Breast Cancer Patient Makes Self-Portrait of Year in Treatment

Emily Helck set up her tripod and camera every week for a year to take self-portraits as she went through treatment for breast cancer and compiled them into a YouTube video, "One Year/One Minute," that has gone viral. (Credit: Emily Helck)

Emily Helck diligently set up her tripod every week for a year to take self-portraits as she went through treatment for breast cancer, but she said she never intended for the minute-long, time-lapse video to go viral.

"My average daily viewers were at, like, four," she told "I thought maybe a few dozen people would watch it."

Since she posted the video to her blog on Sept. 29, it's gotten more than 122,000 views.

"The response has been really, really positive," she said. "There's been so much support and so many well wishes from people who've watched."

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In the video, Helck sometimes smiles, but most of the time she doesn't. She doesn't shy away from photographing her bald head, her mastectomy bra, her drainage tubes and the red patch of skin above her left breast.

"I feel, I don't know, separate from this person somehow, even though the last photos are from just a few days ago," she blogged in the post accompanying the video. "I feel like the girl in the photos made it through pretty unscathed, though the look on her face sometimes makes me sad."

She wrote that the photos became "hash marks scratched on the wall," marking her time spent as a breast cancer patient.

Helck, a 29-year-old artist from Jersey City, N.J., started the blog in September 2012, when she started chemotherapy. The blog, called "Real Tumors of New Jersey" (a nod at the reality television show "Real Housewives of New Jersey"), was mostly intended to update friends and family. In other posts, she discussed the two versions of herself and the misplaced nostalgia she felt for prediagnosis times.

But sometimes Helck's reflective posts give way to short bursts of humor.

One blog post details a trip to New York in which a man points at Helck's chest to shout that she had "nice" breasts. Her response? "Joke's on you! One of these [expletive] is plastic, the other is wool."

She finished treatment at the end of August and has been trying to "get back to normal life" as best she can.

But now that people have seen Helck's blog, she said she hopes it can show them that being a cancer patient doesn't take away one's identity. She said just because she thought about cancer a lot in the past year, doesn't mean she didn't also think about "Project Runway" and want to curl up on the couch and watch "30 Rock."

"It's hard for people to understand that you're still the same silly person," Helck said. "You're not just a damaged, sick person, but you're also not this saint."

Patricia Helck, Emily's mother, said she couldn't be more proud of her daughter. This year, Helck blogged, finished her graduate degree, wrote a novel and fostered a pregnant cat (and its eventual kittens), her mother said.

"In the midst of horrible things that have happened to her … she's amazing in every way," she said.

Information is our best weapon against breast cancer, so Go Pink with us. Throughout the month, we'll bring you the information you need to protect yourself and inspiring stories from breast cancer survivors - there are 2.8 million in the U.S. alone. Armed with the facts, you can take our pledge to know your risk and get the screening tests appropriate for you.