"I want to show that you can still be beautiful or sexy with cancer."
February 6, 2013 12:28 PM   Subscribe

A day before her 32nd birthday, Jill Brzezinski-Conley was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. She's now 35, and her cancer has metastasized to terminal, stage-4. Sue Bryce won Australian Portrait Photographer of the Year in both 2011 and 2012, and last year's prize was a one-person trip to Paris. After hearing her story, Bryce took Brzezinski-Conley with her to the City of Light for a photo shoot and brought along a videographer. The resulting short film: "The Light That Shines." (Also on Vimeo.) Photos. (click the open magazine at the top of the page). The video and photos both show a topless Ms. Brzezinski-Conley, and may be nsfw.

Full Story: Huffington Post, Daily News

Ms. Bryce describes her style as "contemporary fashion-inspired portraiture."

Per Brzezinski-Conley's Facebook page, the Today Show (NBC) will be interviewing them tomorrow morning about the project.
posted by zarq (25 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
This has been making the rounds lately - it looks lovely but I have to think reenacting some of those moments was strange.
posted by 41swans at 12:30 PM on February 6, 2013


I think that in some ways the presentation here buries the lead. It's buried inside the video, and deserves emphasis:

"Every year Victoria Secret has a huge fashion show, and..."

Part of the push of this documentary is to have a cancer survivor win a Victoria Secret fashion show. This is undeniably related to a petition that asked Victoria Secret to release a line of mastectomy bras, and rumors that they might do so.

This is a subject that's been on my mind, and I've had serious discussions about it lately. It is such an unbelievably complex and problematic concept. I don't even know how to get started on that without it turning into an essay length piece, and I don't know how you'd begin addressing all of the perspectives and reactions it would get. It absolutely deserves emphasis here though, and I don't want to see it being overlooked.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:01 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stagger Lee: " It absolutely deserves emphasis here though, and I don't want to see it being overlooked."

Definitely! Thank you for mentioning it.
posted by zarq at 1:09 PM on February 6, 2013


Part of the push of this documentary is to have a cancer survivor win a Victoria Secret fashion show.

I'd be more impressed if they had someone who didn't survive cancer "win" the fashion show, whatever that means.

What's the point of this? To raise awareness? I suppose, that's good I guess. Not that I think cancer needs Victoria's Secret to make sure people are aware of it. Surviving cancer is great, I'm very happy for those that do and their families, but honestly, it's not some amazing accomplishment that one only achieved because of their greater overall value, or morals or something (though I'm sure there are plenty of evangelicals out there that would say otherwise). Surviving is winning enough.

I guess I just don't understand this. Perhaps I am even a little disturbed by it. A bit too much "yay cancer survivor wins"; it seems belittling to all those who didn't and won't survive (like the subject of this post), as if they are somehow less.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:12 PM on February 6, 2013



Part of the push of this documentary is to have a cancer survivor win a Victoria Secret fashion show. This is undeniably related to a petition that asked Victoria Secret to release a line of mastectomy bras, and rumors that they might do so.

I'm assuming this means win a spot in the show or something, because you can't win the Victoria's Secret fashion show.
posted by sweetkid at 1:14 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]




I guess I just don't understand this. Perhaps I am even a little disturbed by it. A bit too much "yay cancer survivor wins", it seems belittling to all those who didn't and won't survive (like the subject of this post), as if they are somehow less.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:12 PM on February 6 [+] [!]


It's more complex than awareness or surviving.

The interesting stuff is happening in the intersection between breast cancer, gender, self image, and media. It is uniquely difficult for (many) women in a way that other diseases are not.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:17 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article is linked in the Daily News story: Virginia woman, Allana Maiden, petitions Victoria’s Secret to make bras for breast cancer survivors. "Allana Maiden, 27, started an online petition to persuade the lingerie company to make 'Survivor Bras' for women like her mother, Debbie, a cancer survivor who has trouble finding bras appropriate for women who have had mastectomies."
posted by zarq at 1:19 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Part of the push of this documentary is to have a cancer survivor win a Victoria Secret fashion show."

Jill's goal is not so much about Victoria's Secret—that's an example that she uses, but that's not her goal. Her goal is to help women who are undergoing this painful, immensely difficult time in their life to maintain their self-image and self-esteem. When you have cancer, people talk to you about pain, they talk to you about survival, they talk to you about practical and emotional issues related to death, but they don't talk to you about how your self-image will change. As Jill says, for many women, their breasts and how they fill out their clothing is an important part of their image and how they see themselves as beautiful, and when a mastectomy requires the loss of one or both breasts, that can cause severe issues to one's self-image at a time when the most personal strength is needed. Jill and Sue and Hailey (the videographer who made this documentary) want to spread the message that despite the ravages of cancer, despite the mastectomy, despite all the changes to their bodies, women with breast cancer can still see themselves as beautiful and can still BE beautiful.

