Tom Becka: Hello, welcome to another podcast of tombecka.com where every week we interview somebody with a unique story to tell.
There’s an underlying theme in all of these stories. If you notice the underlying theme in all of these stories is that, it’s the power of the individual, it’s the power of an idea, it’s the power of a person overcoming adversity, somebody accomplishing a dream of theirs. It is the power of somebody that maybe takes a chance on something in life and how it turns out for them.
This is an honorable story. This is a story about two women. One is an artist. She’s a very good talented photographer. The other is a woman who has recovered from breast cancer. The photographer is helping the breast cancer survivor reclaim her life, her femininity, take control of herself and show what a beautiful woman that she is.
Breast cancer can be a very traumatic time for a woman.
Through Tammy’s photography, she’s helping these women regain their positive attitude, regain their confidence, regain their spirit. That’s what I found so cool about interviewing these two women, Tammy and Mindy. We will start of by talking to Tammy about what she find so fascinating about photography.
Tammy Muecke: I have been a photographer for almost 11 years now. It’s a lot of things. I love to be able to capture life for people.
When it started out, it was more of a nature type thing or taking pictures of my friends. It grew from there. I just love creating and capturing everything for people about life.
Tom: So started off maybe just doing it as a hobby and from there just grew into a passion and a career?
Tom: Now you went from starting off as I said doing landscape, outdoors and nature type of photos to going into something a lot more specific. What are you doing?
Tammy: Right now, I am concentrating on…I do weddings to keep going for living. But I also do boudoir. It’s a lingerie type photography where women come in and they wear sexy lingerie. They usually do it for their significant other. Some women come in to do it though for themselves, to feel sexy about themselves and to bring themselves back as far as renew themselves maybe.
Tom: It used to be back in the day, every mall had Glamour Shots. What you’re doing is almost like taking that to the next level of just saying, “Ladies, come in and we’ll do some sexy poses and lingerie.” These aren’t like sex shots. These are sexy, sensuous photos, right?
Tammy: Right, yes. When they do it for their significant other, it is really specifically for that to where they are just showing their significant other. When they’re doing it for themselves, sometimes we as people get in a rut or we don’t feel good about ourselves anymore. Then we grow out of that. We decide that we want to show the fact that we’ve grown and that we’re stronger than we used to be.
Basically, some women come in for that reason, in particular.
Tom: Mindy, you were a customer but you went in for what…I’ll ask you, why did you go in?
Mindy: I went in for a different reason. I had found Tammy on Facebook, through a friend of mine who does hair. I was looking at her photos because I like to take photos amatuerly. I had gone through cancer and was trying to document some of that myself. The end result, I feel better now than I’ve ever felt in my life.
I was looking through her photos and seen that she did boudoir. I didn’t really want to wear lingerie. I wanted to take it a little bit different aspect of it. She had some photos on there that I really liked of a female that was wearing a pair of jeans, covering her top with no top on. I like that aspect.
I contacted her and asked her if she would be willing to do cancer photos, in a boudoir sense. She didn’t quite understand what I was talking about at first.
Tom: These are all about breast cancer survivors, or…?
Mindy: I’m a breast cancer survivor. The project we’re doing is with any cancer survivor. Just to show that even after all the scars and all the treatments, you can still feel beautiful. Tammy certainly did that for me. We contacted and connected, and I went in. I was nervous as heck and she made me feel comfortable.
I did some with pink boxing gloves and a black robe, and made it kind of sensuous that I feel beautiful about myself, but I wasn’t naked by any means.
Then I did some with a pair of jeans, with no top, with my top covered. We wrote with lipstick on my arms. That was very, very powerful. That’s my favorite photo that she’s taken.
Tom: What did you write on the arms?
Mindy: Cancer sucks!
Tom: [laughs] Yes, it does.
Mindy: It was awesome! [laughs]
Tom: I’m a bladder cancer survivor.
I know that the second you hear the “C” word…I say the second you hear the doctor tells you, you do have a little cancer, everything other thing he says sounds like the teacher in the old Charlie Brown shows. Everything else is like, “Wha, wha, wha, wha.” It all just gets to you.
