Today we’d like to introduce you to Missy Peters.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few days before becoming a mother. I had my first oncology appointment with a pregnant belly that obviously made it look like I was walking into the wrong department. Cancer? How did this happen? I have no family history of breast cancer and had never heard of anyone in their 30s having breast cancer. I had my lump checked out months earlier and was told it looked like nothing to worry about – “I was too young”, my physician reassured me.
I soon mingled, supported, and commiserated with other young women in San Diego going through breast cancer treatment. I was by no means the only 30-something years old in chemotherapy. In fact, I met women diagnosed in their 20s, even their late teens. Breast cancer risk does not start at 40 years and older. I felt like I’d been duped by life – or maybe just by statistics? To make it worse, many of their diagnoses were also delayed because their physicians told them they were “too young”, or “let’s see if it’s still there in 6 months”.
I knew we had a problem. It was now my mission to let young women around the globe know that they too are at risk for breast cancer. “Women have to hear our stories”, my thoughts ran, “women have to be their own best advocate”. The Breast Cancer Portrait Project serves to do just that. I photograph young women diagnosed with breast cancer and share their stories to raise awareness that “Young Women Get Breast Cancer Too”.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I’m really just getting started. I’m up against the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) who discourage women from performing breast self-exams. In 2017, they published an article stating, “breast self-examination is not recommended in average-risk women because there is a risk of harm from false-positive test results”. In my own words, this means they’re scared women will feel their breasts, find lumps, and consult with their physicians unnecessarily. The “harm” is the increased anxiety one experiences and the exposure to ultrasound (which was safe enough for my fetus).
Mammograms are unreliable in younger women as dense breast tissue is common. I do not advocate that mammograms start earlier, instead I encourage women to know their own bodies and to be their own best advocates. Touch your boobs, know the terrain, and if something concerns you, don’t let a physician tell you “you’re too young”, “it’s just a cyst”. The only reliable way to rule out breast cancer is a tissue biopsy.
Please tell us about Breast Cancer Portrait Project.
The Breast Cancer Portrait Project serves to spread awareness that “Young Women Get Breast Cancer Too”. In San Diego, I invite survivors to my home for a photoshoot and to share her story with me. I gift each woman a gallery of her images and encourage her to share them. I consider it a grassroots effort to spread awareness. I’ve incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Funds I collect will support my travel to bring the Portrait Project to other cities.
As for now, it’s just me. I believe that’s what sets my efforts apart. I’m not only the photographer, I’m a survivor. I’ve sat in the same infusion chair, faced hair loss, been stripped of physical beauty, had a double mastectomy and realized my mortality. I share a deep sisterhood with each woman I photograph.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Passion, passion, passion. The Portrait Project is a natural response to my diagnosis and continued healing. I’ll do it for free every day because I want to. Of course, I can’t survive on nothing, but as I said, I’m just getting started. I believe in my soul’s purpose. Nothing has ever felt more right to me. If cancer was necessary to light this creative fire, then I’m not just OK with that, I’m thankful for it.
- Free for all women diagnosed with breast cancer before 40 years old.
- All others $200.
- Website: breastcancerportraitproject.org
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/breastcancerportraitproject/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/breastcancerportraitproject
Missy Peters – Breast Cancer Portrait Project