it’s so hard to feel alive when you have toxins running through you…I can’t explain how horrible it is when your heart is beating, but you don’t feel alive. {sylvia soo}

my good friend Michelle first introduced me to Sylvia, through her online diary CANCER FABULOUS where she shares her story. her past. her ups. her downs. her life over the last few years. her story was amazing to me. it was amazing because it shocked me that she was so young. in the prime of her life and out of no where the proverbial brick wall appears. breast cancer. breast cancer at such a young age. to me breast cancer is something i relate to our mothers. our grandmothers. not twenty-somethings. i read her story. i met her in person and created some images for her to feel sexy “in this skin”

i invited Sylvia to share her experience. her thoughts and her feelings on what has become her reality over the last year and a half.

Sexy was not a part of my vocabulary growing up. I was a skinny church girl with big, round glasses and crooked teeth, incessantly teased for my washboard chest and toothpick frame. In fact, one person said to me, “It was a miracle that God could fit a stomach and liver inside such a tiny body.” So there I was- a skinny, awkward girl that spent every second day reading the Bible and the rest of her time reading Nancy Drew and Edith Blyton. I had no clue what sexy was.

By the time I met my first boyfriend I had began to grow some “sexy.” When I entered university, I had formed enough hips and enough “breast” to feel like a woman and not like a boy.

Fast forward three years, two and a half boyfriends later, and there I was a young, tanned, slender body with a head of long, black hair. Men wanted to date me, and photographers wanted to shoot with me. I felt sexy. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I realized that I was about to lose everything that had previously defined me as sexy.

I turned to the one person who constantly told me how beautiful I was. I needed my boyfriend to be there for me. I needed him to love me even without a breast, without my hair and with the potential to tip the scale over 115 lbs. I felt that if he was going to love me when I didn’t look or feel sexy, it would be enough to get me through the dark days; days when I was throwing up in a toilet or watching the hair from my head fall to the ground, days when “sexy” had left the building.

However, the nights when I stared into the mirror and felt extremely unattractive, he wasn’t there. He left before chemo even started and that made me sad. In his place, India Arie’s “I am Not My Hair” had found it’s way onto my iPod and her lyrics provided me comfort for those tearful nights where “breast cancer and chemotherapy” had taken away “my sexy.”

Arie’s lyrics blared from my headphones telling me that I was “not my hair” and I was not “this skin,” rather, I was “a soul that lives within.” I realized I needed to re-define what sexy meant to me. Yes, sexy had a lot to do with how I looked on the outside, but I began to realize it had a lot more to do with how I felt on the inside.

Today I could pass you on the street and you would never know that I had cancer. You would never think that a year and a half ago, I was completely bald and could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror.

When Michelle had asked if I’d like to do a session with herself and Gabe, I said yes, not giving much thought to why I was doing the shoot, other than it would be fun. As the shoot unfolded I felt beautiful, I felt like a woman, and I felt sexy once again.

When Gabe sent me pictures to view, I realized that he had captured more than just a picture. His photos celebrated how resilient my body has been, a body that has been pumped full of toxins, swelled to shocking proportions, and yet has returned to me.

Here’s to bringing sexy back, inside and out.

Sylvia Soo

be sure to visit Michelle Wells BLOG for her images from the session