The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model with a Mastectomy Scar

Kelly Crump opens up about being the first cancer “thriver” to model for the iconic issue — and how she’s helping others to take charge of their health and their confidence.

Kelly Crump Sport's Illustrated

YuTsai/ Sports Illustrated

As Kelly Crump stood on the shores of the Dominican Republic, the Sports Illustrated photographer directed her to run her hand gently down her chest. Crump’s right breast was covered by blue fabric, her left breast was completely exposed by way of the bathing suit’s design. There are rules to follow when selecting photographs for the magazine. For one, make sure that nipples are never fully exposed. Crump’s hand remained on her left shoulder, but the full page photograph in the May 2022 issue of Sports Illustrated shows no nipple. Instead Crump glows against the blue of the Caribbean waters, her mastectomy scar uncovered, and a glint of empowerment in her eyes.

Five years ago, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Crump felt a lump under her breast. “I never checked myself,” Crump admits now, explaining that the lump was found by accident. “I was lying on the floor watching TV and I had an itch.”

She had been feeling unwell for a year at that point. Exhausted with body pain, she figured she was burning the candle at both ends working as a business process and development manager for retail operations EMEA for Ralph Lauren. Thirty-eight years old, standing topless in front of a mirror in her London home to see if the lump had the telltale dimpling — it looked like an orange peel — she understood her body had been trying to tell her something.

She saw a breast surgeon on a Tuesday, and by Friday was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

Kelly Crump Sport's Illustrated Mastectomy Scar

YuTsai/ Sports Illustrated

"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 says. What she knew of breast cancer was only a fraction of the information. She learned that her tumor was driven by estrogen and progesterone and that her cancer was HE

Summer's Sexiest Suits

R2 +. “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.” And then there was metastatic, meaning that Crump’s cancer was in multiple areas of her body, and thus incurable.

“For a lot of people who I talk to, they feel like their body betrayed them. I never felt that,” she says. A self-proclaimed pragmatic person, Crump instead got her mental spreadsheet in order, ready to tackle what needed to be done so that she could be over this “blip” as she thought of it. “We have a saying in the UK for things going awry and everything I planned for kept going ‘tits up.’” It took some time for Crump to understand that her journey was not going to be predictable or linear.

But even without feeling a sense of betrayal, she was about to form a new relationship with her body. “I was unhappy with my body for thirty eight years.” Growing up, Crump always wished to be smaller. “It was the nineties,” she says of her high school days, “everything was heroin-chic.” At one point, she began restricting her eating.

“And then I lost everything,” she says of her diagnosis. “My health, my hair, and gained 35 to 40 pounds from the steroids and drugs.” That’s when everything was put into perspective for Crump. “During cancer treatments nobody is noticing that you have stretch marks, cellulite, or how big your pores are,” she points out.

I had the attitude of: What do I have to lose at this point?

When a friend pushed her to apply to become a Sports Illustrated guest model, she hesitated. It had always been a dream of hers, but she figured that her chances were low as a 43-year-old cancer patient. But it was her cancer diagnosis that ultimately gave her the courage to give it a shot. “I had the attitude of: What do I have to lose at this point?” Before she knew it, she was on an airplane to the Dominican Republic as one of thirteen finalists.

“I’m going to be honest,” Crump said about the moment she saw the photo that Sports Illustrated chose to feature. “The first thing I said was ‘F*ck. They used that photo.’” As excited as she was to be part of the issue, and as comfortable as she felt in her own skin, she had a moment of self-doubt. The moment lasted thirty seconds before she came to her senses. “A scar is just your skin healing,” she says. “It’s not anything that makes you a bad person.”

She knew the power that the photo held, and how it could help other women. She was right. After sharing the photo with her more than 27K Instagram followers, she was bombarded with messages—women wrote to tell her that ever since they had their surgery or diagnosis they couldn’t look in the mirror, or they didn’t want their husbands to see them, and that she gave them a reason to try and love themselves again. This was all Crump needed to hear to know that baring herself was worthwhile. “These messages and comments are what keep me going every day,” she says.

It’s not just about cancer. It's about how we navigate different traumas, and how we can be real about it. I don’t want to sugar coat it. Let's talk about the lows.

It’s obvious that Crump’s social media presence is appreciated and needed — one reel where she talks about metastatic breast cancer garnered 7.5 million views — and she has no plans of quitting. Her goal for the future is continuing to empower people to take charge of their health, educate themselves, and be more confident in their bodies. In other words, the breast cancer "thriver" wants to turn her pain into purpose. There’s also a podcast in the works. “It’s not just about cancer,” Crump says. “It's about how we navigate different traumas, and how we can be real about it. I don’t want to sugar coat it. Let's talk about the lows.”

When Crump was asked how she managed to stay so positive while living with metastatic breast cancer, she answered honestly. “I cry. Daily,” she said with a laugh. The truth is that she wakes up every day not feeling well, but she is working to manage that with meditation, exercise, and breathing. As if she’s not inspirational enough, next month Crump will be walking 100 kilometers in the Sahara Desert, an almost too beautiful metaphor for taking life one step at a time.

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