One Bay Ridge-based breast cancer doctor wants his patients to share their stories – and their selfies.
To kick off October – which also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Dr. John Kehoe has spearheaded an initiative called “Selfies with Survivors” as a means to highlight and honor breast cancer survivors within his practice.
Since its official launch on October 1, 20 stories have been shared on the surgeon’s website and social media platforms, detailing survivors’ feelings of triumph and elation, heartbreak and pain, and everything in between.
“It’s a forum by which breast cancer survivors in my practice can have some fun with a selfie and either tell a funny, serious or tragic story of something that went on when they were going through treatment,” Kehoe explained. “That way, other people might find that they can relate.”
“Selfies with Survivors” is also meant to honor those women – and men – for their struggles, many of whom have had the cards stacked high against them.
“My breasts were sick [and] I wanted them off,” wrote one of Kehoe’s most recent survivors. “Dr. Kehoe looked surprised when I told him so. I had finished lumpectomies on both sides and chemotherapy and was about to start radiation therapy when I decided enough is enough.”
Underneath her selfie, she wrote of her strong family history and constant anxiety. “Why keep them?” she asked, adding that today, she has no regrets. “When I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer, I felt that I was hit over the head. My surgeries, chemo treatment and doctor’s appointments became my job. My family and friends were my sounding boards. They cried with me as we constantly talked through it.”
Today, she is a five-year survivor and she “feels great.”
“I’m a literary guy so I’m always interested in people’s stories,” said Kehoe, a onetime English teacher who graduated Amherst College cum laude with a degree in English Literature before going on to attend Cornell University Medical School. “The insight these survivors have is unbelievable and it’s a pleasure to write about them.”
So far, the storytelling – which he hopes to make a year-round project – has fascinated Kehoe, while also proving cathartic for its participants.
“The response has been terrific,” he said. Sometimes survivors are reluctant to tell their stories but, with a little courage – and a little prodding from Kehoe – the majority of those asked end up enjoying the process.
“The stories are inspirational, poignant and personal,” Kehoe said. “I would hope that the takeaway for people who read them – and even other survivors – is that it looks horrible from the beginning, but you make your way through to the end and usually you do that with a lot of help – either from other people or from within yourself. It is an amazing community.”
Looking beyond Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Kehoe said he hopes to expand on “Selfies with Survivors.”
“There are so many stories to be shared,” he said. “This is only the beginning.”