Patient Cori Perry a breast cancer survivor and part of the "Closing the Loop" photo exhibit.
“I didn’t have the courage before my diagnosis to try to join a band and sing in front of people, but found that courage after dealing with cancer for 18 months.”
— Kathy Stokes of Arlington
The effects of breast cancer on survivors far outlast a mastectomy, the last round of chemotherapy or the final radiation treatment. Part of survival is planning for life after cancer is no longer in one’s bloodstream.
Plastic surgeon Dr. Troy Pittman of Medstar Georgetown University Hospital understands the importance of introducing patients to their post-mastectomy reconstructive options. Giving these women the full picture, Pittman said, helps them understand that life goes on after breast cancer. It was in this spirit that Pittman put together the “Closing the Loop” photo exhibit, which is currently on display in the lobby of the Georgetown Plastic Surgery department. “Closing the Loop” features 25 photos of breast cancer patients in their daily lives, after they have pursued reconstructive options.
“The exhibit is called ‘Closing the Loop,’ because, when you think of the breast cancer ribbon, you think of that pink loop,” Pittman said. “You think of the breast cancer journey as lasting from diagnosis through treatment. As plastic surgeons we are looking at making sure that patients know their reconstructive options, and they are confident about the quality of life after breast cancer. The exhibit is pictures of women doing what they do best after the ultimate survival of breast cancer.”
Arlington resident Kathy Stokes is one local breast cancer survivor whose photos were a part of “Closing the Loop.” Her photos are proof that surviving the harrowing disease can inspire to do things once never dreamed.
“One picture of me was singing in a band,” Stokes said. “I didn’t have the courage before my diagnosis to try to join a band and sing in front of people, but found that courage after dealing with cancer for 18 months. The other was a picture of me with my close friend with the Vice President [Joe Biden] and Dr. [Jill] Biden. I was invited to the vice president’s mansion for a breast cancer awareness event. I had just met the vice president when I spoke to a group called Families USA about my experience with cancer and losing health care coverage. I introduced him at the event.”
Pittman said it is normal for women to experience overwhelming fear at the time of their diagnosis, as both cancer and mastectomies are life-changing. This is why he came up with the concept for “Closing the Loop” about a year ago.
“When the patient comes to me and is newly diagnosed or has a breast cancer gene, we are very quick to show women clinical pictures,” Pittman said. “I call them headless horseman pictures. Although those are incredibly educational, it can be overwhelming. So I thought, how about seeing women in clothing, living their lives, for the whole picture.”
Pittman hopes that the exhibit will show patients that their post-breast cancer bodies won’t prevent them from living the lives they loved before diagnosis. The photos highlight Pittman’s patients, pursuing activities and dreams that make them feel alive.
“There are pictures of women doing yoga, and in bathing suits at the beach with their children,” Pittman said. “We had a picture of a woman in a low-cut dress at her daughter’s wedding. For me this was very much about being able to celebrate women who have survived and who have wonderful qualities of life after their breast cancer care and their breast reconstruction. It’s a very powerful tool for women who have been newly diagnosed. The diagnosis of breast cancer is obviously a devastating thing for patients so seeing pictures of these survivors is very powerful.”
Stokes had a double mastectomy and said an exhibit like “Closing the Loop” would have been a great resource for her had it existed when she was in the midst of her two surgeries.
“I think the exhibit would have been very empowering to me. I remember when I got the news of my diagnosis, I was in my breast surgeon's office and I felt so lost,” Stokes said. “I was so scared of dying, but also just couldn’t get my head around losing my breasts. If I had seen photos on the wall of survivors who had gone through it all and not only lived to tell about it, but thrived, it would have meant so much. It will mean a lot to the people that enter Dr. Pittman’s office. It’d be great if women could see it even before they step through those doors.”
Pittman hosted an opening ceremony for “Closing the Loop” on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 20, which was the day before Breast Cancer Reconstructive Awareness Day. The reception, hosted in the Georgetown Plastic Surgery department office lobby, was such a success with that Pittman has no plans to take down the photos.
“The event went great,” Pittman said. “It was about 75 people and most were patients that are in various stages of breast cancer reconstruction. Patients were brought to tears by the gallery. We’ve received such a positive response that we have no plans to take it down.”
The ceremony festively included a photo booth, a manicurist and glasses of pink champagne.
“Closing the Loop” is currently on display for all of Pittman’s patients.