Almost two years ago, in June, Anastasia Chomlack jumped into the hotel shower, on her way to photograph a wedding in Arizona. The then-39-year-old founder of the Whistler Wedding Collective and Anastasia Photography had been shooting destination weddings for over a decade. She had a manic summer ahead—30 weddings booked, and a million ideas for creative collaborations and mentoring coming to fruition. And then she found the lump.
She landed, suddenly and shockingly, in her body.
"It wasn't like, 'Oh this is a lump. It was: where did you come from? You are a massive lump in my breast.' I shower the same way every day. And it really felt like it had come out of nowhere."
At first, she and husband Chad processed the diagnosis privately, trying to quietly get a grasp of what they were dealing with. But when their community wanted to host a fundraiser, they were prompted to be more open about their journey than their initial inclination.
"I've photographed hundreds of weddings and I've learned to see what's real and what's not," says Chomlack. "I'm bothered by things that aren't. During cancer, I tried to put something out there that was real. But it felt very vulnerable and very scary, because I wondered if I was to blame for my cancer and was struggling processing the possibility of that."
She posted long candid posts on her Facebook account, pulled out of her journal, edited, and re-edited a hundred times before she shared them. The response was huge—she got hundreds of comments and emails from people, telling her how inspired or altered or influenced they were, asking for updates. "I wanted to write in a way that gave me, and others, hope, but I wanted to be honest about what we were walking through. The cost of not being honest and not being vulnerable is just too high."
We first met when Chomlack was on the other side of her treatment, a week before her one year PET scan, blood test and chest X-rays, and though she was terrified of the results, she mused, "Cancer was a gift. I had to walk into my own pain and suffering and realize that I am enough, that I am not to blame for this. Cancer can happen to anyone. There have been great, amazing people in this community who have passed away and no one would ever say they didn't do enough. They just died of cancer because we live in a broken world and we are not entitled to a long life and foreverness. That's probably something I'll be sorting through for the rest of my life. I feel more grounded now than I've ever been. I was definitely in a rush, in a hurry, very busy, very go-go-go. I haven't lost any of that desire, I still get a thousand ideas at a time, but the way I'm processing them, the way I'm communicating them, has changed. They hold a weight now that they didn't have before.
"For me, it took illness to slow me down. Not everyone has to become ill or have some traumatic event to slow them down. But as women—oh, it's hard for us. We have our hand in so many things as moms and business owners and friends and wives. Our potential to dream and create is so huge. Sometimes we don't slow down enough to really realize what we need."
After Chomlack's tests came back all clear, she began to seriously explore, what did she need? What did she want to do? Where did she want to put her energy? How did photography fit into her remade, less-frantic self?
Through a single Instagram post and a single Facebook post, she soft-launched a Women's Series, offering five portrait sessions that were immediately filled. The photo shoots evolved into deeply personal, one-day retreats, complete with make up artist, personal stylist, coaching and catering, and the feedback was so positive and phenomenal that Chomlack has now launched the Women's Empowerment Sessions, which she's booking now through the spring.
"I'd started to think about the women in my life and all the women I'd met in my cancer journey, and I realized that women really need to know who they are. They need truth. They need people in their life saying 'I see you. I see all the things about who you are when you're not running around being busy.'"
And so this is where Anastasia Chomlack has landed—inviting women to slow right down and land in their own lives, and skins, and stories, for at least, one entire day. And be seen. Beautifully, fully, seen.
The Velocity Project: how to slow the f*&k down and still achieve optimum productivity and life happiness.