Meet the Gympie woman helping cancer survivors learn to love their scars.
Jasmine Gailer was spending a year overseas when she felt a pain in her leg. The pain got worse and her leg got weaker, until eventually, she couldn’t walk anymore. She flew home, wheelchair-bound, to a cancer diagnosis.
“I had a bone tumour in my right knee,” she remembers. “By the age of 22 I was a cancer survivor with a 30cm scar running down my leg, the task of re-learning to walk ahead of me, and a shattered sense of self.
“I felt broken. And I focussed all my pain, physical and emotional, on my scar. It weighed me down and I couldn’t cope.
“A psychologist told me to take some time to be with my scar. I didn’t want to just ‘be with’ it. I decided to own it. I drew a timeline of my journey on it, and I posted a photo of it online. It was the bravest thing I had done, and it was liberating. I knew I wanted to give others the same sense of liberation I felt, so I recruited professional photographers to take empowering and beautiful photographs of cancer patients and survivors who were left with scars after their treatment.”
In 2011, Jasmine established Scar Stories, a not-for-profit organisation and registered charity. The organisation’s first fundraising event was an exhibition of photos and, subsequently, the release of a coffee table book. These one-on-one photoshoots with cancer patients and survivors have become the organisation’s calling card.
“The experience is designed to empower the participant to feel positive about their post-treatment bodies and provide an avenue to tell their story through words and images, a process that is extremely beneficial for many,” Jasmine says.
“The patients and survivors’ reactions when they see their finished portraits are the most important part of the process for our photography projects. I’ve seen people cry from joy and others burst with excitement. I enjoy prolonging these feelings for as long as possible by publishing the photos online and exhibiting them at events. It’s invaluable for them to hear and read people’s positive affirmations and messages of encouragement.”
The organisation’s creative program also offers young adult cancer patients and survivors the opportunity to participate in free creative workshops and photography, music and art classes. More recent projects include ‘Scarredecks’ (skateboard decks designed by professional illustrators and inspired by cancer scars) and ‘Rock Scars’, which sees rock and pop stars taking part in professional photoshoots to help young people see their scars in a new light.
“At an age when people are generally living large — partying, adventuring, travelling and experimenting — and experiencing high levels of change, like graduating university, starting a career, meeting future spouses and having children, cancer can affect a person’s sense of identity and self-esteem,” Jasmine explains.
“While their peers are graduating from university degrees and gaining professional employment, a young person diagnosed with cancer often has to quit or defer study and can experience feelings of being left behind.
“Young adulthood is a time of finding yourself, of maturing and emerging as a confident individual. Our experiences with patients and survivors have shown us that these are difficult tasks when faced with a changed body and physical capabilities, and the presence of scars or disabilities. Reduced self-esteem and negative feelings about their appearance can hinder a young person’s willingness to re-enter their community and get back into work and social life.”
Considering all that she’s achieved since her diagnosis in 2010, Jasmine sees herself as living proof that cancer survivors can be empowered by their scars.
“I get a real kick out of all the ‘firsts’ of Scar Stories,” she beams. “The first exhibition or the first time a portrait is unveiled and a patient or survivor is showered with positive affirmation and encouragement. Or the first time a patient signed up to our creative program, to receive photography lessons while in isolated treatment for leukaemia.
“When our recent Rock Scars participant Michaela saw the first photograph of her with her music idol Reece Mastin, she cried. She said, ‘That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen’.
“The most rewarding part is feeling like I’ve helped someone feel beautiful.”
To learn more about Scar Stories and how you can participate, visit www.scarstories.org