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Faded Photographs & Searching for Cancer Clues

Have you looked at old photos recently? Have you zeroed in on ones of you and thought wow, I looked better than I thought I did back then, if only I still looked that good. Throw a cancer diagnosis into the mix and such thoughts might be magnified many times over, am I right?

Maybe you were younger (well, of course you were). Maybe you were thinner. Or heavier in a good way. Maybe your clothes fit better because you still had your original body parts (yeah, I mean breasts). Maybe your hair looked better. Maybe you had more hair. Or maybe you just had hair.

Have you ever looked at your old photos and said to yourself, gosh, I wish I still looked that good?

Yeah, me too.

And sometimes the photos don’t even have to be that old!

Recently, I was sorting through some before-cancer photos, which for me, means the ones taken before my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis because that’s when cancer started taking its toll. By the time my diagnosis came, some of the damage had already been done because as any caregiver will tell you, cancer takes a toll, emotionally and physically, on them too.

Looking through those before-cancer photos made we wonder, did my entire family look differently back then?

Did we all look more carefree, more unscathed, more innocent, less worn down?

Did we all look younger? And I don’t mean just in years.

Maybe. Maybe I just imagine that to be so.

I do know that since my diagnosis and treatment, I looked and still look, a whole lot differently than in those before-cancer photos. This is obvious when I look at cancer photos (and I didn’t allow that many to be taken) in which I have no hair, no eyelashes and no color, and it’s still true today, even after the return of such things.

And this has nothing to do with normal aging and the passing of years.

It’s more than obvious physical changes.

In some ways, I feel differently post cancer, too, and I sometimes wonder if this change is a visible thing. I wonder if I have a different persona all the way around now. I wonder if others perceive me differently. I wonder if I am always the reminder, the reminder of cancer.

Do I have a permanent “look” of one who’s witnessed and experienced cancer?

Or does no one in my circle of face-to-face contacts even give cancer a thought these days?

The latter is probably more likely.

Do you have thoughts and questions like these?

Sometimes when I look at the most recent before-cancer photos of myself, I wonder about the cancer that was probably growing in my body when the photos were taken. I study the photos looking for some outward sign or clue of cancer. (Let’s be real, I also study my chest’s former appearance).

Shouldn’t there be one?

Shouldn’t there be some kind of indication that something was seriously amiss in my body?

The featured photo of my mother and me was taken about two months before her metastatic diagnosis and roughly two years before my diagnosis. Things were obviously going on in her body at that time and likely were in mine as well. And yet we did not know.

How could I not have known something so awful was going on inside my own body?

How could my mother not have known the same?

Logically, I realize these thoughts and questions are ridiculous, and yet I keep looking. I keep wondering.

Photos are just photos. You can’t really tell what’s going on in any person’s life, much less inside their body, by just looking at photos. Still…

Was cancer always our destiny?

Was cancer always our destiny?

Within every photo there is a story, an event or a reason why that shot was taken on that particular day at that particular moment in time. The story is there even if you can’t see it or remember it. And perhaps there are clues to things yet unknown at the time of the photo that we cannot see. Then again, maybe there aren’t.

Regardless, I find myself looking harder for stories and clues in old photos these days.

What about you – do you look for clues too?

What goes through your mind when you look at pre-cancer diagnosis photos?

If applicable, do you believe  cancer was always in your destiny?

Keeping it real. Support you can use – Click Here.


Faded Photographs & Searching for Clues

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Beth L. Gainer

Saturday 19th of May 2018


I so relate to this post! I have found photos of me where I had my tumor (sounds weird to say "my tumor," but there it is) growing in me and didn't know. I look at my innocent face and, of course, the breasts that I had been born to have. It boggles my mind and depresses me at this time to look at old photos.

Marie Ennis O'Connor

Sunday 15th of April 2018

Yes, I totally get this Nancy. I have a picture taken a month before my BC diagnosis when I had traveled to the States for a friend's wedding. I look tired and washed out in the picture but I put that down to jet-lag at the time. Now I wonder if I am seeing something more in the picture. At the same time, I am struck as you were, looking at your lovely Mom in that picture, how cancer was already hiding like a hand grenade in our bodies waiting for the moment when it would explode our lives and change them forever.


Monday 16th of April 2018

Marie, Ah yes, cancer was hiding in our bodies like a hand grenade. No kidding. I know it’s not logical at all, but I can’t help but ask, how could we not have known? Thank you for sharing that you've looked for clues in photographs, too.

Nicki Boscia Durlester

Friday 13th of April 2018

Nancy Stordahl, my laptop background is a photograph of my family and beloved springer spaniel the Christmas before I was diagnosed. I can't tell you how many times I have studied that picture looking for hints of what was to come just a few months later. Life is measured in the before and after, a reminder of how fleeting it all is. Thank you for this piece. It really spoke to me.


Friday 13th of April 2018

Nicki, I would love to see that photo. Nice to know I'm not the only one who searches...You are so right, the biggest thing about looking at old photo - they remind us how fleeting it all is. Thank you for sharing your wise words. xo

Patti crotty

Thursday 12th of April 2018

Thanks for sharing. I think I have a bit of a different spin on my experience agonizing as it was for so very long. There were times I wasn't sure I as going to live through the my colors of chemo! I like looking at the before, during and after pictures, it shows me just HOW far I have come and overcome! One Survivor in my life last year said she just wanted to forget it all until I came into her life and brought the Breast Cancer experience with me. I reminded her , to remember ALWAYS keeps you humble and much more grateful. We actually co-wrote an inspiring song from my journaling and a poem from my walk called Ordinary Day. You can view a video of it on my web site


Friday 13th of April 2018

Patty, Thank you for sharing how you feel about looking at before, during and after photos. Thanks for sharing about the song you co-wrote as well. My best to you.

Katie O’Shaunnessy

Wednesday 11th of April 2018

I had a new drivers license picture taken 2 weeks before I started chemo because it was about to expire. Now every time I see that picture I hate that person. I’m not sure why it makes me angry when I see it. Maybe I wish I was still that person but I’m not. I am physically and mentally forever changed. I keep that picture facing down in my wallet, I hate seeing it


Thursday 12th of April 2018

Katie, I'm sorry that picture causes you so much angst. Last year, I had to renew my license and so, of course, I had to get a new photo; so let's just say, I understand.