Woman documents breast cancer journey through boudoir photography

NEW YORK (WABC) -- In 2019, the American Cancer Society estimates nearly 300,000 women will hear the words, "you have breast cancer."

For one woman in New York, that sentence marked the start of an incredible journey of self-discovery that she decided to document through boudoir photography.

She is among the growing number of women, now seeing the bold style of photography known for sexy photos and stereotypically considered a gift for others, as an opportunity for personal empowerment.

Elaine Alden, an instructional math coach at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Yorktown Heights, said she first explored Boudoir photography shortly after her 40th birthday, nearly five years ago.

"I decided there was a list of things I was going to do and one of them was a boudoir shoot," she said.

Elaine booked a photoshoot with photographer Laura Boyd, who has coined her business, "Own Your Sexy."

"Believe it or not I used to be a lawyer," Boyd said. "Turns out I didn't like conflict. I got out fast."

Boyd said boudoir photography offered her a creative outlet and an opportunity to build women up.

"The world we live in and the media we face, they tear us all down and part of this work is in building women back up into loving their bodies as they are," Laura said. "I've always said to my clients, 'the person who loves you looks at you like you are already photoshopped. And so, we need to learn to look at ourselves that way also."

Elaine said she left her first photoshoot with Laura feeling a new sense of confidence. It was a feeling she said she would long for after learning she had breast cancer in the summer of 2018.

"I realized the last time I felt good and smart and sexy and powerful was when I was with Laura so I immediately sent her a message, and said, 'hey document this journey with me,'" Elaine remembered.

The two embarked on a series of photoshoots, the first before Elaine had breast cancer, the second just after her diagnosis, another photoshoot during chemo when Elaine had lost all of her hair, and another photoshoot this month, just after Elaine completed two rounds of treatments.

"It has really changed my whole outlook on myself and what it means to be beautiful," Elaine said.

Five years ago Elaine said she evaluated her body against a specific standard: "size four body, flawless skin, and long lashes."

Today, Elaine said she defines beauty differently and she attributes it to her battle with breast cancer as well as her experiences in front of the camera with Laura.

"Beauty is strength, feeling comfortable in your own skin, having the mental fortitude and mindset that you can tackle anything that comes along the way," Elaine said. "I honor my body more. I put one of the harshest chemo regimens in and my body withstood it and I'm still here. It's okay if I have a little bit of a muffin top. As awful as this journey has been, I feel like I found a really big part of myself 44 years in."

Elaine's husband has supported Elaine throughout her battle with breast cancer, which has involved multiple rounds of treatments and a double mastectomy.

Chris Alden said he has been amazed by her transformation and her strength.

"It's something that I have been trying to do for her for years, to help her see how beautiful she is and how special she is," Chris said. "And I know it sounds crazy that it took cancer for her to find this inner beauty and strength but it's there and these (boudoir) photos are a beautiful testament of who she is. She has absorbed this moniker of 'Wonder Woman.' I look at myself some days and I wonder where I can find that strength that she has."

In early October, Elaine learned she had a recurrence of breast cancer and would need a third round of treatment.

"Cancer doesn't discriminate. I never thought I would hear the words, 'you have cancer.' Much less, 'you have cancer again.' We all fight our own battles and there is no right or wrong way," Elaine said. "I can't give up. I have got to keep fighting. Set the intention for a second victory. Set the intention that I will be celebrating one definitely, not hopefully but definitely."

Elaine said when her treatments are over, she plans to book another shoot with Laura to celebrate.

Elaine hopes her story encourages other women to love their bodies just as they are and also reminds everyone that "early detection of breast cancer saves lives."

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