“It was a blow,” O’Brien recalls. “But I remember feeling like I could get through it.” She underwent treatments and had a lumpectomy.
Five years later, the cancer returned. This time, O’Brien chose to have a double mastectomy. Months of radiation therapy followed, along with reconstruction surgery. She found herself with a new, almost unrecognizable body.
“It was one of the most emotional times of my life, not because of the vanity or visual of it,” O’Brien says. “But because I felt like I had failed somehow, like I couldn’t heal.”
As she worked to accept her body, O’Brien — an artist and writer by trade — began a photojournal, documenting her life with breast cancer. She wanted to make a resource for women who would Google “double mastectomy,” as she had months earlier. She wanted them to find pictures filled with bravery and beauty — not the scary, shock-value images she had seen when she first searched. She asked different photographers to take her picture for a series that became the What Lies Beneath Project.