Surviving: progress and details

9 years, 7 months ago 60

Thank you all for such warm and emotional responses, and for sharing with me some of your own experiences with breast cancer. I should confess that, although I had finished this doll over two months ago, I was very hesitant to show it, because exposing my fears this way to others, made me feel very vulnerable. Creating a physical embodiment of my fears with my own hands felt both frightening and cathartic.

But the breast cancer doll didn’t start out the way you see her. She started out like this:


At first, I wanted to explore the idea of metastasis, the most advanced stage of cancer, where cancer cells spread to different parts of the body through the axillary lymph nodes. After having studied many horrifying photographs of women with visible lesions, I made this first version the the doll.


Basing the look of the lesions on the real ones, I wanted to draw the comparison to something living and invasive, like some sort of a cunning, parasitic organism, such as a spider or a flesh-eating beetle. But, for some reason this didn’t sit well with me, partially because it was rather horrifying and nauseating, so I decided to abandon that angle and choose a more open-ended and a much more optimistic approach.


It’s as if I didn’t want to give my doll a death sentence. I realized that, for my own sanity, she had to be a hopeful doll, with many subtler layers of meaning and symbols.



One of the cancer survivors had given me this idea for a henna crown, that she herself had done, and I thought it was very beautiful.


The Surviving doll is also in a way a Christian martyr Saint Agatha of Sicily, who was tortured and had her breasts cut off in punishment for her faith. Having first seen it in a museum a couple of years ago, I was very stricken a painting of St.Agatha, holding a platter with her amputated breasts and to my astonishment, gazing down at them calmly and peacefully, as if she wasn’t bothered by the ordeal at all.  It was impossible not to see this as symbolism for struggle with breast cancer, double mastectomy and survival, and it made me think of how other women experienced it and how I might experience it myself, if I’m ever faced with cancer.

At one point I almost titled this doll St.Agatha: The patron saint of breast cancer victims, but that didn’t sit quite right with me for some reason….don’t know why….perhaps in part because I’m an atheist…..just didn’t have the right message in it, i think.

Does any one have any thoughts, opinions or a preference for either title?

What do you think about my decision to go with a double mastectomy symbolism instead of the severe lesions?

60 Responses

  1. noxy says:

    I agree with you, while the legions are very, very disturbing, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a doll form from this piece – I prefer the doll you chose to go with. The doll that has hope.

  2. Pyrochan says:

    While I see where you were going with the lesions the end result did look a little more like a piece of horror art, intended to shock and entertain, and I think that came across far more than the message you wanted to have. I’m glad you stuck to your artists instinct. :D

  3. Nicky Cooper says:

    you have made this doll as a beacon of hope and it is outstanding, you have placed its meaning and effect in a way that is both realistic but comforting. Thank you for sharing this with us all xxxx

  4. Mari says:

    I agree with noxy, pyrochan and nicky. She MUST show HOPE.Thak you; Marina. She’s so beautiful because of her illness.

  5. Katrin Alekand says:

    I love the whole idea you put it up. And indeed – instead of horror and helpless grief (metastasis) the hope and life seems more promising for me. But – if you ever show this doll or put it up somewhere I would recommend to use torso part, too. That is the beginning and the feeling of scare is probably one step of this disiease we can’t help with. It is and probably will be there, always.
    And the idea of breast-bra is cool, too. I’ve read of women who have regular henna on their scars or make a tattoo over the place of amputated breast as an act of reconciliation with her body. They do not use fake bras, they just learn to accept their bodies as it is.
    I named this doll for myself Survivior. Or Survivior Agatha – if you feel like having link to saint.
    This is fragile and brave piece of work. And stunningly beautiful as all your works are. Thank you!

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marina Bychkova and Atita, Jenny Lloyd. Jenny Lloyd said: RT @Enchanted_Doll: Added some progress shots of my latest doll, "Surviving", to my blog […]

  7. Sara says:

    I agree with your decision to go with with the double mastectomy doll. The lesions version, while skillfully executed, is more of a shock to the system and makes you want to avert your eyes. Your final doll has a quiet resolve, almost a sense of dignity in acceptance of the fact that she’s lost one of the things that “makes her a woman,” but she’s beaten that cancer and is moving on. At least, that’s how I think of it.

