More Than Skin Deep

Gioia Kuss

2019 - Ongoing

This project began as an offer to memorialize a friend’s (Mary) breasts before a radical mastectomy to confront Inflammatory Breast Cancer. We recently had reconnected through a friend who subsequently died from ovarian cancer. This morphed into a documentation of Mary’s journey. Photos were taken at her home, in Winooski, Vermont and at Dana Farber Cancer Center Boston, Massachussets.

To some, breasts define the identity of a female.

The surface rarely shows what lies beneath, more often it reflects what is beyond. A blemished fruit may be sweet; likewise a beautiful breast may hide malignancy.

The journey—after a diagnosis of cancer—reveals facets of society, medicine, politics and yes—self-discovery.

Cancer is experienced across society—it reaches every home. It is a journey for all of us to endure.

We gain from each other. Fellowship has an outsized role to play in recovery.

The camaraderie found in waiting rooms to chemo drip stations, regardless of background, strengthened my belief in humanity.

Share love, not stigma.

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  • Discombobulated in the Garden
    Whenever news of potential mortality strikes, it can turn lives upside down. Revelation forces us into our next reality.

  • First Stage
    Kojak started a trend that normalized a baldhead. For women, it can be harder to forgo using a wig to cover hair loss from chemotherapy.

  • Always a Place to Rest their Heads
    The genetic inheritance of certain cancer genes can pass from ancestors thru us to our to heirs. Symbolically, our breasts, the source of food for our young, have a complicated visual record in today's society. Revered yet deemed inappropriate to bare, they have a unique ability to calm those who rest their heads on them. My friend Mary finds a moment of soft embrace with her daughter before having a double mastectomy due to the presence of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Incidences of cancer, like other devastating diseases, are sometimes hereditary can also be linked to environmental pollution.

  • Young and the Old
    Breasts come in many sizes and shapes. We need to revel in the perfection of what we have. Joni Mitchell said “you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.”

  • The Depth of Caregivers
    From the sheer numbers of people diagnosed with cancer annually, there are corresponding numbers of clinics and caregivers to help us through.

  • Remove, Rinse and Repeat
    Ridding the body of disease and protecting populations from transmission and remission can seem never-ending.

  • Holding the Bag
    The body does all it can to remove foreign substances and white blood cells expended in the process. Cancer is created from our selves, merely a deviant that our immune system cannot fight on its own.

  • Breastless and Breathless
    What remains after a mastectomy without reconstruction, is new territory for each individual making their decisions, whether for cancer or gender reassignment.

  • Stage of Success
    Home for summer 2019, rest and recuperation is vital in finding a path through a cancer diagnosis.

  • Free Parking Pass
    During her cancer radiation period, my friend Mary was able to expedite her visits by parking near the entry and not having to search for a space on a daily basis. Some receiving chemo or radiation experience great fatigue, nausea or discomfort. Little things go a long way.

  • Office Hour Appointments

  • Waiting with Love

  • Camaraderie
    Waiting rooms can be impersonal or warm. It is the people in them, sharing bits of information from their day or their journey that make the road less long when waiting.

  • Radiation Zone
    Technology and comfort help the journey with cancer. After a mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy or reconstruction may be the follow up; for everyone it means moving forward without the breasts inherent at birth.

  • Mapping Locations
    The zone to receive radiation is mapped using hi-tech imagery. A template is created to transpose those locations to the surface of the body, where radiation will enter the core. Technicians recalibrate those locations, guided by tech, the human eye and hand to draw on the body to ensure that the radiation beams fall within a proscribed area of concern.

  • Mary's Opening for Radiation
    Individualized plates focus the beams of radiation on the area with any possible remaining cancer cells. Each session of radiation entails pinpointing the locus where cancer cells could be present and making sure minimal other areas are affected. If the cancer was present in the left breast it means the heart organ is potentially in line with the radiation beams.

  • Blood Draw
    Needles, labels, forms, questions and care fill countless appointments, waking dreams and nightmares during any long term relationship with the medical establishment. Humanity and societal cohesion is present in nearly every interface, if one is able to be open to it.

  • Post Radiation Cream
    The burn from radiation to arrest cancer travels through the body. The skin on both sides of the target area is burned: front and back of the body. Applying cream soothes the burn and minimizes skin loss and chafing. Since Mary's double mastectomy is recent, wrapping the wound area provides support both physically and emotionally. The process of cancer and holding unto one's life and hope is multifaceted.

  • On the Way Home
    Many people have to travel great distances to receive treatment specialized for their type of cancer. For all the things that women endure, breast cancer is a singular journey, yet filled with connections and discovery. Individuals seek help and support from myriad communities that hold us, either tightly or at arms length.

  • Memory of Breasts and Back to the Garden
    The story of Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge is fraught with judgment and misogyny. Eve, as the mother of all the living, bears fruit. Sometimes all is not what it appears. The surface rarely shows what lies beneath, more often it reflects what is beyond. Everyday we relearn to live and love.

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