One of the upsides of having cancer is that you get to meet interesting people and make new friends. Let’s face it, there aren’t many upsides, but this one is a biggie and should not be ignored. There is for many just a good deal of comfort in knowing others facing or familiar with the same challenges they face. Its comfortable to be with people for whom your emotional ups and downs, the alteration of your world view and also the new goals that cancer brings with it, are familiar.
I feel lucky in this regard, as I’ve already met a lot of really pretty cool new people through my diagnosis, just over a year ago, with male breast cancer (stage III invasive ductal carcinoma). I want to tell you about some of them and what we are doing together.
Probably the first person I met purely through cancer, aside from my many amazing doctors and their clinical teams, was Michael Dale. We share the same diagnosis and the same oncologist, and that’s how we met. She introduced us when we both happened to be there for a clinic visit on the same day. I was early in my 6 months of chemo, and Michael was a veteran survivor. Michael warmly welcomed me to the community and we had a brief chat about the disease and raising awareness. I was impressed by his ability to be cheerful and optimistic, and to see opportunity to make a difference. I was not alone.
Around the same time I was making contact with David Jay, the photographer whose SCAR Project I had come across online, and through David with Lauren Culpepper who is the wizard who makes all things SCAR Project happen (while having her own very successful acting career). David is a successful fashion photographer, who through a personal connection became committed to raising awareness about breast cancer. I had become very intrigued with The SCAR Project work, which is an unflinching but deeply empathetic look at breast cancer in young women, and an antidote to the excesses of pink that crop up around this time of the year. David brings an amazing focus to his work, and dedication. Being photographed by him requires stamina, even if all you are doing is standing there (yes, modeling is a lot harder than it looks I learned from David and Lauren that The SCAR Project exhibit travels as a series of large plexiglass mounted prints and can have a great impact on awareness wherever it goes.
So I became interested in exploring whether The SCAR Project photos could come to my place of work – UT MD Anderson Cancer Center – and turned to Kathy Hathorn who works as art consultant for us, and she suggested a much better plan – work with a local art gallery and she knew of the perfect one – Gremillion & Co. Fine Arts. There I met Chris Skidmore and his colleagues, who have a long tradition of supporting projects such as this, and have been so kind to open their doors.
And I got to meet Susan Rafte, who needs no introduction on this site. I had learned from Michael about the Pink Ribbons Project – Michael is connected to it, not least through his past service on the board – and the commitment of this organization in using the arts to raise awareness about breast cancer. I first met Susan, somewhat by coincidence, at an MD Anderson event (she is a tireless supporter of the institution in many ways). Susan totally got it. When PRP agreed to support bringing The SCAR Project to Houston, she came on board as co-chair of the organizing committee, and has brought her tremendous energy and vision, as well as the experience and resources of her team to the effort. It has been a sheer pleasure to work with her, or more precisely follow in her slipstream.
There are many others who have come forward to make bringing The SCAR Project to Houston a reality – the other members of the organizing and host committees, the doctors and survivors participating in the events we have planned, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston who agreed to show the documentary “Baring it All”, and many others at Pink Ribbons Project and Gremillion & Co. and beyond.
I am deeply grateful to all my new breast cancer friends, first for being friends and second for making this project happen in such a joyful way. I still can’t quite believe it … and when the pictures are up in a couple of weeks I’ll have to pinch myself, no doubt. Personally I look forward to seeing the images as they are meant to be seen: as large prints on a wall, although I have enjoyed seeing them in the book and on the web. And I look forward to meeting some of the women who have been photographed for The SCAR Project, who will be at exhibitions and the documentary showing. The talks and events we have planned are also exciting and highlight some of the current challenges around awareness and dealing with the disease. It is going to be a great opportunity to reflect on where we are in the fight against breast cancer and acknowledge that it still extracts a high price from many, many people. Too many people.
If you do one thing this October related to breast cancer, please consider coming by to see The SCAR Project and perhaps joining one of the events or just to see the photographs, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.
Oliver Bogler, PhD | Senior Vice President Academic Affairs
Professor Neurosurgery – Research
UT MD Anderson Cancer Center