    My aunt had breast cancer and luckily it was caught early, but she needed a single mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. I think its definitely something that many women have to deal with internally, in addition to the life-threatening nature of having cancer surgery, you also have to remove a large part of what makes many of us ladies feel so feminine–our breasts (and also our hair!). Its no light matter, in my opinion, especially in a time where so many women battle with body image issues to begin with. Thankfully, the reconstructive surgery techniques improve all the time and can do an impressive job of recreating natural looking/feeling breasts.

    I don’t mean to make this about looks or vanity by any means, or to downplay the more important issue of health over looks, but its just an interesting part of the battle in my opinion. So yes, I think she represents hope and I LOVE how she came out, its very moving!

  8. I don’t think you could have made her any more perfect Marina. I think you made the right choice. The shock or the lesions has a powerful message, but would have distracted from the beautiful Hope you’ve managed to capture.
    I have to admit that you made me cry. She’s so stunning and her message is so special. You’ve been very brave to share her and your story with us.
    I really wish that me Auntie Marion could have seen her before we lost her to secondary cancer after her recovering from brest cancer. She would have adored her.

  9. Brigitte says:

    I think Surviving is a wonderful title, in every way I’m glad that you went in the direction that you did.

  10. Habox says:

    As for me I agree with “Surviving”.

    In my head also is idea about “Newlla” = “New Life After”/”Second Life after”.

    This doll is great piece of art indeed.

  11. Amal says:

    I too am glad you went the way you did. Although less explicit, your final piece is both harrowing and touching at the same time. I feel the same about the title.

  12. gabriela says:

    oh so lovely, the title “Surviving” is perfect.
    She’s so beautiful

  13. Marina I so agree with them”Surviving” but I do understand you for wanting a so called name. Well I did some searching and I found 2 names.

    Veronique (french) Victoria (english)

    These names mean she has conquerored has won the victory. Like Ive said many times you are a master in your trade. Its the be true to your self artiste instinct you listen to, and the out come of her is irreproachable.

  14. Gisela says:

    I want to sare something.. my grandmother died for breast cancer, 7 years ago…. and her name was Agueda… I love the name Survivor… but I love the idea that you know this Saint…Agueda…like the name of my grandmother. Thaks Marina, this doll is amazing.

  15. Guilherme Peniche says:

    I think for it was like an exorcism, cathartic and symbolic. A very symbolic and (as jungian therapist) a process of individuation.
    I think you should keep both. Metastasis and the Mastectomy are like dark and white side. Like us inside. We have the white side iluminated by the light of the consciousness and the hidden side, the shadow of our own psyche.
    In there any possibility for you to make her torso magnetic so it can be changed if chosen to be changed?!
    Think about this :)

  16. Signe says:

    Agatha is not a bad name for this doll. I like the reference, though I am not a catholic or christian. We all need someone to look up to. I heard someone say on Oprah that we are all souls in humansuits. So what if that suit needs a repair! It will not be the same and you will have to change, I do not underestimate the emotions that go with it. But I do focus on hope and survival! I would rather loose my breast than my life!
    I do not like the lesions, though I do get the shockeffect that is sometimes necessary to make a point. In this case though, for me, it does not ring the breastcancer bell. It makes me think of general illness or the plague.

    The pink ribbon on the bra is a great detail!

  17. Astera says:

    I believe that Surviving is a perfect name, because, like the design you finally picked for the torso, it gives hope for the future, shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    Alternatively, you could call her Agatha the Survivor, leaving out the “Saint”. This way you could reference the christian tradition in a more subtle way…(but maybe the term “Survivor” evokes reality tv too much…).

