1 Brave Woman's Breast Cancer Journey (NSFW)

This article was originally published on January 20, 2015.

When Kerry Mansfield was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31, she was shocked. "I had exercised and eaten correctly," she shares, "and like many my age, I felt indestructible, never thinking the most basic of dwellings" — her body — "could be lost." Faced with the "knives and chemistry" of surgery and chemotherapy, Kerry was forced to recalibrate her idea of self and confront the inextricable relationship between her physical and metaphysical identities. "My body may not be me," she explains, "but without it, I am something else entirely."
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To grapple with how her cancer treatment was changing both her body and spirit, Kerry, a photographer, turned her lens on herself. "No one was there when these pictures were made," she says, "just my dissolving ideas of self, and a camera." When she began her photo series, called "Aftermath," she had no idea how her treatment would end — but now, both the series and her treatment are complete. Click through for the stunning photos of Kerry's journey, as well as her powerful thoughts on creative process.
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"I don’t know if there was a 'light bulb' moment so much as a process that occurred as I parsed out the upcoming surgery and treatment from the diagnosis. My initial impetus came from my desire to simply capture the body that I was about to lose."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"I really had no intention of sharing the photos with anyone...rather, [I wanted] to keep them for myself, as a personal record."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"I actually liked my breasts before the cancer diagnosis, so I was truly sad to be losing one, and I wanted a record of my chest pre-surgery — not to mention the hair. It sounds vapid, but I had a great head of hair!"
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"On a different level, I had searched for breast cancer photos showing the painful side of treatment — not the typical images we see — and came up with nothing."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"Now, this is not to say that there isn't a time and place for truly heroic images (often in black and white) featuring survivors, with their bare chests looking regal and triumphant."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"But, I didn't see how those images could be helpful to someone who was just diagnosed. It's like reading the first and last page of a book and skipping over the entire story."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"I wasn't sure how I felt about sharing the photos at that time, but I wanted to be true to myself, if nothing else, and take the kinds of photos that spoke to my experience — which was filled with a lot of physical and emotional pain."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"I’ve always had an artistic interest in relaying the passage of time through still photos. When I was young, my mother would take us to the museums in NYC (we lived in New Jersey) and I distinctly remember seeing Monet’s haystack paintings."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"The subject was fixed, but the lighting shifted so beautifully from one to another. I was fascinated by the light moving and changing color as part of its life cycle — from morning to night and from season to season."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"The images were all shot in the shower/tub area in my tiny San Francisco apartment, against the tile wall."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"I thought it would be best to eliminate any visual distractions by keeping the background consistent, and therefore nonexistent, to a certain degree."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"It helps viewers focus on my shifting appearance and not the surrounding environment, which I felt was irrelevant."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"There's something very clinical about the tile, which also reinforces the clinical nature of cancer treatment."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"My hope has always been to provide a very honest view of what breast cancer treatment entails, so that others can [understand]."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"I receive regular emails from women in treatment — their families and partners as well. It always moves me to tears, and the photos seem to offer some solace for them."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"It's a bit embarrassing to admit, but my camera batteries were slowly failing over time, and I didn't notice until weeks after I had gotten the film processed. Unfortunately, I couldn't go back in time to get better exposures, since that physical state had then passed."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"Portions of the images are really underexposed, and that technical fault has always driven me a bit crazy post-series."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"The other side of the coin is that I learned the true meaning of the phrase, 'you can't step in the same river twice.'"
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"It was also a good reminder that, as much as I wanted to be in control of the project, if nothing else, life simply had other plans for the series."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Mansfield.
"There was no going back to fix things, so I just focused on moving forward."
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