‘My journey written on my skin’: Images of breast cancer survivors

ML Kenneth does a shoot for the Women Redefined project. ML Kenneth Photography

WINNIPEG — Kristina Hunter says the memory of the day she first looked at her body after doctors went in to remove a cancerous lump from her breasts will be forever ingrained in her mind.

“I knew I had to look and I had to look often,” says Hunter, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2013.

By then she had already heard too many stories of women who struggled with their body image after surgery and she was determined make her peace.

“I love my scars,” says Hunter. “They are my journey written on my skin.”

RELATED: The SHE Project – Celebrating the scars of breast cancer

But she knows that’s not the case for everyone and she believes part of the problem is the way treatment options are presented to those battling breast cancer.

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Hunter says when she asked her doctor for images of what she might look like after surgery, the binder containing those photos was buried in a drawer under lock and key.

“They were cold and clinical. I didn’t see my future there,” she says.

So she decided to create a book that would help other woman see a better future for themselves.

Local artist ML Kenneth helped her enlisted 33 brave breast cancer survivors who were willing to bare their bodies from the neck down.

IN PHOTOS: Click through the gallery to see some of ML Kenneth’s photos. Viewers will be exposed to nudity.

Some have scars marking the spot where a lump was removed, or an entire breast or breasts.  Others are covered in burns from radiation, or have deep scars in their belly or backside, where tissue was taken to reconstruct the breasts after all the cancerous tissue was removed.

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The result is series of deeply personally and powerful black-and-white photos that were first put on display at Fleet Galleries earlier this month. The exhibition was called Woman Redefined: Dignity, Beauty and Breast Cancer.

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“I had people saying they’re beautiful but they’re also difficult to see,” says Kenneth, who found the experience of photographing “such amazing women” extremely rewarding.

One of the models was extremely apprehensive at first, and before allowing her photo to be taken, wrote across her chest in marker “I am still a woman,” Kenneth says.

That woman later explained it was the first time in a long time someone hadn’t made her feel like a specimen, Kenneth says.

“These women, they’re ‘lit’ from within,” the photographer says.

RELATED: New Canadian guidelines for doctors, young women with breast cancer

In a society where breasts are still highly sexualized, Hunter believes it’s time to give these warriors their bodies “back.”  By showing and sharing the images, they hope to alleviate the fear many have when they’re first given their diagnosis.

They also want to put the photos and the words models chose that best define them into a book that could be placed on waiting rooms of breast cancer clinics across the country.

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“We are whole, we are beautiful, just the way we are.”

They hope to raise $24,000 by the end of this month using a Kickstarter campaign. To donate go to the Woman Redefined Kickstarter page.

WATCH: Kristina Hunter and ML Kenneth talk to the Morning News about Women Redefined.

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