You wanted to document what you were going through during the whole treatment of your breast cancer. You were going to use it in photography. What did that do for you, the empowerment or whatever? When you went and had those pictures taken, what did they do for you?
Mindy: They gave me a sense of strength for others, to try and empower others to try and do this for themselves. Everyone thinks they’ve gone through cancer, and they need to hide in the shadows. They don’t.
They are beautiful people, men, women, children, all of them, and they need to get the confidence back that they had once before. I’ve had that confidence. I just wanted to, first of all, do the pictures for myself. I was making a little Shutterfly book for myself. I wanted them for myself.
When I saw what Tammy could do with it, and the power that was behind it, I enlisted a friend to go. We did hers, and hers is very powerful, too. All of the pictures that were taken are just not a snapshot of someone’s face, and a shirt, and a smile.
The second one that we did, we painted her face like a warrior. There was no boudoir in it. It was just a photo.
Because mine was breast cancer, which breasts are more of a sensuous type of body part, I decided to go with the robe, and felt powerful with pink gloves, and stuff like that.
The second one, her motto was, “Never give up.” She was a cancer warrior. She got her face painted. It was awesome! It turned out wonderful.
Tom: Tammy, you’re not a cancer survivor are you?
Tammy: No, I’m not. I do have family members that have had cancer, and really close friends that have had cancer.
Tom: When they came to you with this idea, had you ever thought about doing anything like this prior to this?
Tammy: I guess, no. The reason why it’s got me going on the subject, and why I decided to pursue it, is because I’ve been struggling the last couple of years with some things. It had put me in a mindset to where I was having a really hard time as a woman feeling good about myself.
The boudoir went in a different direction for me. Yes, I was still doing my job if you want to call it that. At the same time, I wanted to create things for women that made them feel strong, and not let people take them down.
We, as women, are a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We actually are a lot stronger than a lot of people, and I would say men in general.
Tom: [laughs] I’m not going to argue in this.
Tammy: Yeah, I know. I’m saying just for instance, women have children. Women do a lot of things that men cannot do. I believe that a woman that has had a child, and then goes through something like cancer, along with life, just regular life, everyday working, taking their kids to school, taking care of their husband, taking care of their job, everything about that.
I just wanted to empower women, and help women see that we are the stronger of anybody I think. Because society makes us feel like we need to be insecure, and what they put out there on TV, and models, and that kind of stuff, it makes us feel like we’re not. No matter what shape, size, color, just everything about us.
Tom: A lot of women would have apprehension to take the boudoir pictures in the first place, especially after they’ve had breast cancer. How did that empower you, or did that empower you? What apprehensions did you have going into this, and how did you feel coming out of it?
Mindy: Prior to cancer, I would have had more apprehensions to doing this. Since I’ve had cancer, I don’t really feel as my body is sensual anymore. You get to that point where your body parts are fake.
I had a tranflap, which is my own body fat was made into breasts. Once that happened and transformed me, I felt like a woman again. I didn’t want to go and just show all my scars. That’s not what it’s about. It’s not about the scars. It’s about how I feel like a woman after the fact.
I had a bra on, and like I said a robe, and it just made me feel really beautiful. I feel like, “That’s me. That’s who I am.” I survived cancer. I can still be beautiful afterwards, even though I lost my hair. I was bald. I lost my face, my eyebrows, my eyelashes. You lose your face, and your skin turns gray. So, what? Who cares?
You get out of it, and you get past it, and you’re beautiful again.
Tom: You obviously, I assume, had family and friends to support you through all of this?
Mindy: My family helped me very much so. I had a couple of good friends that were with me through the whole way.
Tom: When you were going through all of this, I assume that they did everything they could to make you feel like you were beautiful. They didn’t say, “Oh, geez! You lost all your hair! My gosh, you’re ugly!” They tried to reassure you in your beauty, didn’t they?
Mindy: They did, especially my husband. He stuck by me the whole way, and told me I was beautiful no matter what, but he’s my husband.
Tom: [laughs] Yeah, what does he count?
