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On July 31st 2006, Mariette received the news that she had Stage II breast cancer. Treatment would require a mastectomy. The same questions flooded her mind that have besieged so many others: “How could this be happening to me? I am healthy, only 50, and I have so much ahead of me. Why me? Why now?”

Mariette took the time to share the news with her four children: Shannon, 27; Terry, 26; and twins Erin and Caitlin, 19. All of them had many questions and few answers. They rallied around her to provide support. Terry, her son, decided to help her cut her hair. Her brother Mark decided to shave his own hair in support. Erin, who had gone back to college for a summer program, could only stay away for two days and then she was back at home. “I just had to be with my mother as she went through this,” she explained. “I couldn’t stay away and just try to keep living as if nothing was wrong.”

The diagnosis made it clear that Mariette had HER2 NEU positive cancer – a rare form of breast cancer that is not hormone related but is very aggressive. After her mastectomy, chemotherapy was started and a study dose of medications given. Thirteen of her lymph-nodes were removed, and the good news was that none of them showed signs of cancer. The cancer seems to have been caught in time. At the moment, Mariette doesn’t show signs of any cancer, yet she returns every three weeks for a check.

Since not all of Mariette’s children could be here for the photographic session, we decided to focus on her relationship with her twin daughters. When asked about their thoughts on what their mother has gone through, Caitlyn stated, “You never really know what you have until it might be gone. We took each other for granted.” Erin responded with, “I have always made plans to do things, but for some reason they never quite end up happening. I have learned that when I make plans now, to follow through because you may not get that chance later.” In fact, Erin has made plans to move to Italy for a year for school. “I am going to live,” she states.

As a symbol of her mother’s cancer and to help build awareness, Caitlyn took a very adventurous step. She got a tattoo on her back of two pink breast cancer ribbons surrounded by the flowers that are her mom’s favorites. “It is a symbol of the story we have been through and also a way for me to help create awareness,” she explains. “Every time someone asks what the tattoo means, I am able to share about breast cancer and who it affects. So many people have meaningless tattoos; I wanted this to have special purpose.” Caitlyn has aspirations to be a nurse. This decision came in part due to her mom’s going through cancer. “I want to be a compassionate nurse to patients, and it is a way I can help serve others,” she says.

Mariette has a new take on life as well. After recently moving to Carmichael from Southern California, she is now living with her college roommate from thirty years ago. Mariette is taking time to reflect on life and get a fresh start. Her advice for others is “don’t sweat the small stuff and make the time to be together.”

Breast Cancer Awareness Exhibit

The images on exhibit here and the stories behind them are part of a project started by David and Ally McKay. Although dramatic in nature, these images convey a story of hope, strength and life. The images also bring awareness to those that may not understand this fight. It is the hope of the project that not only do you find this body of work emotionally impacting, but also, that you are stirred to help in this fight.

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