When you’re sick with cancer, feeling sexy and beautiful during treatment can be extremely hard, and sharing intimate photos even harder. That’s why breast cancer survivor and photographer Jen Rozenbaum’s honest new photographs are so powerful.
Her photos, which show the drains, scars, and bruises that resulted from her mastectomy and reconstruction, offer a window into the reality of living with cancer.Read More
View this post on Instagram
Yesterday I was sitting in the waiting room at @sloankettering when a beautiful woman I didn’t know approached me. ⠀ ⠀ “Excuse me, but is your name Jen?” She asked. I replied yes and before I knew it, she and I were involved in deep conversation. ⠀ ⠀ She recognized me from my posts and videos. She is 2 weeks post mastectomy. She thanked me for helping her and her family navigate her journey. Quickly a complete stranger became a friend. ⠀ ⠀ What my new friend didn’t know is just prior to meeting her, I took some post surgery self portraits. ⠀ ⠀ This is one of them. It’s raw. It’s real. It’s more vulnerable than I have ever been, and for that reason, I wasn’t exactly sure I was going to post it. ⠀ ⠀ When I met the woman in the waiting room, it was as if the universe tapped me on my shoulder and reminded me I am helping others and that I need to continue, even if (and especially if) it pushes me out of my comfort zone. ⠀ ⠀ So here I am. Outside my comfort zone. ⠀ ⠀ This is a photo I took yesterday morning. It’s straight out of camera. No photoshop. No nips or tucks, skin softening or color enhancement. ⠀ ⠀ It’s simply me. ⠀ ⠀ When diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s assumed that it only involves your breasts. The reality is, it’s a disease of the full body and mind. It changes you from head to toe. ⠀ ⠀ In this photo you can clearly see my incisions. My drains. My bruises from the fat grafting. My swollen and imperfect belly. ⠀ ⠀ There’s also so much you can’t see. Arm pain. Back pain. Fear. Aggravation. Soreness. Frustration. Anxiety and at times depression. ⠀ ⠀ My hope in sharing this image is to show a woman who has been through hell and back and is still smiling. A woman who even in all her bruising and scars is starting to really truly understand and love her body more than ever. A woman who greatly fears she is no longer sexy or beautiful because of the damage to her body, even though she also believes that her beauty and femininity is being birthed from the exact wounds that threaten it. ⠀ This is me. Real. Raw. Broken and yet more whole than ever. ⠀ ⠀ #nikonnofilter #nikonz7 #mastectomy #nikonambassador #selfportrait #nyc #breastcancer
Diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma on July 12, 2017, she had a double mastectomy on Aug. 2, 2017, and then eight rounds of chemotherapy. In March 2018 she had her first breast reconstruction and, hoping to make a few changes, had another one this month.
Initial Cancer Photographs
Rozenbaum, an advocate for women’s empowerment and a photographer who’s part of the “intimate photography” market, shot her first breast cancer patient about seven months before she herself was diagnosed, when a woman asked her for portraits before she went in for surgery.
“The thought of her losing her breasts and her having to cope with that, was unbelievable to me,” Rozenbaum says.
When Rozenbaum was diagnosed, she thought about taking pre-surgery self portraits, but decided she wasn’t quite ready. Still, she tells SurvivorNet, “I knew it would be a big part of my healing after. So I started taking pictures right after my surgery. Some [were] more journalistic, some more artistic.”
The more she started to publish them, she says, the more other breast cancer survivors contacted her to take their photographs.
‘Scars to Stars’
Rozenbaum’s series have been an inspiration to survivors and their loved ones. Survivor Marianne DuQuette Cuzzo, who has shared her story with SurvivorNet in the past, posted that spending time with Rozenbaum and her staff was “one of those most important and wonderful days of my life. … They captured that ‘thing’ inside me!!! Always on my mind Jen, and wishing you a very beautiful recovery! “Scars to stars” [star emojis].”
View this post on Instagram
One of those most important and wonderful days of my life… spending the day with Jen Rozenbaum and amazing staff … they captured that “ thing” inside me !!! Always on my mind Jen, and wishing you a very beautiful recovery! “Scars to stars”⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️@jenrozenbaum @makeupbydianacappolla @tonimariexii #breastcancer #cancer #reconstruction #noneeconstruction #scarstostars #scarsareourmaps
“I believe that being in front of the camera helped [Marianne] see her femininity and her sensuality in a different way, and feeling like it doesn’t just come from your breasts,” Rozenbaum tells us of that shoot. “It changes who you are, but it doesn’t take it way.”
The experience, she says, was important to her own journey as well.
“It was so interesting because I was in chemotherapy when I photographed her,” Rozenbaum says, “and it was just such an exchange of energy. I left there thinking I wish I could be like her, she’s so strong. And my team looked at me and said you are like her, we see you like her.”
View this post on Instagram
Today I give a shout out to @marianneduquettecuozzo9128 who is my woman crush Wednesday. ⠀ ⠀ I photographed Marianne in 2017 while I was undergoing chemotherapy. This day is one I will never forget. ⠀ ⠀ In the face of many bouts of cancer and issue after issue with breast reconstruction, Marianne is still smiling and is a ray of light. ⠀ ⠀ That light shone on me just when I needed it most. This is the beauty of “photogratherapy”. The healing exchange of energy between photographer and subject. It’s a beautiful thing. ⠀ ⠀ Captured with the Nikon D850 and lit with the Jen Rozenbaum solix kit by @westcottlighting ⠀ ⠀ #nikonambassador #nikons850 #nikonlove #nikoncamera #westcottlighting #intimatephotography #jenrozenbaum #LongIsland #portwashington #NewYork #ilovephotography #shamelesslyfeminine #lingeriephotos #nikonnofilter #wcw #womancrushwednesday
Photographing Survivors as a Survivor
There’s a saying she’s loved since well before cancer, Rozenbaum says: Every portrait is a self-portrait. That’s “because when you take a photo, you are showing [the subject] how you see them.”
“I’m not afraid of asking someone about their scars, or tell me your story, or lets’ just have a fun day and not talk about it [which] gives them a safe space because they know I’ve been there and dealt with it,” she says.
Rozenbaum adds, “When I photograph breast cancer survivors and patients, I see them in a different way because of what I’ve been through, and I hope that it helps them see their strength, their power.”