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"My double mastectomy doesn't make me less sexy."

Ericka Hart was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2014. “It’s just different when you’re the one that needs to be taken care of,” she says.

Her mother passed away due to breast cancer when she was 13, so the disease wasn’t new to her.

But when she received her diagnosis, four months before her wedding and while going to graduate school for human sexuality education, it felt very new.

“I had a lot of questions. And I had the thought of, ‘Am I going to die?'” she says. “But I knew we were going to get through this. I had the best doctor in the country, who was also my friend.”

Hart remained optimistic, even after having a double mastectomy. Her wedding gave her something to focus on. While others were concerned with the fact that she didn’t have breasts, she spent her time planning her ceremony.

“A lot of people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, you don’t have breasts.’ We get lumped into these conversations, and people say we should just focus on breast cancer,” she says.

“But that isn’t fair. We have other things to focus on.”

The following year, Hart prepared to have reconstructive surgery for her breasts. She says it was challenging for her doctor to find images of reconstructive scars on black skin.

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“There have been so many instances where I’ve been the only black person or the only queer person, or both,” she says.

“Here’s another time. Taking off my shirt was a direct result of that.”

“Here” is the Afropunk Festival, in Brooklyn. In August this year, Hart went topless to the festival. She was a little nervous but felt very safe, mostly because a lot of festivalgoers were young, black, and queer.

Celebrities who’ve battled cancer. Post continues below. 

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And she knew she wanted to share her story. By celebrating her body so publicly, Hart brought awareness to breast cancer survivors of all races and sexual orientations. And she also flew the flag for black queer people, who constantly fight limiting stereotypes.

Hart didn’t want to be viewed through one lens anymore.

As a sex educator, this was very important to her.

“My nipples don’t get reported on Instagram because I don’t have nipples. I’m seen as some kind of hero,” she says. “The fact that that doesn’t happen is messed up. I went topless because I wanted to reclaim my sexuality.”

“People resist… By telling their story.” – bell hooks I am completely moved beyond words that I am on the cover of the @washingtonpost next to the President of the United States, Barack Obama @barackobama and John Lewis on a historic day! All my thanks to @laolunyc and his team for making this insane ancestral artwork happen. I thank my love, Ebony Donnley for providing me this opportunity to share my writing, activism, and holding me (and my stuff) all day. I thank my ancestors for instilling me with resiliency and fearlessness to be able to wake up everyday. My only desire continues to be that my work makes a difference. #nmaahc #sacredartoftheori #washingtondc #breastcancer #awareness #smithsonian #apeoplesjourney #makinghistory #laolunyc #grateful #honored #qpoc #blacklivesmatter #blackgirlmagic #carefreeblackgirl #hope

A photo posted by Ericka Hart (@ihartericka) on

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Hart also recently went topless at the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

If there’s one thing Hart wants you to take away from her story, it’s that you should learn to love your body, whatever it looks like, and whatever it has endured.

“If you don’t love your body, that’s okay. Let’s investigate why,” she says.

“You only have one. It’s not practice.”

This post originally appeared on Spring Street. It’s a happy place for smart women, come say hello.