Mindy: He has to say that. [laughs]
Tom: I want strangers to see me in a bra and robe, and then I’ll feel beautiful. [laughs]
Mindy: No. I just wanted other women to be able to feel that they can still feel this way, and feel the confidence and not have low self-esteems, because they’ve got scars.
Tom: That’s it, too. Your husband can tell you all the time. He believes it and he feels that way, he wants to reassure you, but if you don’t feel it inside.
Mindy: In yourself, yes.
Tom: Those are hollow words. So you had these pictures taken? Did that then make you feel beautiful about yourself?
Mindy: I felt beautiful already, just because I had gotten past it and felt better than I ever have in my life. The pictures just added to it. Seeing myself there…The photo that we took was me sitting on the ground in a pair of jeans, in my bra. We wrote “Cancer Sucks” on my forearms. My hands were in my hair.
It was almost like looking at it, it is when you first find out. You sit on the floor. You cry. You put your hands on your head, and you’re like, “Why me?” Well, this wasn’t the “Why me?” photo, this was “Look at me now” photo, and it was awesome.
I remember sitting on the floor with my hands on my head and crying, when I found out. Now this is the end result sitting on the floor, just saying “Cancer sucks, but oh, well, get through it.”
Tom: How does that make you feel as a photographer in knowing that you’re bringing that power to these women?
Tammy: I don’t know that I really have any words to describe how it feels. When they see their images and they love them, they can express in words how much they love them, but it’s a different feeling than actually having a conversation and watching a facial expression.
Seeing the strength that builds from that, I really love that she feels that way. Sometimes we see beyond, and we aren’t able to express what we can see or how we feel.
Her friend, Missy, the way that she feels about it. She expressed it in a different way. My friend, Amy, when I had done her images, she said she cried when she saw her images. It’s really the emotion for me than anything.
Tom: What do you do with these pictures now? Are these just pictures for you? Are they pictures that you show your husband and maybe a few close friends? Is there going to be a bigger project on this to help bring awareness and let other women know that just because they have breast cancer, they can still be beautiful?
Tammy: We are putting a project together actually. We have a couple more clients if you want to call them that, because I don’t want to call everybody a “cancer survivor.” We’re still trying to figure out what we want to call the project or series, I guess.
I just want people to be able to feel better about themselves. Actually, the sessions that I do are free, for anybody that wants to have a session that has cancer.
Whether they’re going through it right now, if they’ve just found out, or if they’re in the middle of the process, or if by God’s will they’ve come out of the process, I want to capture the whole entire thing, or whatever I can capture for them, so they have that. Not just for themselves, but for their families.
I want their families to be able to have those images. The children that are very small, that when their parents or whoever has cancer isn’t around anymore, those children have those memories of their person that they loved, that passed away from it, or that passed away later in life, that they have the ability to have those images.
Tom: You talked earlier about when you found out that you had cancer. When you saw the picture of you with “Cancer Sucks” on your arm, on the ground, it was very moving, because you remember sitting on the floor and crying when you found out that you first had cancer.
Tom: Is there any way to explain all the emotions that you go through when you are diagnosed?
Mindy: It’s almost like a grieving process, just like you’ve lost somebody. You’ve lost yourself. You feel like you’re going to die. That’s the first thing that you hear. You don’t hear “cancer.” You hear, “You’re going to die,” and it’s what you do with that.
It’s whether you say, “No. I’m not,” and you fight through it as much as you can, or you say, “Oh, my goodness! I’m going to die,” and go crawl in a ball and go to bed, which neither way is wrong. It’s just how people deal with it. It takes a different type of person to be able to fight through the whole thing.
Tom: Even though you know that, especially if you catch it early, that cancer’s very curable in this day and age, there’s still that mindset when you hear “cancer.” It’s, “Oh, my God. I’m dying.”
Mindy: It’s a difference. No cancer is better or worse than the other, but the staging process is a big difference in it. I was in stage three. Stage one, or in situ, is a lot easier to cure. Stage three, I have 50-50 chance of living past five years. My daughter was pregnant for the first time with my new grandchild. I had something to look forward to, and I was not going to give up, no matter what.
