Mastectomy surgery is a standard part of breast cancer treatment for many of the more than 200,000 women diagnosed with the disease each year in the U.S. And while a lot of women speak candidly about the emotional challenges of breast cancer, most refrain from publicly revealing its physical impact.
But not Ann Marie Giannino-Otis.
The Fayetteville, N.C. resident documented her breast cancer battle from the very beginning, including the "after" photos of her surgery. In October, she posted photos of the results of her double mastectomy on a Facebook page she called "Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer." Her intention was to offer support to other women undergoing breast cancer treatment, but instead she set off a firestorm of controversy.
The social network removed the photos of her bare chest and mastectomy scars, claiming they were pornographic.
"Until you can see what's behind breast cancer you don't understand it," Giannino-Otis told CBS affiliate WTVH. "If you can't understand it then how can you help someone heal."
This is not the first time Facebook has attempted to ban mastectomy images. New York City fashion photographer David Jay has taken more than 100 portraits of topless young breast cancer survivors, in a series he calls "The Scar Project." When he shared the evocative pictures on Facebook, the company removed them.
But Giannino-Otis, whose cancer has been in remission for six months and who also keeps a blog, fought Facebook with a petition of more than 500,000 signatures of people who supported her efforts to continue documenting her experiences. And it worked.
Giannino-Otis was now free to share her photos on Facebook, as long as she adheres to a set of new guidelines. "They overturned their policy. And it had to be a mastectomy picture, educational, surgical, and no nipples," she explained.
But many people on the site still struggle to stomach her graphic images. The photos are frequently flagged by users, but Giannino-Otis refuses to remove them.
"They want everything to be beautiful and it's not. Breast cancer is not pretty. Not in the least bit," she said.
She added, "The battle is to keep helping women and I will never ever stop doing that."