Think back to when you were 21 – the liberation, the exhilaration, and how unstoppable you felt. Now envision being diagnosed with thyroid cancer at that same age. A few years later, testing positive as a carrier of the BRCA-1 gene raises an even greater risk of certain cancers – this would be anyone’s worst nightmare…but for Samantha Paige, it was her reality.
Despite facing her cancer diagnosis and undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she was stuck on autopilot throughout it all. She had been battling depression and anxiety for years, but never felt like she could fully confront those feelings head-on.
After her breakdown, Paige received a crucial wake-up call in the form of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis. This epiphany was exactly what she needed to start making positive changes.
“I eventually was able to be current with my emotions,” she said. “I had stuffed the sadness, disappointment, and hurt down for years.”
Paige was then able to make some difficult, yet essential decisions: she finished her marriage, closed down her jewelry company, and elected for explant surgery—which she began calling “final cuts.” Through courage and strength, Paige found the power within herself to begin a new journey of healing.
Her physical and emotional transformation eventually became The Last Cut Project – a photographic journey that was documented by the community.
After sharing her story, Paige Johnson was astonished by the inundation of support from others. Aiming to capture these experiences in a visual format, she collaborated with photographer Lisa Field and created EXPLANT: an exquisite gallery documenting her explant surgery journey.
“Lisa — an incredibly talented photographer but also one of my best friends — and I had spoken for years about creative collaboration, so when I had the idea to let someone in and capture this chapter of my life so intimately, I knew this was our moment to create together,” Levo was informed by her.
“Soon after the initial months of the project, I was beginning to physically heal and understand the deep emotional healing that transpires through sharing our stories.”
This month, EXPLANT photographs and Notes to a Friend multimedia installation by Yuri Angela Chung – both cancer survivors – have been presented at Site 57 Gallery in New York City. Through their work, they hope for more individuals to come forward and share their experiences with the world.
Paige stated that the purpose of all these efforts was to cultivate a sense of comradery.
“There is a palpable effect that occurs with this level of sharing and connection,” she explained. “We hope to inspire others, especially those we cannot meet with in person, to share and connect through our podcast, our @lastcutproject Instagram community, and our website.
“These last cut moments are incredibly internal and personally driven,” she added, “but we need community and support in these tremendous moments of bravery and change.”
Paige credits the encouragement from her friends and online community for aiding in her healing journey, both physically and mentally. As she believes that there is power in both aspects of recovery.
“When I got present with my emotions and stopped feeling as if I was living according to how I thought I should be, I was set free from the migraines, panic attacks, and anxiety,” she said. “If I ever feel the whisper of those come back in my body, I know I need to take an inventory to make sure I am living according to my truth and what I believe in most.”
Through her journey to self-love, Paige has grasped the significance of imparting this knowledge – whether through social media platforms, creative collaborations, or within a collective.
Through her Last Cut Conversations podcast, she is providing a supportive platform for women who are on their paths to transformation. Additionally, she has made it her mission to create an integrated online and offline community where these individuals can connect.
“Giving voice to the many last cuts I made leading up to the explant, and of course, that huge cut has been incredibly liberating,” she added. “Now my creativity and voice have space to come through in the art and in every connection I make.”