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In the frame: Marina McDonald with daughter Sydney Marie Dayal. Photo: Lisa Wilkinson

A year ago, when Marina McDonald told her children she was to have a double mastectomy, they asked if her breasts would grow back. And her now eight-year-old son, Noah, said, ''Oh Mum, you won't be a woman any more.''

She reassured him. ''I said, 'Oh sweetheart, there's so much more to being a woman than breasts.''

Ms McDonald told her son she would still feel soft to touch. She would still be his mum. ''What you notice is a person's face and their voice and their attitude,'' she said. ''They're just breasts.''

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Ms McDonald with Lisa Wilkinson . Photo: Supplied

And when Lisa Wilkinson photographed the 44-year-old Canberra cancer survivor, what she noticed was not a body without breasts but a woman with a beautiful smile.

The Today show host is an ambassador for the Canon Shine campaign, in which Australians will be encouraged to put the spotlight on the things that matter to them.

Wilkinson, a passionate photographer, decided to highlight the importance of early detection of breast cancer by photographing a woman who had had a double mastectomy but not reconstructive surgery.

''What I've been struck by is the beauty and strength of women who have gone through breast cancer and are coming out the other side,'' Wilkinson said.

The television host was dazzled by Ms McDonald's smile, her strength and her gratitude.

Ms McDonald had a seemingly unreasonable dread of breast cancer for years before an invasive lobular carcinoma was detected in her left breast last January. There was no history of breast cancer in her family, she'd never had a lump and had regular mammograms.

Doctors told her the cancer had probably been growing undetected for several years. ''I do wonder whether, instinctively, our bodies try to tell us if there's something wrong.''

But from the moment of diagnosis, Ms McDonald knew her course of action. Although there was no sign of cancer in her right breast, she told doctors, ''I want them both off''.

Photographs have played a large role in her breast cancer experience. There were the clinical images her surgeon showed her of women's torsos after mastectomies and others of reconstructed breasts. They did nothing to change her decision to live with a scarred, breastless chest. ''If this is what my body is going to look like, I'm comfortable with that,'' she said.

Then there were the images she found online of young American breast cancer survivors photographed for the SCAR Project, a US website covering the issue.

''Those photos were like a lifeline to me - they were these real women,'' Ms McDonald said.

''There's so much power in an image, and that's why, when I was approached for this project, my hand shot straight up. If I could offer the same sort of hope and courage for other women, I was in.''