It took being next to naked at one of the Great Ocean Road’s top tourist attractions for Emily Jarvis to reclaim her body after breast cancer.
In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Mrs Jarvis signed on to the So Brave breast cancer calendar fund-raiser, one of two south-west women to take part. The campaign is empowering breast cancer survivors, while encouraging other young women to be breast aware.
Participants are painted top-to-toe in body paint, with just nipple covers and underwear protecting their modesty.
As someone who had struggled with her body image since diagnosis, Mrs Jarvis found the photoshoot at Loch Ard Gorge confronting at first.
“I had a bit of a meltdown,” she said. “I was still uncomfortable with my body.”
The popular site was so full with tourists that they had to circle the carpark to find a spot.
“My husband came down with the photographer as well and he said ‘just get out of the car, you look beautiful’.
“For the first half an hour I hated it,” she said with a laugh. “And then I just turned a corner and embraced it and just went for it.”
Mrs Jarvis was diagnosed at 25 with stage three breast cancer. Her first child was just 10 months old.
A lumpectomy, six months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy followed.
“It was a rough time. What made it worse was while I was still going through chemo my dad got diagnosed with liver cancer,” she said. He passed away about six months later.
Mrs Jarvis was able to have a second child before doctors recommended a full hysterectomy.
Her weight had already increased due to the medication and she felt “like a shell”.
“I know it sounds really stupid because I’m still here, but I literally felt like a shell. I’m over that now.”
Mrs Jarvis said the photoshoot, including the nine hours of having body paint applied, was an empowering experience.
“I’m so much more comfortable with saying ‘yep, this is me, I’m still here,” she said.
“This was my way of saying ‘I’m still here, I’m a fighter’.”
Warrnambool’s Deanne Evans got a similar feeling from her involvement in the So Brave campaign.
Reluctant at first, thinking she “wasn’t pretty enough”, Miss Evans embraced her shoot at Thunder Point.
“It’s what I needed to feel confident about myself again, because you lose that. So much gets taken away that you need that to say ‘yes, I’m still here, I’m still breathing’,” she said.
“This has made me feel happy again.”
Miss Evans was diagnosed in July 2015 with stage three breast cancer.
“I was only 31,” she said. The cancer had spread into her lymph nodes and required treatment quickly.
“Between diagnosis and my first round of chemo was three weeks.”
Miss Evans didn’t have time to freeze any eggs and is now unable to have children of her own.
“I’m in a better place with that now,” she said.
“I ended up having six months worth of chemo. They were terrible.” Surgery followed and Miss Evans went into remission in June last year.
It has been a difficult and financially draining battle that is still continuing.
“It’s really hard for people to understand that I may look better, but I’m not better,” she said.
“I still have a lot of side effects from all the treatment. I still have pins and needles in my feet... I’ve had to have carpal tunnel surgery because of all the medications I’ve been on.
“We’re still trying to work out the best post-cancer treatment for me.”
Miss Evans hopes her story will encourage other young women to check their breasts and underarm areas and head to the doctor if they have any concerns.
So Brave founder Rachelle Panitz said the project aimed to raise money and awareness about breast cancer among young women.
“This project will be an amazing and empowering exercise for the girls, and hopefully bring much-needed awareness that breast cancer also affects young women,” she said.
The 2018 calendar will be officially launched later this year.