My motto through the whole thing was, “Cancer sucks.” I had a party in the chemo room with a cake and pizza and Pepsi and everything, for anybody that walked through the door. The cake said, “Cancer sucks.” They knew that was my motto. I’m like, “It sucks, but you know what? We’re going to get through it.” I tried to boost the morale of everyone in the chemo room.
I didn’t go to support groups. I didn’t do any of that because I was introverted at the time. But now that I’m through it and I’ve hit my five-year mark — I’m seven years out now — I’m ready to take on the world and help other people through it.
Tom: I have a friend who…we did a podcast on breast cancer. One of the first broadcasts we did. She just reached her five-year mark. It was a major accomplishment to be at that point.
Mindy: It is. Five years is a major accomplishment. I was triple-negative, which is a rare type of breast cancer. It’s not hormone-related or anything like that. You can’t take any of the medications afterwards to prevent it. It is just a straight cancer, like you would get it anywhere else in the body.
Tom: Did you smoke or anything?
Mindy: I had smoked beforehand, but I had quit the year before I got it. I don’t know if that contributed. Maybe it did. I had quit, thank goodness, before I got the cancer. [laughs]
Tom: It always amazed me, too. People that continue smoking after they’re diagnosed. I know people that have done that. It’s like, “How do you do that?”
Mindy: That amazes me.
Tom: Yeah, “How could you do that?” What would you say to any other woman right now that might be listening to this, or any family member that has somebody with breast cancer, or any cancer, for that matter? What would you say to them, if they’re going through a similar thing that you went through?
Mindy: I would say that you need to keep your mind positive. You’re going to have horrible, horrible days ahead. But if you keep your mind positive that you’re going to get through it, you probably will. You have to have the mindset. It’s all in your mind.
Tom: Tammy, if people want to get more involved in this, if they want to go and be a part of your cancer project or find out more about it, how do they go about doing that?
Tammy: They can call me. The number is 40…
Tom: I’ll tell you what. I don’t mind maybe giving out an email address, but I don’t want to give a phone number out to the worldwide web. Who knows who listens to this?
Tammy: You’re right.
Tom: I’d hate to get a phone call from you one day, all angry, saying, “You won’t believe these idiots that are calling me.” Why don’t we just give out an email address or a web address that they can go to?
Tammy: My email address is tammymuecke@Gmail.com. My website address is www.tammymueckephotography.com.
Tom: Ladies, I had bladder cancer. We caught it early. It’s a recurring type of cancer, but as long as I go in, get it checked, boom, they snip it out. I call it “cancer light,” compared to what you had to go through. I do know that any time that you are diagnosed with this, and you’re told about it, it does. It changes your life.
We all know we’re going to die someday. It’s just that when the doctor tells you that you have cancer, it makes it [laughs] a real thing. Someday is today, all of a sudden. How’s your grandbaby doing?
Mindy: He is now going to be seven this year. I have another one that’s three.
Tom: Any woman that is listening that has gone through this, you’d recommend doing something like this boudoir photography, or something like this.
Mindy: I definitely would. Even men. I don’t want to exclude men out of this, either. If men enjoy golfing, if they enjoy whatever they enjoy. Bowling, anything of the sort, and they’re doing it now, after they’ve survived cancer, I would like Tammy for her to photograph that. That they’re after it.
Tammy: The project, or I’m going to actually call it a series now, because I’ve gotten pretty creative with it in the couple of sessions that I’ve done. I don’t want it to be just about a boudoir session. It actually is going to include anybody with cancer, and men, as well. I want it to be where I can create something for them. No matter what it is, as far as photography-related is concerned.
I want to create something fun, and have a good time with it, and be silly, and laugh, and be strong afterwards. For the whole, entire project, that’s what I want it to be about, is them to be able to walk away from it knowing that they’re a stronger person and they’ve come out of this.
Tom: Thank you, Tammy. Thank you, Mindy, for sharing what’s got to be an incredibly personal story. Be able to get out there and talk about it, and to show yourself like this to help others. It’s a good thing. It’s the power of the individual. It’s the power of the human spirit. We celebrate that here, each and every week on tombecka.com.
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