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My name is Sara Mahdavi. I’m 39. Born and grew up in the south bay, and have been living in San Francisco most of my adult life, other than going to Berkeley for undergrad and UCLA for law school.
I was diagnosed Breast cancer, stage 2 in December 2015, when I was 38. I found the lump myself, while my family and I were on a 2.5 month adventure to Turkey. I was totally, completely shocked by the diagnosis! I did not expect it to be cancer because I was so healthy, active, and young. And I had a toddler. And my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer the same week as me, so I thought the universe wouldn’t do that to us.
I’ve had a lumpectomy, 16 chemo infusions, and am in the middle of radiation. I am blessed to have a wonderful support system of friends and family who have been so helpful emotionally and practically. Physically, I’ve handled treatment remarkably well — went snowboarding 2 weeks after my lumpectomy, have been jogging, swimming, and lifting weights during chemo and radiation. Emotionally, it has been more of a struggle. The idea of not being here to raise my son and watch him grow up is always with me.
I’m a member of BAYS – Bay Area Young Survivors. When I was diagnosed in December 2015, I contacted them immediately and went to a support group meeting, which happened to be 2 days after my diagnosis. I mostly wanted to get recommendations for doctors to see, but it ended up being a space for me just to cry and be understood. I’ve gone to a BAYS holiday party, clothing exchange, and sex-after-cancer event. I also wrote a piece for the next anthology that’s coming out on September 14. There’s also a very active list serve that has been an amazing resource regarding everything from chemo side effects to where to find bras to anything else you can think of!
I wanted to be a part of Underwater Healer project because I want to remember this part of the journey. I don’t have many pictures of myself bald and want to capture myself this way so I remember and honor it in a way that is beautiful and that I can share with others. Also, swimming has been meditative and therapeutic for me. I hope Underwater Healer will be too! I hope the shoot will help me feel strong, beautiful, and free.
After talking to Erena on the phone, I think it will be much more fun than I expected! I thought it would be challenging because I hate water up my nose and always have to plug my nose, unless I’m actually swimming. I still thinking posing without plugging my nose will be challenging, but I think this will be more fun and playful than I initially expected. I hope to feel carefree—something that I haven’t felt since the diagnosis. I also hope to feel strong, yet weightless. And, of course, I hope to capture my baldness in a way that is beautiful, graceful, strong.
Underwater portrait session was really amazing! It was fun to move around, feel weightless, try to sink down, see how long I could last without air. It was nice to flow under the water.
Erena was also really amazing! She helped me with make-up, clothing, and photo concept. She was a great guide, teaching me how to empty my lungs so I’d sink. She also was totally prepared to take the shots and able to stay under water so long! She was patient, willing to adjust things, and tried to do as much as possible in the time period we had. It made me feel like she really valued the experience I was having and wanted to make the most of it. It also was wonderful that she paused part way through to show me the shots. It made me excited and helped me with future shots.
On the way home from the pool, I felt confident. Carefree. Happy. The shoot was so much fun, and I loved the shots that I looked at, so I felt really beautiful, strong, and confident. I also slept so well that night!
I totally would recommend this underwater healing photography. For survivors, I think it’s an experience that can help you feel strong and confident again, especially because Erena was so warm and encouraging. It is a nice escape from thinking about cancer. It also is a moment where you can feel like you’re in control and you’re guiding the concept and deciding what to do, instead of being told what’s happening to you and your body by doctors. It’s a fun “appointment,” instead of all the mandatory doctor appointments that poke and prod you.
I think it also would be a great experience for anyone, not just survivors. It is such a unique, artistic experience and different way of seeing yourself.
Water to me is purifying and healing. I drink a lot of it (and drank even more during chemo!) and enjoy swimming in it. I swam during my pregnancy and again during cancer treatment. It made me feel strong and fit but also graceful, which is how I wanted to handle treatment in general. During chemo, swimming was so meditative in a way that mediation never has been for me!
Underwater Healer About Face
Cancer survivors heal their emotional scars through underwater portrait photography
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