By Sharon Malone
The petit blonde girl in front of me was struggling to keep her emotions in check “I’m going to cry and I don’t want to cry because it’s going to ruin my make up” she said. Little did she realise that I too, behind the camera, was also struggling to keep my composure. It had been an emotional day one way and another but now as we neared the end of the shoot and the realisation of what we had achieved was beginning to hit home we were both in danger of “losing it”. Allow me to explain…
I first met Sheryl a little over two years ago when she booked us to undertake her wedding photography. Originally she wasn’t going to have a photographer, not because of the cost involved but because it didn’t rate very highly up her list of things she needed in order to enjoy the wedding she wanted. Her wedding date was set for the end of July and she had it all planned to perfection, 12 bridesmaids a quiet civil ceremony in York register office, followed by a wedding breakfast at the Dean Court hotel, near the Minster and then her evening reception on a boat along the River Ouse. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately she had no idea of the double whammy that fate was going to deal her which would change her life forever.
Sadly Sheryl’s much loved dad was terminally ill with cancer. The prognosis was not optimistic that he would make her wedding day. Struggling to cope with this as it was and spending her days between her home, hospital and her parents house Sheryl didn’t give much thought to the lump she thought she may have felt in her breast – after all just in her early 30’s she was much too young for it to be anything serious and anyway her breasts felt “like a bag of marbles” at the best of times – it was probably nothing. With her wedding day rapidly approaching Sheryl was so busy and pre-occupied she didn’t rush to the Doctors. When she did however the news was devastating. The Doctor was worried and referred her for a lumpectomy. The lumpectomy confirmed she had breast cancer and only 3 short weeks before her wedding Sheryl had a mastectomy.
Suddenly everything in life changed for Sheryl. Faced with her own mortality her entire outlook changed and recording the joy on her wedding day became a number one priority for her – we were engaged to undertake the responsibility of recording these precious memories. What an honour and pleasure it was to spend such a day with Sheryl and her family. We witnessed the same drive and bravery in her dad not to give up as we know to be present in Sheryl and everyone spent a happy day together. Those photographs rate amongst some of the most precious we have ever taken.
As breast cancer awareness is promoted in the UK I have persuaded Sheryl to share with us in her own words, a blow by blow account how those dreadful first few months unfolded and her thoughts, fears and experiences as she has faced her own mortality head on. She is a remarkable lady and her story is one bound to inspire and encourage anyone who today may be facing a similar trauma.
“It was a Thursday afternoon in February, nothing special working all day, looked in my diary oh no I’ve a hospital appointment at 3.20pm, must ring the childminder tell her I maybe late, gosh what a nuisance, having to go for test results, I’ll only be there five minutes, yeah your fine Sheryl, just a cyst, but I am only in my early thirties, so it can’t be anything else.
I had noticed the small lump in my right breast in the October, I had just found the man of my dreams and had lost a little weight, so I didn’t take much notice, then in November whilst putting on some body lotion noticed that it was still there, but left it for that month cause it was my period, then came December, oh I’m too busy with Christmas to go to doctors, I’ll go next month, oh wow a chance for some winter sun in January, oh that lump’s still there, promise I’ll go next month… so here we are it’s the end of February and I’m tapping my leg whilst sat outside the doctors consulting rooms, looking at my watch oh get a move on, I’ve got 2 children and a partner who will want feeding soon…
Hi Sheryl, would you like to come through, I sat down still wishing she would hurry up… Sheryl, I’m sorry we have found cancer cells and I need to perform a lumpectomy. Oh ok, when do you want me to come in, I’ve got a holiday booked for April, and I can’t miss that, just send me an appointment. Sheryl do you understand you have breast cancer, I then looked over at a nurse who was also in the room but I hadn’t even seen her there, and she was nodding to confirm that what the doctor had said was true…
But…I’m only young, But… I’ve got two children, But… I’m getting married, But…I don’t smoke, But… I’m healthy
The numbness then set in, and I don’t remember much after that, I was given some appointments and the operating day was fixed, and then went home and made the kids tea. The lumpectomy was preformed and it was ok nothing too scary, I was in and out in a couple of days, I didn’t have cancer, I kept telling myself because obviously I was too young, didn’t smoke and was healthy and my life was too busy for cancer. After 2 weeks my results from the lumpectomy came back, there I was again in the same office as last time, still getting impatient cause I had stuff to do, Sheryl. I’m sorry… oh no them words again, I’ve heard this line, what now…
I’m sorry but we have found more cancer tumours within the lumpectomy, I need to advise you that you need a full mastectomy on your right breast, I turned to my left to look at the nurse, and again she was nodding. All my ‘Buts’ hadn’t worked, oh no this was real, I had breast cancer. ”
Almost two years on and I’m pleased to say that Sheryl is doing really well and so far very healthy with no recurrence of her cancer being detected. The friendship formed between us in those difficult early days is for life and we have kept in touch with Sheryl ever since, including photographing her best friends wedding in Cyprus only last year.
Sheryl has always said to me that she would like to experience one of our boudoir photo shoots but felt she was lacking the confidence that she once had following her mastectomy about the way she looks. As a photographer I am used to people saying things to me along the lines of “You won’t get a good picture of me – no-one ever does.” When I photograph people however I try to capture something of the character of the subject and not just what is on the surface. With Sheryl it was easy to photograph the inner beauty which radiates from her but also a couple of the pictures show the outline of her cleavage and unless she told you no-one would be able to tell which of her breasts has had reconstruction surgery. For Sheryl seeing the pictures were the moment that some of her inner demons were finally put to rest.
The day of the shoot was the first time, since her surgery that Sheryl felt confident enough to undress in front of her husband. That to me was such an achievement from such an emotional day. Sheryl has kindly agreed to allow us to use some of her words and tell her story in the hope that this difficult to talk about subject can be aired to a wider audience and someone, somewhere may just feel inspired and given renewed hope from her experience that there is life after breast cancer.
Sharon Malone is a partner of Yorkshire Wedding Photographers FNS Weddings. To view some of Sharons’ award winning photography and enjoy reading about some of her “real life wedding experiences” from the many weddings she has photographed please take a look at her online magazine “From This Day” which you can view on her website: http://www.fnsweddings.com
Copyright (c) 2010 FNS Weddings