I want to introduce you to Brandy...
Brandy and I grew up together and went to High School together. We hadn't seen each other in many years, but we've kept up with each other through social media. We share a passion for UGA football, love Hilton Head Island vacations, and love being moms. She has always been super encouraging and supportive of my photography, which means the world to me!
I was scrolling through Facebook one day and saw a post that stopped me in my tracks. Brandy posted that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt helpless as I read that post. I wanted to offer support and help in some way. I considered sending flowers, or food, but ultimately I knew exactly what to do. I reached out to Brandy and offered to do a portrait session for her. I was so glad she said yes.
Here is Brandy's story...
A little about Brandy...
"Obviously, I’m Brandy Vermillion (44) and I am married to a wonderfully grounded man named Jason. We have a quick witted 14-year-old named Brody who is such a well-rounded teenager. He truly makes us better people. We enjoy vacationing on Hilton Head Island as much as our busy schedules will allow us to, we love boating on Lake Murray, and we are most of all looking forward to the end of my journey with cancer because we have made a vow to take a trip to Hawaii when I beat Bethany a year from now. (Bethany is my nickname for my cancer).
I’m finding ways each day to make this diagnosis positive and take the dreariness and dreadful mindset by changing up the names for some of my routine appointments. Such as calling my treatment days, my juice bar days. I’ve given my cancer a name so I can kick her ass and tell her Bye when they tell me I’m cancer free. It makes it a little more personal."
How this all started...
"In early January I was in my bathroom taking off my sports bra, after working out, and I felt an irritation on the outside of my left breast. It felt like my sports bra had rubbed my skin and irritated it. So, I ran my finger along the area to make sure the fabric didn’t scratch me, and I felt a lump. I do self-checks regularly, but I’m also very in tune with my body. If you are a person that slathers lotion on every day like I do, then you are aware of every curve, line, wrinkle, dimple, bruise, mole, etc. When I felt the lump, I immediately hit the panic button then I pumped the brakes and said to myself it’s fine. I just had my routine mammogram 8 months ago so I’m sure it’s nothing. I waited 6 days to have the lump checked to see if there were any changes, but for me it had become tender to the slightest touch, so I called my OB-GYN and they saw me within a few hours. My doctor was convinced that it was likely a cyst or a fibroid but sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound just to be sure.
I went in to have the mammogram and ultrasound, still oblivious that I could have cancer, and after the ultrasound the radiologist came in and said the results were inconclusive and they needed to do a biopsy. I didn’t realize they wanted to do a biopsy the next day so I’m sitting there telling the nurse my schedule for the following week. She says to me, “I mean what is your availability tomorrow.” I went back the next morning for my biopsy, by myself, because I didn’t want to alarm my teenage son. (He is very wise beyond his years, and he has several friends at school whose mothers are battling breast cancer or have battled it and beat it and he and I have had discussions around me going for routine mammograms. One of his friends whose mother has Stage 4 missed her yearly mammogram and when she went back a year later it was stage 4.)
When I went in for the biopsy the moment it got a little bit real for me and took my breath away was when they said they needed to biopsy the lump that I found in my breast, and they said I had an enlarged lymph node that needed to be biopsied too. That hit different. But I took a deep breath and said to myself again, "it’s fine I don’t have cancer. Not me. I’m the healthy one".
The next morning after my biopsy, it was Friday, January 27th and I got a call at 8:45am telling me that I have breast cancer. After I hung up with the nurse navigator, I stumbled up the stairs from my garage into the house and I walked into the bedroom where my husband was watching tv and I just blurted out, “ I have cancer.” My husband was in shock, I was in shock, and I just started laughing. Not busting out laughing but I didn’t know what to do or think or what to feel. I even called the nurse back and asked her to repeat everything she told me, because I went into shock and never heard anything she said on the first call except you have cancer! I was officially diagnosed as Stage 2A Her2+ breast cancer and it was in my lymph node. After all the tests that I went through by the grace of God I only had one tumor that was less than 2 cm and 1 lymph node that was positive."
What was your first reaction?
