Astrid, 36

I released my first album at the age of 23. Back then, I had a clear vision of how I wanted to look in photographs. It rarely became a reality. Probably because I was so young, photographers would assume the role of determining what I should look like and wouldn’t listen to my opinion. One time, one of them told me all disappointedly that I wasn’t as photogenic as they had thought.

Only in recent years I’ve found photographers with whom I’m on the same wavelength. The age also makes a difference: these days I know how to voice my opinion and have the courage to say what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not.

I have chronic breast cancer that will never be cured. People often think that a disease like this would place a person above all matters related to appearance. That is not the case. During my illness and as it has progressed, I’ve become even more shallow than before. The various changes in my body and looks bother me hugely.

A while ago I heard someone say that nobody ever dies of breast cancer. Also in other ways, this type of cancer is sometimes considered as the “light” kind. That’s not true. The treatments feel like an overwhelming assault on who I am. Besides that they call for constant survival, they also mean endless change.

My child was two years old when I got ill. I had to quit nursing on the very day they made the diagnosis. One of my breasts was scheduled to be removed after two weeks, and you can’t be gushing out milk during the surgery. That was the end of natural motherhood.

My hair has fallen out twice. However, losing the hair and the breast feels less significant than some other changes induced by the disease. Thanks to my current treatments, at the age of 36, I’m having menopause symptoms. Hormonal medicine also makes you gain weight. And because the cancer had spread into lymph nodes in my right armpit, they had to be removed. That’s why my right arm is now continuously swollen and a different size than the left. I need to wear a tight compression sleeve every day. It bothers me, but my biggest fear is that the swelling will start to hinder my playing. If I can no longer play the piano, I’m practically incapable of working.

When Outi took my picture, it had been two years since the cancer diagnosis. I had recovered from it through the surgery and treatments. I had a feeling like life would go on. Still, my whole appearance had changed and I was very unhappy with it. All of a sudden, my body was of a much older person.

Soon after the photo was taken, I began losing weight. At first, I felt very good about it: now I was gonna get back my old body. But the reason for the weight loss turned out to be the cancer recurring. This second time around, the changes in my looks and such have been more familiar to me. Still, even small changes feel significant because of what they symbolize.

The average life expectancy for those with chronic breast cancer is three years.