Meet The Photographer Helping Cancer Patients Re-discover Their Beauty


There’s nothing like a tragic circumstance that will force perspective upon us. While we always pray and wish for good things to happen, most of us can cite horrible experiences in our lives as the catalyst for something beautiful, but only if we choose it.

Erena Shimoda is a San Francisco-base photographer who created a very special project to help female cancer patients. After going through a tragedy in her own life, losing her father to a car accident, she eventually came to the realization that she wanted to help other people heal and overcome painful experiences just like she had.

She started volunteering with the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” campaign where she interacted with many cancer patients. During this time she realized she could start her own project to help cancer patients, by combining her passion of photography and water (she has been a scuba diver for more than 10 years and has gone diving all over the world).

It reminds us of this photo shoot of former breast cancer patient Jill Brzezinski-Conley from Kentucky who, once she was declared cancer free, was invited to participate in a photo shoot with Australian photographer Sue Bryce. She captured the survivor in a series of stunning dresses in Paris, and it was a true celebration of beauty, strength and health.


In her line of work, Japanese-American Erena uses underwater photography as a healing technique for her subjects. It is also a way to give a fresh perspective on beauty, and re-ignite that passion within a person who may have lost it due to extraneous circumstances.

This is how Erena came up with the idea of raising money to do an underwater shoot with cancer patients, helping them to re-discover their beauty and to kick start the healing process from another angle.

In July 2013 she successfully managed to raise $10,000 for an Indiegogo campaign called ‘Underwater Healer-About Face’ and teamed up with to donate 40% of the proceeds to them. The rest of the money went toward covering her costs for the shoot.

“I wanted to share my own experience of recovery with others, especially cancer survivors,” Shimoda said. “I have worked with cancer survivors before and to see their faces as they look at their photographs is a truly wonderful experience.”

Throughout the campaign, Erena reached out to celebrity cancer survivors Angelina Jolie and Christina Applegate, to make them aware of this awesome project. No word on whether they responded, but we certainly hope they have seen these incredible pictures and read the inspiring stories.

about-face about-face

She ended up shooting six people; four from San Francisco and two from Seattle, all of which are 100% cancer free today, as they had to be healthy enough to be in chlorine water.

Erena told CBS news that she wanted to see how cancer patients overcame health problems and hoped that she would be able to use that experience to learn to cope with the pain of losing her own father.

The ‘About Face’ project and Erena’s goal is to inspire people all over the world. On her blog she talks about how her underwater photography has helped people in many ways, including many other types of patients who previously had a fear of water, but after seeing Erena’s beautiful photos were inspired to overcome their fears.

Bernadette Leno, a breast cancer survivor who who was diagnosed with stage 1 triple negative breast cancer in November 2010 traveled all the way from Vancouver, Canada for the shoot.

“After having so many surgeries and needle pokes, the session with Erena made me realize that I am a beautiful, strong woman — and that was an incredible realization,” she said.

Nicki Kominek from Provo, Utah is a Hodgkin’s disease survivor. She said the underwater photography session made her feel like herself again. “I intend to use the memory when I need to relax or am feeling scared about my health,” she said.

“During the session, it no longer mattered that I had many emotional scars and physical limitations due to my previous cancer treatment,” she said.

Erena using her skills as a photographer to do more than just capture an image, but also to elevate a human spirit is a true gift. Turning something that is painful into an opportunity to become an overcomer is a powerful thing, and a great example of how we as women can use our gifts and time to empower others.

You can see more of the captivating photos below, which completely redefine the way people view cancer patients. Beauty is not only skin deep, but is only visible on the outer surface when it is present within. Check out the rest of Erena Shimoda’s work on her website.






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