Jessica Geneva Florence thought she was just like any other 22-year-old. She was a college student, majoring in architecture, and liked spending time with friends and family. However, her normal college-girl life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“My cancer was not genetic; I have no family history,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “As a young woman diagnosed at 22 I was told that I was too young to have cancer — but sure enough, I did.”
After undergoing treatment, Florence, now 24, was declared cancer-free just a few days ago. To celebrate, she decided to do a topless photo shoot that showed her mastectomy scars.
The Florida resident contacted photographer Nehemiah Nash to help her create awareness and feel empowered at the same time.
Nash, 21, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Jessica wanted to use this platform to fully illustrate her struggles. Although she has shared her images of her journey before, we wanted to take a more transparent route.”
Nash choose to edit the pictures with a dark undertone as a metaphor for Florence’s physical and mental battle.
“It took much strength and courage to show her scars to the world; her fight with breast cancer has left internal scars no one will be able to see,” he says. “She went through those dark moments, but she did not let cancer take away her smile or charm.”
Florence shares that her toughest moments were when she would look in the mirror and see how the chemotherapy had transformed her into a different person, someone she didn’t recognize.
“I had no hair, eyebrows, black nails and toes; my face was covered in open sores due to all the chemo. I was unrecognizable,” she says. “You feel like cancer and chemotherapies create a monster out of you.”
Her inspiring story has now gone viral. Although Florence wrote on Instagram that at one point, “I never thought I would ever feel like the same woman I was before,” she is now in a better place and is encouraging other cancer patients not to give up.
“Those who are still fighting should try to laugh, cry, smile, and do everything in your power to create your own positive energies, whether it is hanging with friends and family, exercising or picking up new hobbies,” she says. “All of these factors contribute to healing in the mind, body, soul, and spirit.”
She urges women — and men — of all ages to do self-exams and get mammograms regularly. “Early detection saves lives,” she says.
Florence is now back in school to finish her architecture degree and is excited to get back to her normal life.
“The most important thing I do with my life now would be simply enjoying it and sharing my story with others,” she says. “Life is not promised to anyone, so live every day like it’s your last. ”
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