Kelly Crump has changed the narrative for breast cancer survivors, or as she likes to say, “thrivers” everywhere. She was the first thriver to model for SI Swimsuit, showing a visible mastectomy scar, and she became an inspiration.
A friend encouraged her to apply to SI Swim Search. A 38-year-old Crump—who had forever been unhappy with her body and always wished to be smaller—would have laughed at the idea. But as a 43-year-old cancer thriver, Crump knew she had nothing to lose. Pretty soon she was on a plane beside 13 other finalists on their way to the Dominican Republic last May.
The reaction Crump had when she first saw the photo is not what you'd expect, but it's a feeling every woman knows too well.
“The first thing I said was ‘F---. They used that photo,’” she told InStyle.
Crump got over her moment of self-doubt when she realized the weight of showing her scar to the world and the inspiration she could be to other women. And she was right—after posting the photo on Instagram to her 27,000 followers, her comments and DMs flooded almost immediately.
“I love this post and your courage in taking the picture for the world to see,” someone wrote to Crump. “Truly beautiful scars and all. You have a similar confidence about you as my wife did. While she didn’t show her single mastectomy scar to others she never felt less than whole only having one boob. You both are true warriors!!”
“This picture makes me so happy. As someone that’s 27 and going through breast cancer treatment, I love seeing you in sports illustrated,” another fan messaged. “I’ve been feeling insecure since my mastectomy and losing my hair, but you look beautiful. I hope I can be confident in my body again soon.”
Crump was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer five years ago. There was no family history and she didn’t have the BRCA 1 gene but she knew she had to move fast. Crump had the tumor removed with a lumpectomy within five days of diagnosis and was told she needed chemo.
“All I’ve seen in the movies is people walking for breast cancer to raise money, or someone is bald, older and in a hospital dying. And that’s not necessarily what happens,” Crump said. “I think for most people they think of breast cancer as one thing, but I was shocked to know there are so many different kinds and subtypes—where it can be in the breast, and how it can show up.”
Crump, who describes herself as a type A personality, was planning to go back to work the following week. In 2019 she was told her cancer was incurable. She noticed a change in her energy and learned to pace herself, but not working has been difficult for the former Ralph Lauren retail operations manager.
Crump knows there were a million reasons for her to do the shoot and bare her mastectomy scar to the world. But to her, the most important was turning “pain into purpose.”
“I could show others who are dealing with/living with cancer that you can still go after your dreams, and you can work on getting you back after treatment,” she said. “It would help others to not feel ashamed of their scars and reconstructions, that you can still be sexy if you want.”