Whether you feel empathy or repulsion, there’s no denying the emotional impact of the photos of Ann Marie Giannino-Otis’ experience with breast cancer. They certainly are compelling, as they chronicle her journey through diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, a double mastectomy and upcoming reconstruction surgery. My Journey through the Lumps will take center stage at a fundraiser this Sunday, Oct. 21, at Pascale Restaurant.
“These are raw, uncensored, emotional pictures that even myself, as I sorted through them, I was taken aback,” Giannino-Otis says. “They represent memories of a painful time. There are pictures of my girlfriends and me fooling around, my kids and me fooling around: We were all trying to make a hard situation better with laughter. Some of them I don’t even remember her taking.”
The photographer, Genevieve Fridley, is also a close friend of Giannino-Otis. “When I first started out dealing with everything, she didn’t know a way to help me. So she said, ‘We’ll document everything.’ I was blogging at the same time. Other blogs have pictures but nothing like this.”
Her blog is called Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer, and she maintains an active Facebook page by that name. Her social media efforts are not without their critics. “I’ve had people offended,” she says, “and some of the photos have been removed from Facebook because they were deemed pornographic. Somehow that’s how our society is looking at it. I had some say to me, ‘How can you show these pictures? Don’t you have children?’ Yes, I have children and they need to see how their mother is getting through this. It’s part of the body: It’s not sexual.
“But I’ve had more people say to me, ‘Thank you for being you. I feel like I know you just from reading your posts. You’re taking the scary out of it.’ Then I had one woman tell me that she is too scared to tell anyone she has breast cancer. Come on! Too scared to tell anybody? It’s because it affects a woman’s breasts, but it needs to be out there.”
Giannino-Otis’ four boys are 12, 10, 7 and 5. She has not shied away from sharing her ordeal with them. “Part of the reason why it’s so important for my kids to see these pictures and to see their mother being strong is because they’re boys,” she explains. “We didn’t hide anything from them. They saw some of the photos and said, ‘Oh, you don’t have holes in your chest.’ That’s what they thought they would see.”
At the same time, her blog is meant to connect with others and perhaps help them through a similar circumstance. As for the “stupid, dumb” part? “As much as I swear and use profanity, I do not swear in front of my children. I needed to have a saying about this disease that my kids can use.”
The fundraiser will benefit both Giannino-Otis’ Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure team and Stand Up To Cancer. It features 10 framed photos, as well as storyboards and a slide show with all the photos Fridley took, in addition to quotes from survivors and friends. “Everything is quite beautiful and emotional at the same time. My family hasn’t seen all the pictures yet,” she notes. This publication didn’t receive the entire journey-in-pictures, either. “I kept the hardcore ones out,” she noted when she emailed some images.
Giannino-Otis, 40, didn’t discover her breast cancer through a mammogram. Instead, she discovered a lump herself. “I found it on May 5, 2012, the day I registered for the Race for the Cure,” she recalls; she has organized a team for the annual event for the last seven years. “I have done it for my grandmother and my friends who had breast cancer.”
Even though a mammogram and sonogram both came back negative for cancer, Giannino-Otis received a positive diagnosis in June, and on July 20 she had a double mastectomy. “My doctors told me that if I had waited a week the cells would have exploded. I was a high-priority case. Luckily for me I did catch it early and I didn’t have chemotherapy. Cancer grows quickly and it grows on stress. I wanted it out of me.”
Giannino-Otis plans monthly fundraisers for different types of cancers, leading up to next May’s
Race for the Cure. Her ultimate goal is to make Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer a non-profit. Her frank talk about an insidious disease will serve her well. “I’ve been like this my whole life,” she says when asked if her candor is a new-found trait. “My husband will say that I had a filter button that I was wiggling but now it’s broken. If you ask me, ‘How are you doing today?’ I’m going to tell you.”