Updated: Wed, 06 Feb 2013 21:50:00 GMT | By Scott Stump, TODAY contributor

Woman with terminal cancer a model of beauty in Paris photo shoot



Jill Brzezinski-Conley, a double mastectomy patient with terminal cancer, hopes her stunning Paris fashion shoot can show others that those with cancer can still feel beautiful and sexy.

Jill Brzezinski-Conley, a double mastectomy patient with terminal cancer, hopes her stunning Paris fashion shoot can show others that those with cancer can still feel beautiful and sexy.

A series of stunning photographs of a Kentucky woman with terminal cancer has helped her spread the message that people living with the illness can still feel beautiful and sexy.

Jill Brzezinski-Conley, 35, was first diagnosed with cancer at 31 and now has incurable stage-4 breast cancer that has metastasized to her bones. In August, she took a five-day trip to Paris, where acclaimed Australian photographer Sue Bryce took elegant shots of her in front of the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks in the City of Light.

“It’s been an opportunity of a lifetime,’’ Brzezinski-Conley said in a documentary by videographer Hailey Bartholomew about the experience. “If we can change one life, then all of our dreams have come true.’’

After undergoing a double mastectomy, Brzezinski-Conley decided not to wear a prosthetic for the photo shoot. She believes the media doesn’t often show what women suffering from breast cancer actually look like and hopes to give people a glimpse while also raising cancer awareness.

"I just wanted to show all women, that you can be beautiful and sexy and why wear a prosthetic in a photo shoot when I don’t wear it in my real life?’’ she said in the documentary.

Brzezinski-Conley, who lives in Louisville with her husband, Bart, was able to take the magical trip thanks to childhood friend Nikki Closser, a wedding photographer in Seattle. Closser took shots of Brzezinski-Conley that she wanted to submit to magazines for breast cancer awareness month in October. She then emailed them to Bryce, who was so moved by the story that she contacted both women and invited Brzezinski-Conley to Paris three weeks later.

“Jill is someone who is beautiful and strong and hilarious and brings a positive energy and humor to every situation, including cancer,’’ Closser says in the documentary. “Her dream was to inspire other women to feel OK with their bodies whether they have any form of cancer, anything that has caused their body to look different from how society says we should look.’’

The photo shoot was a welcome respite for Brzezinski-Conley. She had only been married for six months when she was first diagnosed, then underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and surgery to remove a breast implant that had become infected. She was in remission for a year before being diagnosed with stage-4 cancer seven months ago. She was also told by doctors that she could not have children.

“It was just devastating,’’ she says in the documentary. “It’s indescribable how painful (a double mastectomy) is. You just don’t have any pride left.’’

Brzezinski-Conley’s positive outlook throughout her illness has inspired those around her, who hope the photos can lift the spirits of others in similar situations.

“If we can show everybody through her how to just be so beautiful with those scars out, that anybody could pretty much confront anything themselves after seeing something that beautiful,’’ Bryce says in the documentary. “I will say the entire time that she was without clothes, I never saw any scars on her body. I only saw this incredible smile.” 

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