After three of her relatives died young from breast cancer, Katelyn Carey made the wrenching decision to have a preventative double mastectomy at the age of 29.
"I couldn't find answers about what I would look like and how I would feel," said Carey, an emergency room nurse at Asante Ashland Community Hospital.
Surgeons would provide best-case scenario photos of women's post-surgery chests — while the Internet was awash with frightening images of worst-case scenarios. But Carey wanted a realistic look at the variety of outcomes patients experienced.
Her new book, "Beauty After Breast Cancer," features bare-chested photographs of 37 women and one man who have battled breast cancer. They range in age from 27 to 82. Some have had reconstructive surgery after a lumpectomy or mastectomy while others have not. Half are from the Rogue Valley.
Members of the public can meet Carey, Linaschke and many of the breast cancer survivors featured in the book during a reception and book-signing party from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, at the Ashland Elks Lodge, 255 E. Main St.
The women and men tell their stories in the book, including how they responded to their diagnoses and treatments, and how they felt afterward.
Carey and photographer Joseph Linaschke sought to capture each person's unique personality and experience. Double-mastectomy survivor Allyson is shown with tattoos covering her reconstructed breasts, her alert husky sled dogs sitting beside her. Debbie, who coped with her treatments by writing in a journal, is depicted with pen in hand.
Jeanna, who turned her chemotherapy sessions into date nights with her husband, was photographed sharing chocolates by candle light in a hospital room. She chose not to have reconstructive surgery and implants.
Carey said there is hope, joy and laughter after breast cancer.
"Nobody came out the same person, but everyone said they came out a better person," she said.
Carey decided to have reconstructive surgery after her double mastectomy.
"Even if you do reconstructive surgery, you don't look the same," she said. "I called my breasts 'them.' It took three years for them to feel like a part of me. You've had your previous body for years, and now it's different. But you will adjust."
Carey was 21 when her mother died of breast cancer. Her mother was never able to watch her children get married or meet her grandchildren. Carey said she is determined to stay alive for her kids.
"I said, 'I can't live constantly in fear.' I didn't want a vase of flowers to stand in for me when my kids get married," she said.
While Carey had time to consider her decision, she said many breast cancer patients face a whirlwind of treatment decisions and can feel overwhelmed.
"You are making major life and death decisions, and yet you don't have any experience," she said. "These people are having to make really major decisions really quickly."
She urged patients to seek the help of nurse navigators — trained professionals who help guide patients through the process.
Carey said "Beauty After Breast Cancer" can help patients understand their options and futures in a way that is understandable, open and honest. She said the book shines a light on the breast cancer diagnosis and treatment experience.
"Everything is more frightening in the dark," she noted.
"Beauty After Breast Cancer" can be purchased for $48.95 online at www.beautyafterbreastcancer.com.
People who would like to contribute to get the book into cancer treatment centers can also make a donation on the website.
Carey said the Asante Foundation made a significant donation so the book could be published professionally and in full color. Numerous other organizations, businesses and individuals also contributed to its creation in a variety of ways.
"What an incredible community we live in here," she said.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.