As we started to come up with ideas for our breast cancer issue, I had stumbled across a photo from the women’s book Our Bodies, Ourselves. In this book, for the first time ever just a few weeks ago, I saw a photo of a woman who had had a mastectomy. She stood topless with her face toward the sun, her arms at her side with a breeze blowing her hair back. I saw a woman with a fierceness that I am not sure I had ever seen before, until this past weekend.

A few weeks ago, we had two of our reporters doing two stories: one on new procedures and another on personal experiences of breast-cancer survivors. But what is a story without a photo? By the time we got down to deadline, we realized that most of the women we wrote about couldn’t make a photo shoot. So we put the word out to the Wellness Community, to a local surgeon and a few other personal contacts.

Within a couple of days, five women said they would be happy to join the shoot. Then three more said they would like to join. Late Friday before the Saturday morning shoot, the president of Ribbons for Life Breast Cancer Foundation said she would try to join the shoot after the Relay for Cancer at Oxnard
High School.

As scheduled, the first eight or so showed up. Then, another knock on the door, and five more women came into the studio. And there I was in the midst of something so magical, it is simply hard to explain. As these women all got dressed and undressed for the various posed shots, I was privy to a number of conversations.

“My doctor didn’t even catch it. I just knew something was wrong.”

“My husband left me when I got cancer. He just couldn’t handle it.”

“I just had my doctor take off the other breast even though cancer wasn’t detected. I didn’t want to take any chances.”

“My doctor told me it was too late, and he couldn’t do anything to help me. That was in 1996. I guess he was wrong.”

“Your reconstructive surgery looks great. Who did it for you?”

The camaraderie between these women was unbreakable. All I could do was watch and listen. Then, under the direction of photographer, Chris Jensen, six women shed their tops and held up the Photo Quilt for another shoot. Remembering the firey woman from the book, I made a request for the next series of photos, “Ladies, do you mind covering your chests just with your hands and posing for us? I believe this photo will certainly stir a lot of emotions in our community.”

The original topless shot began with only four women, then another four joined in for the photo. And it was perfect. Tastefully done, emphasizing women’s bodies while showing the scars that brought these women together.

We understand we had a selection of pictures to choose from for our cover, but this particular shot glistened with hope and courage; we dared not lose that in the folds of our publication.

This issue is dedicated to the healing powers that come from empathy and compassion. This issue is for the spouses, families and friends of the women who had breast cancer, who have stood by or have neglected their loved ones in their time of need. This issue is about understanding the hopes, fears and just the raw realities of these women who have survived cancer, or continue to go through chemotherapy or radiation. This is about women taking matters into their own hands, doing self-examinations and getting mammograms and second opinions. This issue is about saving lives.

To get connected and the help you need, here are a few suggestions: Contact the Ventura County Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation by going to its Web site, Call the Wellness Community to get connected to a support group. Talk to your doctor about the best way to do self-examinations, what to feel for and how often, relative to your age and family history. Go to your loved ones and find support, even if it is just one person, to help you through tough times. And most importantly, become educated about this disease.