime. Quite literally. Because Ariana is a breast cancer survivor.
Hair and Makeup by the always amazing, Shannon Rouvel.
During the time between booking and the date of her shoot I got to know her a bit more through phone calls/emails and that is when I learned about her battle with breast cancer. To see someone as young as Ariana was, being faced with such a scary life-threatening diagnosis was truly eye opening. As I myself have a very close family member who also being treated with chemotherapy I had a lot of questions for her about it. One the day of her shoot, while we were doing hair and makeup she told me more of her story and happily answered my questions about fighting cancer. We talked about her diagnosis, the treatments and how lucky she was to have such a supportive group of people surrounding her.
Not only did this incredible young woman have to fight to live but she also had to cope with all the medical aspects that come with cancer …Chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow shots, double mastectomy, multiple surgeries, medications, scheduling doctor’s appointments, constant doctor visits. I look at this petite little woman and am absolutely amazed at her strength and at the positive energy she gives off.
Ariana has generously allowed me to share her images so that she can help be an advocate for other women who may be going through a similar experience. She wants you to know that you can still feel beautiful in your skin! I’ve also asked her to help me tell a bit of her amazing story, in hopes that sharing it may help others not only learn more about breast cancer but also be inspired by her journey. This is her story:
December 2014 I discovered a large lump in my right breast while I was showering. I waited a week before I called my doctor thinking it was just a pulled muscle in my chest from my daily workout at the gym. A week went by and it started to get real bothersome to the point it hurt to raise my arm. I called my doctor and explained to her what was going on. She scheduled me to come in right away for a breast ultrasound, and mammogram. Both confirmed that a large lump was present and suspected that it may be a fibroid based on my age. The radiologist referred me to a breast surgeon. My surgeon wanted to rule out a fibroid versus a cancerous tumor. The only way to determine this was to have a breast biopsy. The breast biopsy was performed a few days after seeing the surgeon. I was told that I should hear from my doctor within a few days with the results. Everyone told me don’t worry Ariana everything will be just fine. I’m sure it’s just a fibroid. They are very common in woman. I was so anxious waiting for that phone call. As soon as I got the call from my doctor my heart was in my throat. I heard nothing but tears on the other end of the phone. I knew this wasn’t good. December 11th 2014 I never thought at 30 yrs old I would hear the words you have “Breast Cancer “. I didn’t know what to think other than DEATH! I’ve never cried so much in my life. I was asked to come right in to the hospital with a family member to meet with a team of doctors. When I arrived at the hospital with my mother and boyfriend I had a team of doctors waiting for me to discuss the next steps. My diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma late Stage II, early Stage III. I was told that I would need to undergo eighteen weeks of chemotherapy, mastectomy, thirty rounds of radiation, and 10 yrs of an oral medication called Tamoxifen. My oncologist told me that since my cancer was so aggressive feeding off the estrogen in my body, freezing my eggs wasn’t an option. You may never be able to have children of your own she said due to the impact chemotherapy has on your ovarian reserve. Since I wasn’t married at the time, nor have children of my own that was the last thing I wanted to hear. Right away I burst into tears and looked at my husband. He said my main concern is you, and getting you better. We will figure this out together. Within two weeks of my diagnosis, I had all the appropriate testing done and started my treatment.
Genetic testing confirmed the reason why I developed breast cancer at a young age is because I carry the BRCA Gene Mutation. Since I carry this mutation, it puts me at a high risk for ovarian cancer and secondary breast cancer. I opted for a double mastectomy, and will need to have an Oophorectomy (removal of ovaries / tubes). It has been a very long battle for me, and still have a few more surgeries ahead of me. Throughout my journey, I knew the only choice I had was to be strong and stay positive. I said to myself I still have a lifetime ahead of me, a loving family, and an amazing husband. The only other option was to give up and let cancer win but I wasn’t giving up the fight. I know that cancer could take away my physical abilities, but I wasn’t going to let it take my life. I was given a second chance at life. May 6th 2015 I was told by my doctor that I am “cancer free” and now a Breast Cancer SURVIVOR!
I joined a private Facebook group that’s called Breast Cancer Survivor. It’s a great group where you can talk with others who have gone through the same thing you have. They understand whereas others don’t because they haven’t gone through what we’ve been through as breast cancer patients. If people I know come in contact with others who have breast cancer, they ask if I could speak with them sharing my experience while they are undergoing their treatment. I had such a positive attitude, and stayed strong while going through all my treatments, surgeries etc. I feel this has a great impact on others seeing how positive I maintained, and knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Ariana has had multiple surgeries to reconstruct her breasts after her mastectomy. At the time of her shoot she was not done with her reconstruction but wanted to come in anyway. Much of the process of photography is about documentation so we documented this beautiful bride-to-be at that time in her life. She also asked me to not retouch her scars, as those are such a part of her story. Here she is feeling confident and looking beautiful.
There are always fundraisers to fight breast cancer so I urge to you find the organization that speaks to you (or choose one of Ariana’s preferred organizations below) and donate, donate, donate! [ if you’ve known me for years then I’ve likely hit you up to donate to the Susan G. Komen 3-Day 60 Mile Breast Cancer walk in years past. Sadly, the walk is no longer held here in Boston so I stopped walking it but that doesn’t mean you can’t still contribute! ] Here are some of the events and fundraisers that Ariana participates in:
I participate every year in the making strides against breast cancer walk. I also take part in the Lahey 5 K that raises money for cancer awareness, and the Lahey Hospital oncology department. This is part of the hospital where I received all my care, and still continue to receive all my follow up care there.
I don’t want to finish this post giving you the impression that it’s breast cancer that defines this young woman. Sure, it a significant part of her world, and may have helped her develop into the amazing woman she is today but she is so much more than just a diagnosis. She is a beautiful young woman, a newlywed with a fun and sassy attitude who is living and loving life.
“I had such an amazing experience working with Jess. She is absolutely amazing, and has a great eye for the camera. The photoshoot was so much fun, and I was able to be myself. I was worried that I wouldn’t be myself due to my body going through reconstruction after battling breast cancer. Jess made me so comfortable, and I rocked every picture that she took. I would highly recommend Jess to anyone who is looking for an amazing photography for a boudoir session. I can’t wait to go back to Jess for another session in the future.” – Ariana’s Google review
Ariana, thank you for sharing your journey with us and for being an advocate!
Learn more about breast health and cancer screenings by following some of these great links:
NIH – Mammograms – (includes information about non-insured patients and the various types of mammograms).
American Cancer Society – “know before you go” good tips on finding the right center to do your mammogram.
Susan G. Komen – Learn about screening and early detection.