By Steve Blanchard - October 03, 2022
In October 2021, Misha Jones was struck by a display of portraits while on her way to grab a cup of tea during a break between her breast cancer appointments at Moffitt Cancer Center.
The images were part of the Snapshots of Courage display and Jones remembers the unexpected way in which the photo exhibit struck her.
“The first thing that hit me was that unless you are affected by breast cancer, you don’t know the different types,” Jones said. “There were so many different faces, young, old, black, white… they were all over the place. It really spoke to how breast cancer can impact anyone and it’s not just an older woman’s disease.”
Jones is a prime example of that. She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2020 after discovering a lump on her breast. She was only 38 at the time.
“I knew right away I wanted to be a part of that variety of women on display,” Jones said. “I wanted to represent the young person that this can happen to. I’m young, vibrant and lively too and I’m a breast cancer survivor. I want to share my story so everyone knows the impact breast cancer can have on anyone.”
Jones let her social worker know she wanted to be involved and in this year’s edition of Snapshots of Courage. She is included along with 16 other patients who submitted photos for the October display. It will remain in the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Outpatient Center at Moffitt’s McKinley Campus lobby throughout October, breast cancer awareness month.
The exhibit was the idea of Dr. Avan Armaghani, a breast oncologist at Moffitt with a passion for amateur photography.
“When I started photography as a hobby, I found how powerful photos can be in telling a story,” Armaghani said. “I thought, ‘why can’t we do that with telling our patients’ stories through photos?’”
Armaghani pitched the idea to the breast clinic in early 2021 who rallied behind the project and found a diverse collection of patients to show the many lives breast cancer impacts each year.
"It shows different points of each patient’s breast cancer journey. Some are three years out; some are living with metastatic breast cancer and others are just beginning their chemotherapy."- Dr. Avan Armaghani, breast oncologist
“It’s a diverse group this year, as it was last year,” Armaghani said. “It shows different points of each patient’s breast cancer journey. Some are three years out; some are living with metastatic breast cancer and others are just beginning their chemotherapy. Behind the type of breast cancer are patients of different races and gender.”
Each participant submitted a photo to be displayed and were asked to share an image that represents what courage means to them. For Jones, her photo showcases beauty while also showing her scar from her double mastectomy, performed in March 2021.
“I have a close friend of the family who is into photography,” Jones said. “I wanted it to be tasteful, beautiful and professional. I feel it shows me as a whole person. There is no breast there, and you still see that, but I am not my breasts. I am a mother, daughter, friend, neighbor.”
And teacher. Jones is a physical education and health teacher. She said her experience with breast cancer has made her an advocate for self-screening, awareness for your health and yearly mammograms.
“When I was diagnosed, I was 38, so I wasn’t even in the age bracket for regular mammograms,” Jones said. “I’m thankful I recognized the lump in my breast early enough to get it looked at and treated. I found Moffitt and everything I needed was in-house.”
Jones said she opted for a double mastectomy to reduce the chances of a breast cancer recurrence. She also said she had never undergone surgery before and hopes to never have to do it again.
“I had three choices when I learned the chemotherapy was too tough on my body,” Jones said. “I could have a lumpectomy, a single mastectomy or a double mastectomy. I made my decision quickly and I’m comfortable with that.”
Jones decided against reconstructive surgery and said there are times she will wear a prosthesis. However, her breasts never defined her, she said.
“I can see how some women can be affected by [a mastectomy],” Jones said. “But in my mind, I am not my breast. I don’t let that define who I am as a woman, and I don’t want to undergo any other surgeries.”
The black and white photos will be on display through the month of October along with a short description of each, according to Armaghani.
The message of the exhibit is clear, at least to Armaghani.
“The hope is that patients who view this exhibit feel and know they are not alone in this,” Armaghani said. “So many people going through this journey or who have gone through this journey value that feeling of community.”