Dena Smith, who runs the fashion and beauty blog Leo With Cancer, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, on her 29th birthday. As she began chemotherapy, the now 33-year-old shared her treatment experiences with her blog followers. When she underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery three years later, she once again took her readers on the journey with her—and in the process, she shared beautiful photos of her recovery that flip the script on how the internet views cancer treatment.
When Smith searched online for ideas of what to expect from the reconstruction process after her mastectomy, she didn’t love what she found. “The internet of illness is a dark and scary place,” Smith tells SELF. “When I searched for images during the process of my mastectomy and reconstruction what I found just upset me. There were a lot of headless doctor’s office before and afters. Naked bodies do not look flattering standing in unflattering lighting without heads. Then there were these gorgeous heartbreaking photos, always black and white, of very brave, very sad people. That wasn’t how I saw myself after the surgery. I liked how I looked.”