  18. Eiko says:

    It’s interesting to see how you developed this doll. The lisions chest is pretty disturbing and scary. I think that if you had gone with that look, it would’ve distracted from the message that you were trying to convey.

    I’m glad that you went for the more hopeful approach. It still shows the effects of breast cancer on women but it gives us all hope that one can survive it. So I think that ‘Surviving’ is a perfect name for this doll.

  19. Kimmi says:

    I’m going to do a bit of psychoanalysis here–I could be totally wrong, since I’m not in your head–but here’s my opinion:

    I think the original concept you had for the doll, as well as your first torso, was your way of confronting your fear. You created the thing that was most horrifying and disgusting to you as a way to admit your fear and see it face-to-face.

    Once you had faced your fear, your brain came up with an alternative… one that was still based off of your fear, but provided a better ending. In this alternate version, although it still wasn’t desirable, it offered hope.

    Therefore, I think that the original version is still important, if only that it represents fear and the fact that you conquered it through this doll. However, I think your second doll is much, much much better.

    I also like the original name, Survivor. Although the story about the saint is interesting, I don’t think it’s very relatable. Survivor has implications of inspiration, strength, and determination. :)

  20. Amal says:

    Interesting analysis, Kimmi!! I wonder if you’re right – it’s a very plausible theory!

  21. Linda says:

    I had a “henna crown” & “shield of victory” , on my chest while doing chemo to fight breast cancer. Art heals. Henna art helped through the difficult journey I had to make & in many ways still am. My chest looks just like “Survivor” And you know what? I still think I am beautiful.
    Surviving is what is important. Early detection is the key!
    You did yourself proud. this doll was EVERYTHING I was hoping for & more……

    Thank you so very much!
    You Inspire!

  22. Alanielle says:

    I really love the way this doll become at the final.
    She’s really a true and pure hope. She is a sign of a great bravery and strength woman can possess.
    I think that this piece of art should give everyone fighting breast cancer hope and new powers to go on, to win, to live and see the beautiness of life for many and many years more.
    When I see Surviving, I think of those words Rudyard Kipling once said: ‘And so hold on when there is nothing in you, except the will, which says to them ‘Hold on!’
    So I think, your art is as true, as art should be. Thank you, Marina, for what you create!

  23. Orangey says:

    Hm, interesting, the first one is a bit of a horror doll, very devastating. In a way, there would only be one point to that doll, and that would be to terrify those who look at her that are worried about cancer or are suffering from cancer. Her face could not be Surviving’s face either, I imagine she would have to look like she is ready to be buried. Although the work you did is incredible and it’s a horrifying situation for those whose cancer causes them to suffer in this way, so well done depicting those horrible lesions. But Surviving was perfectly executed, I’m not sure if there is anything to change. She’s fantastic as is, beautiful and hopeful, yet with that element of the scars.

  24. Deb Kennedy says:

    Linda, who commented above, she of the henna crown and shining spirit, is my friend. She gave me the link to come see this doll…. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes.

    Marina, your work is amazing. You have captured the irrepressible spirit and soul of women who have battled this hideous disease and have triumphed. Your doll’s expression and eyes ARE Hope itself, and the photos in your previous post that show her both with and without the ‘bra’ capture the essence of beauty in BOTH poses. A woman is not her breasts, or her body… she is her Soul. My friend Linda taught me this and inspires me every day.

  25. Yes I do think the second version is better, for the reasons you mentioned but also because the first one looks visually like something you might see in a sci-fi horror film and that lessens her impact as a testimony to real afflictions. The more understated doll is all the more striking.

  26. Nicole Zhang says:

    I like your choice, go with a double mastectomy symbolism. I agree, she delivers HOPE. The severe lesions is more …hit my heart.But I felt hopeless,I can not face it. I totally can feel what you said: “although I had finished this doll over two months ago, I was very hesitant to show it, because exposing my fears this way to others, made me feel very vulnerable” If it is me, I just can not make it out.

    But I so glad that you think out the double mastectomy symbolism and chose it at the end… What I see from her is the nightmare was ended.She survives .
    P.S I love your pieces.Thanks for all the art you create and share.