You can see Jill's first Skype call with Sue that lead to the trip to Paris and the creation of the documentary here, in which she lays out why she wants to share her story (the link is to a YouTube video, starting midway right before Jill talks about why she wanted to be on creativeLIVE).

(There is another element of education that Jill wants to share. For breast cancer, "finding a lump" is the first and only thing that most people think of when they think of signs they should be concerned. For Jill, she developed an inverted nipple but was unaware that that could also be a sign of breast cancer. It also happened at a very early age, earlier than most women think to start making a regular conscious check. There's more to breast cancer detection than just checking for lumps, and they want to make sure that people become more aware of that.)

So yeah, Jill's message is not about getting someone in a fashion show or cheering a survivor—Jill has inoperable bone cancer and will likely not survive for long. The message is about maintaining your self-image and self-esteem while you're alive despite all that's happening to you, which is a message that I think is good for people regardless of whether they're male or female, young or old, and whether they're going through cancer or not.

Full disclosure: I'm friends with the photographer, Sue, and work for creativeLIVE, the company that broadcast Sue's photography workshop and enabled Jill and Sue to meet.
posted by Russish at 1:53 PM on February 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


Welcome to Metafilter, Russish. And thank you for explaining.
posted by zarq at 2:05 PM on February 6, 2013



So yeah, Jill's message is not about getting someone in a fashion show or cheering a survivor—Jill has inoperable bone cancer and will likely not survive for long. The message is about maintaining your self-image and self-esteem while you're alive despite all that's happening to you, which is a message that I think is good for people regardless of whether they're male or female, young or old, and whether they're going through cancer or not.

Full disclosure: I'm friends with the photographer, Sue, and work for creativeLIVE, the company that broadcast Sue's photography workshop and enabled Jill and Sue to meet.
posted by Russish at 1:53 PM on February 6 [2 favorites +] [!]


As zarq said, thanks for sharing. It's always nice when people involved in the projects that get linked here are willing and able to come engage. The things you describe really do come out in the video.

For my own note of clarity, I wasn't trying to be reductionist about her message or to trivialize it at all, just to connect it to the context of a larger conversation that's going on right now. I hope that came across.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:40 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


persuade the lingerie company to make 'Survivor Bras' for women like her mother

Hmm, I'm not saying that's a bad idea or anything, but man that reads problematic for a couple of reasons to me. Firstly, the person with cancer isn't even the voice here. I feel like the Cancer Industry does enough to take cancer discourse away from the people with it and turning it onto people "supporting breast cancer" or whatever weird macro is making the rounds on facebook today. It becomes about society's reaction to disease, rather than patients or disease itself.

Secondly, "Survivor Bra"? I don't know, I really buckle against that other tendency of modern cancer discourse, which is to define cancer patients solely by their illness. I mean, surely her mum is a lot more than a cancer survivor? Is she comfortable being defined that way? Much like others, I feel a little icky, too, about what "Survivor" means in this context. People that die from cancer are brave, caring, fighters etc, too. This idea of being "tough" to "battle" illness etc is a gross simplification on the very limited research about attitudes and outcomes with regards to cancer.

I'm not saying that this request isn't a good one, coming from a good place - or even that isn't going to have a good outcome or is a bad idea. It could be a great idea that will have a great outcome and be unproblematic in every way.

But I think there's more to it, as well.
posted by smoke at 3:19 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Victoria's Secret/fancy lingerie bra for mastectomy folks... how about an ATHLETIC BRA. I'm calling on you, Title 9 Sports! If the sack (can't call the front of one of those things a "cup") fits the remaining side, the solo breast just wanders about. If you stuff something in there to keep the flesh one in place, the prosthetic moves around, squishes, absorbs water/sweat, and generally gets in the way of effective movement.

Cancer patients/survivors of unusual athleticism aren't the major consumers, it's folks in physical therapy, or surgical recuperation, or with lymphedema, who need comfortable women's athletic supporters with soft hyperallergenic fabrics, wide straps and easily washed materials. And could it open one-handed - often one arm is lacking in mobility after a mastectomy. And please, let it come in dark or bright colors that don't look like yet another medical device?

You can keep your lacy leopard print in exchange for some serious spandex and athletic mesh.
posted by Dreidl at 4:49 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]



Smoke, part of the problem is that women don't as a rule like underwear shopping in medical supply stores. My partner, being in roughly the same demographic as the lady in the video, finds that particularly burdensome. The median age of people needing mastectomy bras is higher, so young ladies get particularly left in the cold. It's hard for them to find attractive undergarments post-mastectomy, and buying them in a medical supply store beside the enema bags and walkers isn't really the experience most women look for. Add to that massive cost, and the hoops that insurance and healthcare make customers and retailers jump through... and there are plenty of barriers between women and their undergarments.

