Devin Sidell: Brave enough to remove all of my lady parts to avoid cancer.
My mom survived Stage 4 ovarian cancer when I was 13. Her sister, my aunt, did not survive hers. I found out a few years ago that I have the BRCA-1 mutation -- the one that leads to breast and ovarian cancers. My older sister, who also has the mutation, and I discussed the fact that we might have to undergo preventative surgeries one day. We figured we could wait until our 40's to make these big decisions. Then, in October of 2016, my 38-year-old sister was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. I immediately scheduled surgery to have my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix removed. Because there is still no way to screen for ovarian cancer, the survival rate is only about 25%, and I wanted to know that I wouldn't have to face what my mom and my aunt faced. After my sister underwent chemo for months, I decided that I never wanted to have to go through that. No one should have to go through that. I made an appointment to have both of my breasts removed preventatively. The recovery from this surgery has not been easy. In fact, I'm still recovering. I will do reconstruction in a few months, but I wanted to capture visuals of what my body looks like going through such a strange procedure. I wanted to remember, and I wanted to turn it into art. I wanted to share what not many people get to see.
My brilliant photographer friend Sarah Sido did a photo shoot with me during my second week of recovery, and the images make me feel like this process means something more. Of course, it means that I no longer have to fear dying from these two types of cancer, but I wanted to create something more from it. I felt that if I had to go through this awful process, then other people should have to look at it, too, no matter how disturbing it was. In a surprise twist, posing for the photos without breasts and with scars and surgical tape actually made me feel sexy and free. More sexy and more free than I was with my breasts. That is a pleasant surprise.