  27. Linda says:


    Your fear of having breast cancer I hope does not stop you from getting a mammagram. People are afraid to hear that they have cancer. But the reality is “the “sooner” you know you have cancer…the “sonner” you can begin to FIGHT!. Having cancer is NOT a death sentance like it use to be.
    I know! That is what I FELT! I didnt want to know! How silly I was. I put it off until I had no more exuses. I was 56 years old before I had my first mammagram. And it runs in my family. The mammagram found the small tumor. I would never have found it on my own. It was sitting deep against my chest wall.
    Between the time of the biopsy & my surgery, about 3 weeks the cancer became more agressive. I would have been walking around with agressive breast cancer WITHOUT KNOWING IT! And putting myself at a grave risk for not surviving it.
    My inner strength took over something I didnt know I had. My biggest fear was what do i look like without hair. I didnt think about what i would look like without my breasts. Once I saw I didnt look like a monster without my hair I was fine. I even had my hair shaved at a beauty school so students could get practice cutting & shaving hair. I walked out of that place with my head high and even took the bus home! You just take one day at a time, everything else.
    Please dont be afraid. Take care of yourself. You really do want to know.


  28. Tatie says:

    surviving is way to go, i like it too

  29. Joanna N says:

    I’m glad that you showed the process of this doll. About your question, the option of the mastectomy is better/ the best.
    When we think about a disease, and specially about one like cancer, we always imagine the worst, it’s difficult seeing some exit to that situation. Your first idea, I think that it represented pretty well that side of how awful is that disease and the fear that facing it causes.
    But you have known how to change that representation, turning something really sad into a beautiful and encouraging message. Also, I think that this way of approaching the disease, the overcoming theme, it fits perfectly in the lovely and delicate universe of enchanted doll.
    It’s a great work, whit a pretty message that has moved me. Congratulations !

  30. Kamila says:

    I think you made all the right decisions here artistically, regarding the doll and the title. The sainthood association works as it is subtle yet strong enough to be noticed. The torso is still quite disturbing but without being gruesome.

    Putting a very personal doll like this one out there is probably quite unsettling. I hope it helps to know she was met with such overwhelmingly positive response. The doll has a profound fragility about her that makes the audience want to reach out and protect her. It is something that I admire in all your creations and it is very strong in this one in particular.

  31. Marcia says:

    You really made the right choice and you did it beautifully and sensitively. Thank you

  32. MollyTheWanderer(Idaho) says:

    I like the double masectomy choice better. For one, the lesions are rather hard to look at, while the scars (tho macabre) are facinating to gaze at for a long time. Second, the scars are a symbol of overcoming cancer, instead of the cancer itself being the focus. So you made the right choice.

  33. Lee Gwo Yinn says:

    Hello from Singapore and KL.

    I cried when I first saw your previous post.

    My aunt, the youngest and prettiest of 4 sisters, died from breast cancer. She fainted when given the diagnosis, and I think her fear made her resist going for proper treatment until after the cancer has spread.

    My friend Pauline, a fellow dollmaker, had breast cancer. She went through masectomy, chemo and physical therapy, and has now been cancer-free for 8 years.

    Your dolls reminded me of both women.

    Thank you.

  34. Victoria says:

    Surviving is such a tender doll and definitely gives a more hopeful feeling than the legions would.

    Perhaps it is because I am not an atheist, but I do not think being an atheist is a reason to reject your St. Agatha title. However, her cause doesn’t really have the same feel of being taken by a disease. A victim isn’t really the same as a martyr, it’s a completely different set of emotions I would say so I approve of your new title.

  35. Anita from Portugal says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your amazing ideas and beautifull dolls with all of us. It’s the perfect title, because it’s all about surviving, being abble to have hope in overcoming.
    This doll is trully remarkable and she reaches out to us.
    It’s all about surviving.

