By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
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Videographer / director: Adam Gray
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Beth Angus
Domonique Mitchell, from Detroit, was familiar with breast cancer: her grandmother had died of it just there weeks after diagnosis and she’d got a tattoo on her waist to remember her. But at just 26-years-old, while breastfeeding her baby daughter, Dom was shocked to be diagnosed with the same cancer herself.
While breast cancer is now the most common cancer in women worldwide – one in eight women will get it in their lifetime. The odds of getting breast cancer in your 20's is a lot more uncommon – so rare in fact there are few statistics for this age range.
Dom had to give up her studies and much of her childcare duties in a bid to beat the cancer. She succeeded and decided to have a double mastectomy alongside her cancer treatment.
Foregoing the nipple tattoos to make her breasts look ‘normal’, she told Barcroft TV: “I’m never gonna be normal again, you know normal as far as my breasts.”
Dom instead posed topless to celebrate her breast cancer battle scars.
She said: “It is important for me to pose topless. I went from being this woman who was very confident and then when the mastectomy happened and I wasn’t looking to the mirror; I would let the bathroom fog up before I took a shower because I didn’t want to see it.
“I was just was hiding from myself.”
It was while breastfeeding her one-year-old daughter Grace, that Dom noticed a lump on her left side. Assuming it was a blockage or cyst related to feeding she went to the doctors and was told to get a mammogram.
Dom remembers: “They said 'we can't tell you what it is but we can tell you what it looks like and we can tell you that at your age it can look like cancer but maybe it’s not'.”
Hoping the mammogram results would come back with an all clear; Dom had to go on to have a biopsy and an ultrasound.
She said: “My doctor, I appreciate her because she didn’t sugarcoat it. She didn’t baby me into it, she sat down and said 'the cells are cancer. You have breast cancer and it’s very aggressive and we need to treat it aggressively.' I was going to school at the time she said I should not go to school the next semester and that my life I knew was going to change drastically.”
Diagnosed with Triple Positive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma – in other words aggressive stage three breast cancer - the doctor told Dom she would have to have at least one breast removed and undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She would have to stop studying and breastfeeding and that her hair would fall out as soon as the chemo began.
Dom said: “I remember thinking like that is so unfair - I don’t want to loose my hair. I don’t want to be bald.
“Breast feeding prevents breast cancer - like how do I have breast cancer while I’m breast feeding?
“I just remember thinking I could die; this is gonna be bad; whose gonna take care of my kids? I have two young children and I’m a single mom. I knew I was gonna fight - that was my first thought.”
After coming to terms with the news herself, Dom had to break it to her son Christopher, aged eight at the time.
Dom said: “It was hard because I didn’t want him to think that I was going to die. But I also didn’t want to lie to him. So I told them that I have breast cancer. I told them I was going to get really sick. I said I was going to lose my hair. I said there were going to be days that I can’t eat. There are going to be days that I can’t pick you up from school. There’s going to be days that I need your help with your sister."
As well as help from family and friends, Christopher would help with mealtimes and give his mum grapes at night when she couldn’t sleep because of the pain.
“Being a mother through cancer treatment is possible. But it doesn’t feel possible during that time.
“I was always the mom. I wanted to do everything. So, asking him to help me, I felt bad. But he was just so proud to help me."
Undergoing six initial rounds of chemo at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac, Michigan, Dom was then administered with Herceptin every three weeks for a year through her chemo port. She also received radiation five days a week for seven weeks.
Dom opted for a double mastectomy, (after which her cancer was declared in remission,) with reconstruction immediately after.
She said: “Sometimes when you are going through the treatment, they call it a boob job. And that’s the biggest joke I have ever [heard].
“After I got my permanent implants; I said I don’t want the nipple tattoos. I felt like it would have been me trying to be normal for everyone else. You don’t have any sensations, it’s just the tattoo, you can’t feed your child.”
Slowly Dom learnt to accept and love her new body, no longer letting the bathroom mirror fog up. Then, after meeting photographer Christian Davis, on a night out with friends Dom agreed to pose topless for him.
Dom recalled: “He said ‘you should do a photo shoot’ I’m like ‘that’s crazy, my family is going to freak out’ but I did it because it made it so much easier for me to accept what was going on."
Christian said: “That shoot was to showcase ‘hey I’m still here, I’m alive and I’m a survivor and give hope to people who might still have breast cancer, who are still fighting.”
From private photo shoot to posting on social media, Dom went on to post a topless photo on her Instagram and blog domtheblogger.com, documenting her experiences.
She said: “To post that first picture. I was actually shaking
“The reaction from the public was I would say 90 percent good, 10 percent internet troll. Of course you are gonna get those people that say 'oh my gosh you need to cover up or you shouldn’t post things like this or you shouldn’t show that,' but for each of those people there were hundreds of people that supported what I did.
“Each time I take a picture and I put it up topless, I know I am showing a part of my strength that can’t really be shown with words.
“This is a part of me now I can post my smile I can post my scars.”