Our Co-Founder’s Diagnosis Story
When Michaela Raes was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28 years old, it was unexpected. She knew from her doctoral training in the healthcare field that breast cancer could happen in women her age, but she felt falsely reassured – she was an otherwise healthy young woman with no family history of the disease. She found her tumor by luck – it wasn’t self-monitoring, but rather her cat named Schrö that discovered the lump. One night as the cat was kneading at her side, Michaela felt the animal’s paw press against something that felt hard. She frantically pushed the animal away, and it was then that she first felt the big ugly lump on the outside of her breast.
Along with her diagnosis, Michaela experienced a surge of insecurity and fears – “What will I look like? Will I ever feel confident or sexy again? Will breast cancer prevent me from loving my body?”
How the project was born
Not knowing what the future would hold for her body, Michaela wanted to capture her natural born body with a boudoir photoshoot before treatment began. With the help of a mutual friend & board member Maria Janda, Michaela first met co-founder JolanaHollister(owner of The Photography Experience, LLC) just days before her first of many surgeries when Jolana photographed her boudoir session. Her only intention at the time had been to memorialize her body she had always known, and she hadn’t been planning to take this any further. Two days later, Michaela had her lumpectomy surgery, and within a few more weeks, she had started chemotherapy.
As treatment progressed, Michaela noticed a shift in her mindset – she began to find herself in awe of the strength and resilience of her body. She had undergone major surgeries, highly lethal chemicals had been pulsing through her bloodstream, all of her hair had fallen out – eyebrows and eyelashes included (with the exception of three rebels that rode out the chemo with her). Despite all that she had been through, every single day, her body showed up for her and carried her through. She began to see the beauty in every inch and ounce of this vessel that kept her alive, and she wanted to celebrate that strength. To begin her own emotional healing from the trauma of breast cancer, and learn to accept the changes in her body, Michaela had boudoir portraits taken by Jolana at major milestones during and after treatment.
Once the shock and intensity of her experience had died down, and she was able to appreciate the beauty of all that she had gone through, she decided to share her story and her approach with the rest of the world. This was when Breast Cancer Confidence Project* first went live on social media, to show the newly diagnosed that they do not need to be afraid of what the future may hold for their body. *at the time of initial launch, the Project went by the name “Breast Cancer Boudoir”
Evolution of the Project
The second photography event (April 2021) hosted three women for boudoir portraits. Following this event, the Project gained a huge asset to our team when participant (and now Board Member) Rebecca Curran joined our executive committee. The third event (October 2021) hosted 6 participants – two of whom have since joined our team as Empowerment Ambassadors (Shannon Clare & Stacey Miller).
In 2022, we wanted to offer options beyond boudoir, as we recognized a need to help ALL women explore body confidence after a breast cancer diagnosis, regardless of their comfort levels. Capturing Courage (October 2022) was a photography event that offered boudoir, henna body art, and “glamshot” portraits for eight women. We have yet again gained another incredible asset in Empowerment Ambassador Kelly Boehm, our fifth participant to join us as we strive to make a difference for survivors in our region, nation, and across the world.
About – Our Impact
Rebecca (Survivor): I was diagnosed with TNBC in July of 2020, at the age of 36. I am a single mom of two amazing girls. The first boudoir photo session I participated in was just two weeks before my double mastectomy. It gave me a way to memorialize my old body before surgery, and was a huge comfort to me. When I saw the incredible final photos I was stunned. And I was hooked! The second photography event was a week after my plastic surgery for my implants. Now I had gorgeous photos of my new body- and allowed me to see that all of my scars were beautiful, my new hair growth was beautiful…. That I was still beautiful despite what I had gone through with all of my treatments. I am so proud to be a part of the Breast Cancer Confidence project, because I want to help all women affected by breast cancer to love their bodies and benefit from the amazing support provided by the women in this group!
Cara (Previvor): I had genetic testing done in the fall of 2018. My test results came back that I was high risk for breast cancer with the CHEK2 gene mutation. I knew right away that I was not going to wait for breast cancer to happen to me. I choose a prophylactic mastectomy to reduced my risk of developing breast cancer.
The hardest part for me postoperatively wasn’t the multiple surgeries I had or the physical pain I endured. It was learning how to love my post mastectomy body again. Going through this journey is difficult. The physical, mental and emotional healing post mastectomy was difficult for me. I was struggling gaining my body confidence back.
I heard about The Breast Cancer Confidence Project on social media 3 years ago. I loved the idea of getting women together post mastectomy and building up women’s confidence again. I was intrigued so I signed up for the event. It was a wonderful feeling to feel empowered, inspired and beautiful after everything I had to endured.I am proud to be apart of this project because it creates the opportunity to empower other women in their own journey and remind them that they too can love their bodies again post mastectomy.
Press & Podcasts
FLX Local Media
EP 17 “Worth It” Jan 2023
We are dedicated to maintaining financial transparency, accuracy and efficiency.
The organization is registered with the New York State Office of the Attorney General. Individuals may obtain information on the status of charitable organizations upon request to the organization or from the charities registry on the attorney general’s website.
Breast Cancer Confidence Project, Inc. is a fully incorporated nonprofit public charity recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a 501(c)3 organization. Contributions made to our organization are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
Board of Directors
President/Executive Officer & Co-Founder
VP/Operating Officer & Co-Founder
Director of Public Relations
Empowerment Ambassador & Previvor
Empowerment Ambassador & Previvor