Oct. 28, 2022 – Kelly Crump never expected to be a model in this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and she definitely never thought she would be the first-ever cancer patient to show a mastectomy scar in its pages.
Her path to that photo was an act of perseverance. Urged by one of her friends, Crump, who spent her career working as a manager in the fashion industry, first submitted online photos to the magazine’s editors in 2020.
“I took bikini photos in my back garden – in the snow,” says Crump, who was diagnosed with stage III invasive breast cancer 5 years ago at age 38 after finding a lump in the under part of her left breast, where the breast met her ribs.
After a lumpectomy, she learned that her tumor was HER2 hormone-positive. She was going to start chemotherapy right away, but she and her husband wanted to do an in-vitro fertilization cycle first. In January 2018, she began chemotherapy.
When she went to have her chemo port removed in May 2018, a nurse sent her for a PET scan. That’s when her health care providers discovered that she had grown a new 5-centimeter tumor in the same breast.
“The best option at that point for me was a mastectomy – a preventive on the right and a mastectomy on the left,” she says, adding that she then did seven more rounds of chemo before learning in 2019 that the cancer had spread to lymph nodes in her neck, spine, her 12th rib, and nodes in her armpit. She is currently living with a diagnosis of stage IV metastatic breast cancer.
And, while she wasn’t picked to model in the magazine that first year, she remained undaunted and reached out to the editorial team again the next year.
This time, she became a finalist, was chosen to model in the magazine and, within a week, she flew to the SI shoot in the Dominican Republic.
That’s when a particular bathing suit – and an idea – came to Crump, now 42.
“One day we were doing a fitting, and I picked out a blue-and-yellow suit with the colors of the Ukraine flag,” she says. “My face lit up because of the colors, and also because I saw that it was a one-breast suit.”
What happened next happened organically.
“The editor and I started talking about my port scar, and she asked if I felt comfortable showing it,” she says. “I’m very open about all of my scars, so I told her I had no issue showing that scar as well as my mastectomy scar.”
Two days later, she was on set in that suit, the first in Sports Illustrated to ever show a mastectomy scar.
“This moment felt like something handed to me by something bigger than me,” she says. “Everything was the way I wanted to show it, and it was the best way to share my message that you can feel sexy – even after the trauma of breast cancer and reconstruction.”
Since then, Crump, who spends her days working as a cancer and wellness coach, says she has gotten lots of positive feedback from other women, which helps her stay positive, despite the challenges of daily life with cancer and the fact that she goes for chemotherapy IVs every 21 days.
“Every day, I get messages from women saying things like, ‘I haven’t felt good about myself and my scar since my surgery,’ 'you’ve made me rethink how I feel about myself,’ and ‘I haven’t taken my shirt off in front of my husband since my surgery, and now I will,'” she says. “I never dreamed of being in SI and saying, ‘I want to stand there and show my mastectomy scar and feel proud of it.’ I could have been in a lot of different photos, but I did this for everybody else. That was what was so powerful.”