Please note: this post contains nudity
I had the privilege of meeting this incredible woman who wanted to do a photo shoot to celebrate 20 years being breast cancer free. Bronwyn had a particular vision in mind for her photo shoot, and although a little more out of the box than what I usually do, after meeting Bronwyn and discussing her ideas, I was excited to bring her vision to life!
This is the very reason I love to do what I do – I love helping women celebrate themselves and own their story. I love to give women a safe space to create meaningful art. And I love that Boudoir can be a therapeutic experience for many of my clients. A boudoir shoot can totally transform the way women look at or feel about themselves and their bodies I’m so honoured I get to help women with this.
I’m glad Bronwyn trusted me to deliver her vision through the art of intimate portraiture. It was a pleasure to get to know Bronwyn, hear her story in detail and to take these photos for her to cherish and celebrate for many many years to come. What an amazing woman she is!
When I asked Bronwyn if she would like to share her story, to inspire and give hope to others, she was only too happy to share and help bring awareness to this disease.
Here is Bronwyn’s story:
“I received my first bra when I was 12 – I loved it, and was relieved to finally have a bra as I was already a B cup. My breasts were pretty much hidden away (but well supported) through my teenage and young adult years. In my family we were all about comfort and function – so there was nothing revealing going on with my clothing in the 1980’s. I could not have loved my breasts more than when I was breastfeeding. It was the most valued part of mothering for me. I fed my first baby Josh until he was 18 months old and I started training as a breastfeeding counsellor after I had our second baby, Sam. I was sitting breastfeeding Sam when my doctor said ‘I’m very sorry but you have breast cancer’ – wtf!!!! It was the year 1998, I was 28 years old and had no risk factors – in fact breastfeeding is protective against breast cancer – just not in my case. I had a large, aggressive tumour that had spread beyond my breast. In a whirlwind of events I had a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.
Treatment lasted 9 months and it was the worst time of our lives. We lived in another state from our families and our boys were 9 months and almost 3 years old. Six years after having a mastectomy I travelled to Sydney (from rural NSW) to have reconstruction surgery – it cost a lot of money and I had a procedure that used my belly fat to make a breast, rather than using an implant. Unfortunately there was a problem and I had to have a second operation and the reconstructed breast ended up smaller than my ‘real’ breast. There was no way I was having more surgery so I’ve left it as it is and wear a partial prosthesis over the top. I have had 1 breast for longer than I ever had 2 breasts.
Losing a breast to cancer is an emotional journey, and my relationship with my body has been one of mistrust – I mean technically my body tried to kill me. Every ache, pain or unusual symptom is accompanied by the gut wrenching fear that the cancer has returned. Over time that feeling has diminished but this year something really interesting happened for me. I had physical symptoms for many months and my physio and I talked about whether I should have an MRI scan to investigate ‘because of my history’ – for the first time since experiencing cancer I felt no fear, and I felt confident that I knew what was going on in my body, and that I could trust it again – it was actually a very profound moment.
This year, 2019, is my 20th anniversary of experiencing breast cancer. At the time I was advised the prognosis for my disease was that I had a 50% chance of being alive in 5 years – so I am unbelievably grateful to be alive and cherish my life. I haven’t always been a physically active person but four years ago I started kickboxing training. The training and connection with my coach was an amazingly powerful influence in shifting me out of chronic depression and anxiety. In 2018 I ran a half marathon and I wanted a different goal for my training for 2019. I had a bolt of inspiration one day to have photos taken to celebrate my 20 year anniversary – to celebrate and honour my body in all that it has been for me – in creating and birthing our 2 amazing children, in discovering and claiming my feminine energy, and in not just surviving, but finding my passion and purpose in life – which is in connecting people with nature in my work as an occupational therapist.
I wanted to see what my body could be for me and with the photo shoot in mind I embarked on a 5 month journey of strength training and muscle building (#projectme) that was really challenging for me. I struggled soooo much with being comfortable that it was OK for me to care about how I looked, that it wasn’t just some incredible vanity or about being self-centred. I am so happy with how I look in these photos, but more important than how I look is how I feel. I have been on a 3+ year personal coaching journey that started with me trying to make sense of my cancer experience, and this year has taken me to place of truly noticing and accepting all of my emotions instead of pushing them away and judging myself harshly. So to me these photos reflect what it is to be whole. I started out thinking it was about ‘this is what strong looks like’, but now I now it’s more important that these photos are about ‘this is what whole looks like’.”
This is what Bronwyn had to say about her Boudoir Experience:
“I am so grateful to you Renee for your professionalism, your talent and your dedication to your art and for the amazing experience you provide. I was inspired by your yoga series of photos and by your use of light and shadow in your images. When I was looking for a photographer for my idea, your images stood out so far from anything else I saw. I am so grateful that you were willing to consider and support my vision for my images, and that you embraced my idea of using nature in my images. I wanted to create art, not just photos and I absolutely think we have done that. Nature is such an important part of my life in so many ways and everyone who has seen the nature images comments that they are so representative of who I am (although astoundingly more beautiful than my ‘everyday’). I really appreciate your process of asking so many questions about what I wanted from the images and what I liked or didn’t like about my body. Your patience in answering all my questions by e-mail was so helpful because on the day I felt so sure of how it was all going to flow that it was a really fun experience. I an honoured by the attention you paid to my story and why I was doing this, and so touched by the attention you paid to choosing such a powerful song for my slide show, that captures some of my reason ‘why’. I adore the experience and environment you create to honour women in such an empowering and authentic way. You have such a gift for connecting with people and this experience has outcomes that extend far beyond the images – it has impacted how I feel about myself and my body and has given me the opportunity to keep sharing my story using our beautiful images. Thank you.”
Hair and makeup by Barossa Style Bar
Be.Boudoir supports the Cancer Council Pink Ribbon Cause – $10 from every client order is donated to help Cancer Council work towards better treatments and prevention, provide hope for more survivors and support for women diagnosed with breast or a gynaecological cancer.