There are very good reasons for people to sign that petition asking that some company like Victoria Secret offer that particular product, regardless of how they market it or what they call it.

The biggest problem in the face of that is that we're talking about Victoria Secret, who are absolutely interested in money, and who have a whole hell of a lot of their own baggage when it comes to women and body image.

The women running that petition are right in diagnosing the problem, but they don't have universal support in terms of their solution. That's not a criticism of them, and I can't speak on this subject with any real authority or ownership, but there are big hurtles to be leaped here. Women's bodies have a pretty damn uncomfortable relationship with capitalism and media BEFORE you add in breast cancer. I think that it's a problem that's very relevant to the story the women in the video is trying to tell.
posted by Stagger Lee at 4:52 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, everything Dreidl said.
posted by Stagger Lee at 4:53 PM on February 6, 2013


Why is it so important to be beautiful?
posted by zadcat at 5:51 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Victoria's Secret is a terrible store that sells shoddy, overpriced sweatshop bras.

But agree that they should carry bras for people with mastectomies, and so should Athleta and Title IX, and so should every store that sells bras, pretty much.

In the meantime, my friends who have had mastectomies swear by Lady Grace. Which is a great bra store in general.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:16 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why is it so important to be beautiful?
posted by zadcat


Are you being facetious, or are you unaware of the many studies (not to mention anecdata) showing the benefits of being conventionally attractive? And the incredible pain and loss of losing that attractiveness (entire genres of literature!)?

Now add that pain and loss - which has real medical poor outcomes - to all the physical and emotional pain and loss of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and for the fortunate, recovery to survivorship.
posted by Dreidl at 6:55 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it would be great to live in a society where people undergoing painful treatment for life-threatening illnesses didn't worry about how they looked.

Since we don't live in that society, everyone who does care about that gets all the slack in the world from me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:09 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


smoke, you have invested a whole lot of words complaining about something people who have cancer actually want.

Some people who are suffering use euphemisms that aren't entirely, 100% medically accurate, and aren't for everyone. Too bad. Tsk-tsking cancer patients and their loved ones for the phrasings they use seems a pretty pointless battle with no upside.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:50 PM on February 6, 2013


Why is it so important to be beautiful?

Some people want to be beautiful. Some people appreciate beauty. Some people care about how they look. I don’t really see a reason to smack them down and tell them they’re doing it wrong, especially if they’re about to die.
posted by bongo_x at 8:56 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]



Some people who are suffering use euphemisms that aren't entirely, 100% medically accurate, and aren't for everyone. Too bad. Tsk-tsking cancer patients and their loved ones for the phrasings they use seems a pretty pointless battle with no upside.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:50 PM on February 6 [+] [!]



I don't know if that's totally fair, some people really do find the language of cancer to be problematic, and they deserve a voice as well. It doesn't lend itself well to sweeping judgments either way.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:12 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Too bad. Tsk-tsking cancer patients and their loved ones for the phrasings they use seems a pretty pointless battle with no upside.

I wasn't really trying to do that, and thought I made it very clear that the last thing I wanted to do was take agency away from anyone with cancer. I'm sorry if that's what you took from my comment.
posted by smoke at 9:24 PM on February 6, 2013


This is going to become more of an issue as breast cancer becomes a manageable disease with more long-term patients, along with the already increasing number of survivors. My Mom has had terminal metastatic stage 4 breast cancer for over five years (a likely recurrence of an original breast cancer 20 years ago). It may be "terminal," and the bone lesions and treatment have been at times horrible, but she has been thrilled to get another five Christmases and summer vacations to see her five grandsons (two my sons) growing up. Huh. I think I'll go give her a call.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 4:27 AM on February 7, 2013


Sometimes I think there are to many words on the Blue--not everything needs an explanation, an analysis or a point/counterpoint. for me, this is one of those instances. Thanks for posting
posted by rmhsinc at 5:08 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe if we break this into two issues (from my reading of the comments):
1) A woman who wants to participate in her culture in spite of the effects of her illness
&
2) The values of that culture and the subculture of that illness.

It seems like #1 is straightforward enough, and I salute her strength and her desire to stay connected.
#2, though, is hugely problematic. The status of fashion and attractiveness and glamor, the language of the cancer industry and the "survivor" culture, body image, etc.

Thanks to everybody for this discussion. I grew up in a small town with cancer almost as a universal disease, and I still struggle to understand the ways in which it defined the people around me.
posted by pt68 at 9:16 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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