UAB student’s story of cancer captured in powerful photo exhibition

Striking images of women braving breast cancer will be on display at UAB Jan. 7-31, 2013.

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) senior Brittney Bass Gray had just finished a week of finals during the summer 2011 semester when, out of the blue, she found herself facing an even greater challenge — breast cancer.

“I was single, trying to graduate and support myself through school,” said Gray, a 25-year-old psychology and mathematics major. “It was a surreal time.”

The Birmingham native is one of five women featured in “The Alabama Project: The Civil Rights of Health Care,” a collection of photographs that show young women battling breast cancer. The black-and-white images are a subset of “The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon.”

The Scar Project is a series of large, striking portraits of breast cancer survivors from across America who bravely display their physical scars. Fashion photographer David Jay captured the photos for both collections. They will be presented in a free, public exhibition at the UAB Visual Arts Gallery through Jan. 31, 2013.

“I think they are incredibly inspirational people,” Jay said of the women. “They were just so honest and open and beautiful about it.”

When Gray saw the photos of her on display — one of her preparing to get an MRI and another showing her wince while a nurse pricks her arm — she was moved to tears.

“I never thought they would want to take my picture because I didn’t think I was that important,” Gray said. “I pray it inspires someone. Even if it’s just one person, I will feel my journey hasn’t gone in vain.”

Today, after 20 weeks of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and more than six weeks of radiation, Gray is cancer-free. She plans to return to school this summer and complete her degree.

“Despite the obstacles, that still remains a goal for me,” she said.

The Alabama Project is co-sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure North Central Alabama and the Susan Mott Webb Charitable Trust. Cynthia Ryan, Ph.D., associate professor of English, and John Thomas Fields, interim director of the Visual Arts Gallery, produced the show.

“Once you are diagnosed with breast cancer your life is never the same,” said Ryan, herself a two-time breast cancer survivor. “As we move forward in the fight, it is important that we look within the individual stories to see what the experience is really about.”