Redefining Beauty — by Suzanne Whang

(To see the full photograph, go to “An Open Apology”)

I’ve had breast cancer three times in the past ten years, because like most Asians, I’m an overachiever. In 2011 it metastasized to Stage Four, and the doctors said I had six months to live.

Throughout my journey, I had multiple surgeries, radiation, and an oral form of chemotherapy. I also changed what I eat, drink, and think. I started meditating and getting acupuncture. I learned that I needed to slow down, ask for help, and receive it. In Asian culture, it’s considered low class to admit that you have any problems. But I have come to realize that we are only as sick as our secrets. I had been keeping the cancer private for the first five years, and when I finally came out of the cancer closet, I received a tsunami of love and support. I was, quite literally, LOVED back to life. I made cancer my bitch, and I’m now completely cancer-free.

One of my surgeries was a lumpectomy removing a grapefruit-sized tumor from my left breast. The incision site got infected and opened up, leaving a large crater filled with black necrotic tissue, which the surgeon had to snip out with no anesthesia while I screamed. To heal the crater, a nurse came and placed saline-soaked gauze inside the crater, and then came back eight hours later to rip out the dry gauze while I screamed. This process removes dead tissue and promotes growth of new healthy tissue. A few weeks into this process, I learned about Extracellular Matrix Powder, made out of pig bladders, which regrows human tissue. I decided to try it in my crater, and it worked, but my left breast oinks now.

I chose not to get reconstructive plastic surgery to “fix” my left breast, because I decided it looks beautiful just the way it is—asymmetrical, scarred, and bizarre, with some magically regrown tissue and skin. I realized that I can redefine what I see as feminine, beautiful and sexy.

I was encouraged to do a topless photo shoot. Before I got cancer, if anyone had asked me to do that, I would have said, “Not in a million years. I will do that at NEVER O’CLOCK.” But I decided to say yes. It was a very emotional experience, and I had to push through fear, sadness and resistance. My friend Caroline White took the photos, and my favorite one captured me feeling beautiful, strong, and grounded.

I am now healthier and happier than I ever was before I got cancer. I don’t just believe in miracles, I AM one. I’m 53 years young, and the best is yet to come. If you’re dealing with cancer or any other major challenge, I know you can reclaim your health. Expect a miracle. And if you have judgment or insecurity about any part of your body, I hope this story will help you embrace your scars, asymmetries, and imperfections, and realize that you are uniquely gorgeous, exactly the way you are.

To see the full photograph, go to “An Open Apology…”

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