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This Woman Made A Photo Series About Every Stage Of Her Mastectomy

"I wanted something to shake people up." NOTE: This post contains photos of nudity some may deem sensitive.

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This is Aniela McGuinness, a 32-year-old actress living in Hollywood, Florida who was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2014 — just days before her appointment to schedule a preventative mastectomy.

McGuiness tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation when she was 25, which meant she had a high risk of developing breast cancer, she told BuzzFeed Life. She was getting screened every six months and decided to get a preventative bilateral mastectomy when she was 30, even earlier than the doctors suggested.

On the last MRI before her surgery, they found something. The biopsy results came back with stage 1 ductal breast cancer (ER/PR positive, HER2 negative, grade 3). "In a strange way it was comforting," said McGuinness. "I didn't have to question if I was making the right choice by removing them."

She decided to document the experience — from before her mastectomy to after reconstruction surgery — with an unconventional photo series.

"When you see mastectomy photos — whether they're artsy ones or medical before-and-after photos — they're usually really serious," said McGuinness. "It's usually soft lifting, flowing fabric, and maybe a rose placed near the breast. I was just kind of sick of that."

"I wanted something to shake people up," said McGuinness.

The first photo was taken a week before her surgery, as a way to memorialize her breasts.

Blast 'Em Photography / Courtesy of Aniela McGuinness

"Knowing that I had cancer then, actually taking the photo was wonderfully empowering," said McGuinness.

It was also a distraction from everything she was facing. "It was nice for a second to get to play and not be so bogged down by 'Oh, I have cancer. Oh, I'm going to get my breasts removed.' I wanted evidence of my boobs! It was a great excuse to do it."

The next photo was taken after her mastectomy (and a week after Halloween)

Blast 'Em Photography / Courtesy of Aniela McGuinness

This was actually the second time McGuinness showed off her scars in a getup like this. The first time was during a post-op visit after her mastectomy. "I showed up at my surgeon's office to get the drains removed dressed as the bride of Frankenstein," said McGuinness. "It was the first time I saw my breasts without the bandages."

"It was a way for me to own this, and not have it own me. It felt really good to not give any fucks and just go, 'This is me now.'"

McGuinness also had expanders in at this time (which help to make room for eventual implants), since she planned to have breast reconstruction surgery after she completed chemotherapy.

"This was my playful 'hey look, I'm bald!' shot," McGuinness said of the third photo, taken at the end of her chemo treatment.

Blast 'Em Photography / Courtesy of Aniela McGuinness

"I was starting to finally get my energy back," said McGuinness. But at the time of this mannequin-inspired shot, McGuinness was dealing with the uncomfortable expanders fully inflated. "It's this foreign object under your skin. It's awkward, you feel plastic," she said.

The final shot was taken two months after her reconstruction surgery, after McGuinness found out she was cancer-free.

Blast 'Em Photography / Courtesy of Aniela McGuinness

"I had these stick-on nipples and we kept trying them in different spots to see how they'd look with different poses," said McGuinness. "We quickly shot this and I was done. It was the easiest, fastest shot."

One goal of this project, McGuinness said, was to show the joy and the humor that can also exist in times as difficult as these.

"I haven't just gone through it, I've been there with my mom who died of it. I understand how hard this can be," said McGuinness. Still, she wanted to show another kind of experience — one that people may not be used to seeing.

"I wanted to show something different. I wanted to make an art piece with joy behind it. There's color in this. There's joy in this. You can laugh at it. We don't have to be uncomfortable by it."

You can watch more of McGuinness' story on her YouTube channel, My Breast Choice.

View this video on YouTube

She's currently working on a one-woman show, I Don't Have Cancer, which you can learn more about on her blog.

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