  36. Ana Inés Bidault Terra says:

    Wow… Really, your creativity knows no bounds. I admire you so much, you can make a very strong message from your work.
    I want to work the same as you if I have a chance, seriously.
    Congratulations! :)

  37. Sissym says:

    This is so touching, I did not know this story about Saint Agatha. Certainly it reminds of so many women who struggle against this terrible disease.

  38. Sissym says:

    Your work is magnificent and I quite understand why you thought when could show to the public. Speaking of this disease causes different sensations.

  39. Nathalie Ortega García says:

    I think surviving is a great title;
    don’t be afraid of the possibility of having breast cancer in the future;be afraid of not catching it in time, this is the most important.It’s me who have detected this strange lump in my left breast and I knew since the beginning that it wasn’t a good thing; somehow, a woman knows when something is going wrong with her body and acting quickly is decissive. Perhaps is something benign,maybe a fatty cyst but you MUST know in order to find the cure as soon as possible.
    Take care of yourself
    We love you.

  40. Teri Ann McFarlan says:

    She is beautiful!!! I am a stage I breast cancer survivor, I have friends who were stage IV and V who chose not to have augmentation…they are very inspirational to me. They say that their concave breastless chests represent bravery and that they are proud of their scarss, they are battle wounds. I like the idea presented in another post of keeping the title “Survivor” but give her a name. Perhaps the name of another female survivor whom you admire? …….Everyone…..Don’t forget to do self breast checks and try to have both a mammogram as well as an ultrasound, my cancer was not detected on my annual mammogram which I had had done just months prior to discovering it myself. It did show up when they did a breast ultra sound and my oncologist told me that 20% of breast cancers aren’t detected by a mammogram. That was a huge surprise.

  41. Teri Ann McFarlan says:

    oops … sorry for getting so preachy! Take care!! xoxoxoxo Teri

  42. Linda says:


    I am glad your cancer was found early. I think we all need every tool possible to detect any kind of cancer.
    And more importantly we need to trust that little voice we all have within us. More times than not its right.
    Learn to ask questions when you see your doctor. They are not gods. If you are not happy with your doctor, find a new one. You are suppose to be a team. It makes all the difference.

  43. Nathalie Ortega García says:

    you are sooo right!,I changed the first hospital because every doctor that spoke to me there seemed to have a very poor empathie with my situation as a cancer patient,and in adition, each visit seemed to be worst than the previous one; so, I asked them to give me my dossier and the information of all the tests they had done to me and moved to another hospital and doctor.The new doctor was a woman,so warm and confident;she explained all about the nature of my cancer and if it was agressive or not and assured me a lot.And every one in that new hospital was very kind and warm.Yes,they are human and is a right of yours to find the place and the doctor that treates you as you want or need.

  44. Karolina says:

    this doll is beautiful. delicate but so powerfull. I love it. The idea with mastektomised brests is more meaningfull to me.

  45. Thanks for dropping by Shyam. We didn’t quite follow your opening sentence. Have you just got back from Manali? And, btw, thanks for telling us about Naggar castle. It’s a shame you couldn’t go up to Rohtang. It’s an absolutely amazing experience. Worth going back for a second time. The road from Swarghat to Chandigarh on our return journey was a smooth drive for us. If only we’d taken it on the way up, instead of the Baddi one!Do drop by again will be posting our Kaziranga experience in a day or two. Happy travelling!

  46. mary says:

    I love this doll. I just went through the double mastectomy and this is soooo how I feel. I feel like I am trying to show my beauty to myself first and then to my husband. He thinks I look just fine. I love this doll and for the first time since I went through all of this, I cried my eyes out when I saw her. She gives me hope.

    Thank you so much for creating her. Is she sold?

  47. Hosea Palisi says:

    As I web-site possessor I believe the content material here is rattling excellent , appreciate it for your efforts. You should keep it up forever! Good Luck.

  48. Skye says:

    I am really interested in buying one of these dolls. Is there a way i can buy one?

  49. katya says:

    Nadya. Hope.
    Amazing art.

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