I immediately went into warrior, strong, brave, savage mode and just kept telling myself, my husband, my friends, my family, that I’m going to be fine, I’m going to live, I’m going to survive, I’m going to thrive, and I am 1,000% going to BEAT THIS! The hardest part was telling my son. I knew he would take the news hard; I knew his immediate thoughts were going to be my mom’s going to die and let me say it really sucks having to tell your child such awful news. I thought I was going to have a panic attack at first. Brody and I cried together during the car ride to get Menchie’s and we hugged and held hands in the car, and I just repeated to him the whole time we were driving and crying that I was going to be fine, and I wasn’t going anywhere. After 3 days of researching stuff on his own he had come to terms that once again Mom is right and she’s going to be fine. I can honestly say since day one of finding out about my diagnosis I haven’t had one thought of why did this happen to me, this isn’t fair, I haven’t been mad or sad about my diagnosis, I’ve just remained the person that I always am and that is a fearless, strong badass with the willpower to overcome any struggle.
What made you say yes to a photo session?
"After the reality of my diagnosis sank in, I started having lots of thoughts pop into my head. I started thinking about how I feel about my body and myself, and it really hit me. I kept thinking after 44 years I must learn how to love myself all over again after I have finally gotten to a point where I’m completely comfortable in my own skin. I know that the effects of chemotherapy can change a person inside out and that was something that was hard for me to accept. So, when Amanda reached out about a photoshoot and stated she would offer it to me at any point during my journey that I wanted to have it done I knew right away I wanted to do it before chemo started taking things away from me and changing me. And I have no doubts that like a Phoenix I will rise from these ashes and be someone even more amazing than I am now, but I just wanted to preserve the person that I was before Bethany decided to come into my life and try to steal my joy. I want to be able to look back at these beautiful images of myself and have inspiration every day to become someone even better than the woman that I once was.
Amanda and I scheduled my photoshoot the Monday before my very first juice bar treatment and it was absolutely the best thing that I could have done for myself. I was already nervous about receiving my first treatment and all of the unknowns that come with it so getting to spend a few hours getting the royal beauty treatment and then getting to dress up in all of the glamourous and sexy outfits was just what I needed to get me pumped up and ready to kick Bethany’s ass on Day 1.
Amanda made me feel so comfortable. She is so amazing at what she does. I never felt self-conscious around her or awkward. She made me feel so relaxed. And did I mention that Amanda is supreme when it comes to taking beautiful photos. I cannot wait to have some of my portraits printed and framed. I intend to hang them in my office as a reminder to myself of the person that I was before Bethany knocked on my door and started this fight, but I will finish it, and this will merely be a chapter in my life years from now. This will not define me".
"As of February 23rd, I received my first juice bar treatment, and everything went well. I will have to complete a total of 6 rounds of chemo along with two drugs that are mono-clonal antibodies that target the HER2 breast protein. My cancer is an aggressive cancer, but it is very treatable and responds well to the mono-clonal antibody treatments. By June I should be done with my chemo treatments. At that point I will have surgery, either lumpectomy or mastectomy, and then after my surgery I will continue with my mono-clonal treatments until this time next year and I will also go through radiation simultaneously once I have surgery and start back with my treatments."
"I never realized what a village or an army of friends and family that I had in my corner that are all so willing to step up at any moment and help with anything. The outpouring of love, support, and prayers that I have received is so profound.
Thank you to Amanda for making me feel like a beauty queen, even if just for a day, but like I said before it pushed me to that next level that I needed walking into one of the scariest weeks of my life. Also, there is such an amazing community of breast cancer survivors that step up immediately when someone has been diagnosed. I have made so many substantial connections with those battling their own Bethany and from those that have beat this disease and are giving back to the next in line.
That’s the crazy thing about this diagnosis, you are thrown into it and immediately you receive the ultimate girl gang in your life. The saying goes like this, The initiation sucks but the community is forever, and it is certifiable. I am seeking to find my own purpose in this diagnosis everyday and looking for ways that I can give back to the next in line when it’s my turn. I have so many ideas bouncing around inside my head from helping those that are less fortunate and don’t have an army of support in their corner as they navigate their way through their diagnosis and treatments. I have started investigating Oncology Esthetics, because there are very few people out there specialized in this area to help those going through treatments and educating them on the products that are safe for your skin.
I know I have a much bigger purpose when this is all said and done and each day, I am seeking guidance from the Lord to lead me. The beauty of life after cancer is worth fighting for and I know at this point nothing can nor will stop me."
Thank you, Brandy!
I am so grateful to you, Brandy, for sharing your story with me, and allowing me to share it here. Thank you for being willing to get in front of my camera, and be vulnerable. Helping you feel beautiful and confident going into your treatment is 100% WHY I do what I do. You are AMAZING!
You are a fighter. You will beat this. And I can't wait to see you kick Bethany's ass! I am rooting for you, all the way!