Help Spread the Truth About Breast Cancer: Knowledge Is
Portraits by Jean Karotkin; interviews by Lise Funderburg
From the October 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
Here, three women who've been through it and lived to tell their tale.
Pamela Vaughn Age 48, systems programmer, Dallas
"When I was diagnosed, I felt like my life was over and I felt ugly. I had a radical mastectomy, and you feel like everybody you approach knows that. Being photographed for this project helped me feel good about myself. I really feel beautiful. It has given me a sense of security. I don't have a problem with people knowing that I had cancer, because a lot of people out there will be affected by it. It's my job to go out there and say, 'It's okay. You're beautiful, and it's okay. Nobody knows what's going on inside you, but it's okay.'"
Karen Faulkner Key
Age 52, money manager and hospital volunteer, Dallas
"At first it was hard to date and tell guys. The reconstructed breast is wonderful, but it's different. It's a big issue. You play it by ear. The man who became my husband knew before we started dating—I didn't have to tell him. People say to me, 'You don't look like you have cancer.' I don't know what we're supposed to look like. I think I look pretty damn good. For this photo, Jean, the photographer, picked out the props—but that's me: I like to dress sexy, I like to go to parties, I'm vivacious. There's a fine line between sexy and sleazy—I'm sexy."
Age 54, community executive director of American Cancer Society, Eastern Division Chinese Unit
"When I was going through treatment, I attended a hospital support group. They were crying and hysterical, but I was quiet. I wanted to cry, but I felt out of place. Because of that experience 14 years ago, I started a support group called the Joy Luck Club. When you translate these words from Chinese—kai wai—they have a double meaning. Kai means 'open' and wai means 'chest.' One translation is 'operation on the breast,' the other is 'joyful.'
"We are very close to each other. We know each other's needs. Most husbands of Chinese breast cancer survivors will not talk about the disease, and most survivors feel guilty that they got it. Because they lose a breast, they feel sorry for their husband and shame for themselves. One time I asked the group if there was anything different about their sex life after breast cancer. This is very seldom asked in Chinese culture. Only three out of ten said they got closer to their husband. Some women think they could pass this disease on to him if they have sex. If they don't come to the support group, if I don't ask about sex, maybe this is still in their heart and they never have sex again in their marriage."