A Diary of Healing
Mary Ann is sitting in Brad Stanton’s studio in Danbury, Connecticut, just as she has done for the last twenty-five years. Brad has photographed her comp-card photographs since Mary Ann began modeling, at the age of fifteen. She has asked Brad to make a few photographs because she wants to remember her journey through cancer. From the beginning she has believed she would make it through this, and says, "I want to be able to someday find these pictures in a drawer under my bed and say, "Oh my God! What was that year I had cancer? Remember? I was bald. Was that 2003, or 2004? Oh, it was 2004. Right."
The nurse has just removed the chemo IV for the last time.
At work, as a Development Director for her church’s school, she prays before a meeting. Later she tells me, "Anger is not here for me, but God always is."
It is the day before her mastectomy. She is driving Eddy to Boy Scouts, visiting Sister Theresa in Bridgeport to drop off clothes for the homeless, Betsy has rowing practice, and she is making pink ribbon chocolate candy for the kids at school.
The lady in admissions phones Mary Ann about the bi-lateral mastectomy she will have in the morning. "Wear sweat pants and sneakers," she tells her. Irritated, Mary Ann vents into the phone, "Okay, I’ve followed the rules all along, but I’m not wearing sweat pants and sneakers to my mastectomy. I will be wearing sandals, or maybe high heels, and I may just bring the highest stilettos I have, and I may even lay in bed with them on!" After she hangs up the phone, she tells me that she wants to feel good and wants to walk in looking her best, and leave looking the same way.
In this moment her emotions quickly change. As the nurse walks to her, Mary Ann’s expression is extremely somber; and then, as the chemo IV is removed from her port, she looks up and smiles. Then, almost immediately, she begins to cry.
She is in and out of consciousness after the mastectomy surgery. At night, when she is more aware that I am with her, she compares the weight on her chest to that of a dump truck.
Andrea, a long-time friend, visits Mary Ann in the hospital the night after her mastectomy surgery, and together they laugh at the progress of her growing hair.
"If I could ever have seen this photograph from the beginning, of a woman four days after her bi-lateral mastectomy, a tremendous amount of my anxiety would have been gone. I expected to look a different way — railroad tracks, bruising, blood. What is this? Two lines? And still I have some shape."
After she hugs the doctor, Mary Ann walks to the corner of the room and looks at herself.
The doctor asks her if she is okay, as he fills each breast with 120 cc’s of saline. She responds with her eyes still closed tight, barely moving her lips, "Yes. I’m just saying the rosary."
She walks over to the mirror after her fourth fill, and is amazed with the shape she has.
Mary measures her mother’s hair and says laughingly, "Look, it’s almost as long as Eddy’s."
Everyone piles into the little room at the back of the church after morning mass. The reconciliation room is filled with Mary Ann’s children and closest friends. It is the morning of her exchange surgery, and as she kneels down to receive their prayers, everyone lays their hands on her and Father Tom begins to pray.
Doctor Rubins examines Mary Ann just before the exchange surgery.
Operating room during exchange surgery.
One week after nipple reconstruction surgery, the doctor removes her bandages.
Two weeks after nipple reconstruction surgery.
Mary Ann sits at home, in her kitchen with her three children, Betsy, left, Mary right, and Eddy. It has been a year-and-a-half since her diagnosis, and she is nearing the completion of reconstruction.
After a visit to the doctor, another patient visits with Mary Ann, to ask questions and to see how Mary Ann looks now that she has nearly finished reconstruction.
Today she completes the final step of reconstruction, nipple tattooing for pigmentation.
The work of being a mother never stops for Mary Ann during all of this. She and her husband separated at the beginning of her diagnosis, and so, taking care of the children, the house, and working through doctor appointments and surgeries have all fallen on her shoulders.
Even though we are at the end of her reconstruction, and all seems to be put back together, she is worried about what will happen to her home and how she will provide for her children, as the bills for all her surgeries continue coming in.
"People say there is life after breast cancer. But, I believe there is life right in the middle of it."
From The Artist
I believe there is a redemptive quality to photography. It can take that which is ugly and make it beautiful; not by misleading anyone, but by allowing the viewer to stop and look more deeply at the subject.
Through this process, the moment become distinct; this is where photography lives and breathes. As a photojournalist, my approach to making pictures is not something new or incredibly deep – it is simply to tell the truth. After I become aware of a person’s story, I try to find the visual tools to translate that story as truthfully as possible.
As a photojournalist, I ask the permission of others to be allowed into their lives, to ask questions, to make pictures, in order to learn something that is outside of my own experience and myself.