Lifetime Networks and SHAPE Magazine's Remarkable Women

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I survived breast cancer

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Lifetime Networks and SHAPE Magazine's Remarkable Women

Lifetime Networks and SHAPE Magazine's Remarkable Women-2

Meredith Gray

Meredith Gray was 49 years old when she received a second diagnosis of breast cancer. An annual mammogram had revealed abnormalities in her left breast. She would learn that she had the aggressive HER2+ form of the disease—and no way to pay for treatment.

Three years earlier, Meredith had been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in her right breast. Following a lumpectomy, she underwent eight weeks of radiation therapy and walked away from the experience feeling cured, thankful, and fortunate.

This time, the situation was different. Her new insurance carrier had required that she waive her right to make any cancer-related claims for an "indeterminable future" because of her pre-existing condition—breast cancer. She also faced a difficult decision. Without a double mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, the chance that her cancer would metastasize was significant. Within weeks, surgeons amputated both her breasts and began reconstruction.

Meredith's mother died of pancreatic cancer at age 53. Meredith was 15 years old. Fear and secrecy surrounded her mother's diagnosis. No one was willing to discuss the "C-word." No one helped her understand what her mother was experiencing. No one helped her understand what had happened to her family. Years later, she realized that many women don't know what to expect when they receive the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer and decided to share her journey in the most intimate way she could. She decided to get naked—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Frustrated by her personal dilemma with health insurance while confronting a life-threatening diagnosis, Meredith sought a documentary filmmaker to chronicle her battle not only with the disease but also with the failure of the American health care system to provide adequate help for the hundreds of thousands of women who have had, have, or will have breast cancer. Just three weeks after the lumpectomy, award-winning producer Roynn Lisa Simmons started shooting Naked.

After Meredith's first diagnosis, she began to volunteer for breast cancer causes in Connecticut. In addition to mentoring newly diagnosed women, Meredith writes magazine and newspaper articles profiling breast cancer survivors and serves on fund-raising committees for breast cancer organizations. After her insurance provider twice refused to pay more than a fraction of the cost of her reconstructive surgery, Meredith enlisted the support of Connecticut Governor Jody Rell (also a breast cancer survivor), and the provider reversed its decision. She has also corresponded with Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman James Himes on health care reform issues.

Collaborating with photographer Claudia Hehr, Meredith is finishing the memoir of her most recent battle with breast cancer. Also titled Naked, the book is a narrative of her 12-month journey accompanied by powerful images of her body as it changed, as she lost her breasts, her hair, her sense that she could depend on her body.

In the world of fashion, where Meredith has spent her career, body image is everything. She is determined to break down the stereotype of the "perfect body" and wants all women to understand that the loss of a breast or breasts does not make them less than whole. She hopes both the documentary and the book will help women discover the true meaning of beauty—the beauty found deep within. 

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