My name is Shannon Gray. I’m so excited you are here. This is my story.
Late 2018 I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. Multiple surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy put me into remission. During this time, my photography business was put on hold. I turned the camera around and used my art as a tool to communicate. Finding therapy in exercise, I challenged my body to become better than before. Daily training was a way to feel strong again. Documenting the process was proof of my rehabilitation.
May of 2020 doctors found the cancer had metastasized to my sternum- more surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. Again, I focused on self-portraits, finding good in every week, documenting life as a family through social media.
After my stage four diagnosis, my husband and I reevaluated our lives. We prioritized what was important. Our retirement goals of beach living after our daughter was college bound seemed distant, even untouchable. Our twenty-year plan, fast tracked to twenty days when we bought a vacation home on Alabama’s coast. The beach became more than a place but a refuge- somewhere to escape debilitating treatments in trade for calming sounds of waves and turquoise waters.
Over the years, survivors would contact my Instagram account DocumentingtheFight. Originally the account began small with family and friends. As time went on, survivors were emailing me from around the country about how appreciative they were of my images. From some just diagnosed, it was a way to see reality instead of scary Google searches. For others, came comfort in knowing they were not alone. My art transformed from fear to hope and inspiration. An idea to create a blog was inspired by these emails. It would be a way to tell my sorry and create a community of survivors redefining cancer. Many survivors are locked away in homes and hospitals due to immunocompromised systems. Having a blog would be something survivors could check in, leave comments or questions, and interact with a community. It could be a place of encouragement and inspiration. The world is changing. I want my art to not only be beautiful but to inspire and empower all who encounter it.
For 32-MILES, I will document through visual storytelling via DSLR and an action camera. I will carry multiple cameras and gear along my journey to capture unique and compelling images. I will photograph planning to completion. Hundreds of images, past and present, will be documented then published in blog format. Each will be carefully chosen to represent a story of over-coming struggles and appreciation for life. Each image will stand alone as a testament of strength. As a whole, the series will create a narrative that confronts the reality of living with cancer, continuing to flourish anyway, inspiring others to choose the same path.
My life has not always been easy but I am surrounded by people who fiercely love me. My current diagnosis has awakened a passion for life. My husband and I have chosen to do things that are important, to not waste a single day. The past few years have shown healing in community and exercise. I want to share those experiences with others. 32-MILES is a self-documentary of my journey through breast cancer survivorship running Alabama’s thirty-two miles of white sand beaches between Fort Morgan and Perdido Pass. I will document my training, struggles, and triumphs while recalling memories of my cancer experiences. This will lead to the final run and path to recovery culminating into a passionate self-portrait series. Through my story and love of running, I want to empower survivors to better themselves. I want to inspire others, through my vulnerability in the rehabilitation process, to push through and achieve goals thought impossible. I have an obligation to show a new view of survivorship. If I can give, even just one survivor, purpose and hope to take that first step, my goal of this project would be fulfilled.
Along with me
Husband and #1 Fan
“I love this woman with all my heart and soul. She doesn’t believe in soulmates, but I know she is mine. The time we spend together outdoors and especially at the beach is powerful and healing for our family. I have been an outdoorsman since I was a child and have been fortunate enough to find a woman who enjoys it as much as me. I will continue to support her in all she decides to do. I feel confident that her work will touch someone’s life beyond our family.”
Barbells For Boobs, Mission Manager
“I overlook all of our programs, making sure we are supporting breast cancer survivors in their mental health and physical activity. My educational background is a master’s degree in Sport and Performance Psychology and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. I work one-on-one with survivors in our program by helping them to create healthy habits, increase confidence, anxiety coping mechanisms, communication, resources, and to be a support system. Our BFB Coach and I work closely to make cohesive individual plans to combine physical activity and mental health during treatment and after.”
Barbells for Boobs, RAD Coach
“I’m the RAD Coach at Barbells For Boobs. RAD stands for resources after diagnosis so what I do is provide women with workouts and different physical activity solutions after a breast cancer diagnosis. I coach online classes for our community, program the workouts, make sure all movements and exercises are correctly performed all while monitoring their overall progress. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion with a minor in coaching from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2014. I work closely with the Missions Manager at Barbells For Boobs to provide well rounded programs for our community. Together we ensure the women are focusing on both their physical and mental health because they go hand in hand.”