I am not sure when I first found Vanessa. It was on flickr.  Perhaps via the group,  52 weeks of BAM? It’s hard to say. Or maybe it was back when benches were all the rage and I found her via Bench Monday?  Like in real time, I  don’t always know how I come across new friends, but somehow paths cross and something sticks. Vanessa has a wonderful sense of humor and it shines through in her work. She also has a gorgeous crew of boys she happens to call family. I would like to say that this is why I asked Vanessa to share with us today, but it isn’t. I will let her story unfold and be told by her. This is as much a photo journey as it is a life journey.

Vanessa shoots with her Samsung Galaxy S3, iPad 3 (around the house) and sometimes she will break out her Canon 450D (but it’s been a while). To edit her mobile photos, she told me she mainly use Instagram (sometimes Hipstamatic and SquareIt).

When I asked her where and who she draws inspiration from she told me, “I have intense photo-crushes on Denise Andrade, Andrea Jenkins, Susannah Conway, Henry Lohmeyer, Rebecca Woolf, Vivienne McMaster, Xanthe Berkeley and Ryan Marshall and I draw tons of daily inspiration from the Mortal Muses, Shutter Sisters and Treehouse Club communities.

Vanessa, thank you for being brave and sharing your story.  You are stronger than you know and inspire me and so many others with your work.  If you would like to follow along further with Vanessa she can be found on instagram, @vanessarobinson.

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It was on a crisp day last April, during the revitalized, hope-filled season of spring, that I saw it. Reaching for a towel as I stepped out of the shower, I caught a reflected glimpse of something that looked out of place. Anxious, I followed it up immediately and three distraught weeks later, I had my diagnosis: breast cancer. Several more tests, scans and very distressing days after that, they gave me my prognosis. And it was good; much better, in fact, than all the initial signs had suggested. According to the experts in the hands of whom I have since placed my reluctant body, once the prescribed treatment plan is completed, the odds are 90% in my favour that the cancer will not come back to bother me.

That is my breast cancer story in a nutshell, I suppose; and I predict that when I look back at this experience years from now, I shall tell it just so. But right now, I’m still in the throes of it. And that is a very strange place to be.

It’s a roller coaster ride. I have two surgeries and twelve weeks of chemo behind me and 6 and a half weeks of radiation therapy, plus one more surgery, in front of me. Physically and mentally, it’s trying and long and ugly and tedious. But it’s also introspective and enlightening and emotional and beautiful.

Everything seems magnified, metaphorical.

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I have a renewed sense of empathy coupled with a strange inner calmness that I have yet to even recognise as my own. The hormonal havoc being wrought by all this treatment has me one minute feeling nice and stable and marveling at my own coping mechanisms, the next I’m in floods of tears because the postman has asked me how I’m keeping.

Another thing I seem to have gained is a heightened awareness of the passing of time.

Sometimes tough and traumatic events have the capacity to make us feel like time has slowed down or somehow even come to a standstill. Well, the truth is, my everyday life very much resembles business as usual these days, thankfully -perhaps it’s even more productive than before.

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And yet…

I look at the fiery leaves falling around me, I feel the chilly darkness of the damp Irish evenings closing in, and I am jolted into reality. I realise that it is no longer springtime, the season in which this body-changing, life-shifting journey of mine began. It is, in fact, autumn now. Summer was lost in a blur. And soon winter will be tightening its bleak and beautiful grip.

Rather than mourning what has been lost, however, I choose to look forward; to find comfort in the simple predictability of the changing seasons; and to be grateful for the reassurance that by next spring, this phase of hospitals and treatments and headscarves and blood tests will have come full circle, and all will be well.

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* * *

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and, to highlight this campaign, I would like to share some practical advice with you here:

Please remember to perform regular self breast exams and, most importantly, to do them in front of a mirror.

The first sign of my 4cm invasive ductal carcinoma was not a noticeably palpable lump, but rather a strange little indentation in the lower left quadrant of my right breast. Due to its location (and my post-breastfeeding droopiness), it was only visible to me in the mirror from a certain angle, and only when my right arm was raised.

This indentation or pinching is called ‘skin tethering’ and it is a textbook sign of breast cancer. Before it happened to me, I had no knowledge of that fact. Had you?

All I did was raise my arm to grab a towel as I was getting out of the shower; the light fell a certain way creating a shadow, and I thought: ‘what is that strange little dent on my boob?’. The tumour itself was set deep inside my already quite lumpy breasts, only palpable upon very close inspection. It was completely painless, there were no other symptoms whatsoever and there is no recent history of breast cancer in my family. I could so easily have missed it.

Most breast screening programmes commence at age 50. I was 41 when I was diagnosed.

So you see… we need to check our breasts for all the signs of breast cancer. We need to do it ourselves. And we need to do it regularly.

Please take a moment to view the images and advice on www.worldwidebreastcancer.com

Thank you, Vanessa Simpson, for the invitation to share here. And thank you so much, Mortal Muses, for having me.