Red Devil!

Tracey Derrick - photographer - breast cancer self portraiture: chemo red devil

“My treatment on chemotherapy drugs was called CAF, a common cocktail for breast cancer. The regime combines cyclosphosphamide, doxorubican (andriamycin) and fluorouracil. Adriamycin is one of the most toxic chemotherapy agents available, notorious for its drastic side effects. It is a fluorescent red and when one sees the fluid flowing into one’s veins, nausea begins and a feeling of helplessness takes over – the body produces a violent reaction and fights it.

Nausea becomes a way of life, also vomiting and extreme fatigue.” ~ Tracey Derrick


TAKEAWAY: Listen in to ABC’s Project Manager, Salome Meyer, chat with Kfm about why she’s determined to make her fight against breast cancer count!!
Click here to tune in!


Photographs: Reality or Illusion?

advocates for breast cancer_blog_tracey derrick_dressing up.jpg

“BELIAL”: from the Hebrew meaning ‘fallen angel’ and without + usefulness

“In one half of the project, I have photographed myself, changing my role from photographer to subject. I was no longer in a comfortable position behind the camera observing others but was now the subject of my investigation. This has felt like putting myself into a certain relationship with the world that feels like taking some control, even though I do find it uncomfortable.

Sontag* talks about the fact that with the invention of the camera the public have come to accept photographs as vivid witnesses to ‘reality’ and how photographs transform, make the image beautiful, terrible, unbearable – as it is not in real life. Are they thus an illusion? Photographs are evidence not only of what’s out there but of what an individual sees, not just as a record but an evaluation of the world (2003:76).

Growing up, we learn to think of our bodies mainly in terms of how we look (men and women), which is enforced by the media around us, for example, photographs, films, TV, magazines and billboards. These photographs objectify, turn an event or person into something that can be possessed, something viewed as a transparent account of reality.

Yet all these images fail to reflect the tremendous diversity among us. Profitable businesses are set up to convince us that we don’t look good enough and to play on our insecurities and fears of imperfection. The media define ‘looking good’ so narrowly that few of us ever feel that we have made it. Women who do not ‘fit’ the image experience negative judgments, which in subtle ways make it hard for nearly every woman in our society to love and accept herself as she is.

When I was a matric pupil (1979), I was ‘plucked’ from the street by Gavin Sorger, a make-up artist, who worked with fashion photographer Gavin Furlonger at the time. Sorger prepared my hair and made me up ready for a photographic shoot. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking that I looked like a clown. This was the beginning of a three-year relationship with the advertising media world. Practically, it was a job and was separate from the rest of my life. It paid for my university, my flat and my first Beetle – it gave me independence. However, it had at that time and until more recently subtle ramifications in my life…”

*Read more about Susan Sontag’s Illness As Metaphor here!

Breast Cancer: Of Secrecy, Shame & Sexuality

Tracey Derrick - breast cancer self-portrait: 'Firing Squad' (mastectomy)


Sedgwick discusses the ways in which breast cancer is not only constructed as a secret, but how this construction defines woman as such.

Sexual and gender identities are reproduced through rituals surrounding breast cancer in which femininity is literally and symbolically reconstructed. She says “with the proper toning exercise, make-up, wigs and a well-fitting prosthesis, we could feel just as feminine as we ever had and no-one need know that anything had happened” (1994: 262).

I find that this silence only affirms woman’s confusion and this contradiction in the context of sexuality confirms the force of woman’s fear of being ‘different’. Encouragement to hide the consequences of breast cancer illustrates the concept of private and public, what is secret and what is revealed and what is shameful.” ~ Tracey Derrick

What did the ‘Firing Squad’ portrait of Tracey do to your heart?

What emotions did it trigger for you?


Pinktober? THINKtober!

Amidst October’s frantic flurry of *P I N K*  in all its well-intentioned glory, we’ve instead chosen to unleash the provocative power of portraiture to get all sorts of balls rolling — whether in the arena of self-therapy or advocacy & awareness!

Selfies aside, the digital era is perfectly poised to make self-portraiture accessible to anyone with a phone — empowering us to make art from our lives, stripping away the need for formal fine art training or an expensive camera!

Check out Australia’s The SCAR Project here! What do YOU think a South African version would look like — and would you participate?


The Self Portrait, a Powerful Tool for Self-Therapy*

“Facing the camera lens and releasing the shutter immediately takes us to our first essential process of the definition of the self: the recognition of our image in the mirror.

By objectifying our ‘dark side’ in a photograph, we can separate ourselves from what we dislike and open up a space for catharsis or renewal.

During a self-portrait session we can start a dialogue between our thinking mind and our ‘gut’ to draw from an inexhaustible source of meanings, which must be expressed. The self-portrait can be incredibly empowering.

By forcing us into the Now, it can help us perceive and express our essential humanity in a photograph. The decision to represent oneself can provide what is termed here a ‘state of grace’: the feeling of centeredness that occurs in moments of creative work in which the emotions are naturally retained because our higher self is in command.


Additionally, self-portraiture holds incredible power to transform entire societies — making it an extremely effective breast cancer advocacy tool!

“The outcome implies that a reflective practice of self-portraiture focused on imagination is a valuable method of assessing the present and past, FREEing one up to reclaim a desired future, which is a powerful tool that can promote transformation in our society.” ~  Luciana Vasques Barbosa

(*wink* Yes! We have something up our advocacy-sleeve! Are you keen to know what it could be?)

*~ by European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling  Volume 11, 2009 – Issue 1 | Phototheraphy and Therapeutic Photography

Lumps Aside: Other Warning Signs

warning signs of breast cancer

Over the past few days, we have told you how to check for changes in your breasts by doing regular breast self-examinations, but the problem is that breast lumps aren’t always detectable by feeling them by hand until they are at least 10 – 15mm in size. And, as we know, not all breast cancer presents as a lump.

So what else can you do to catch breast cancer as early as possible?


Here are some warning signs that will definitely help guide you:

  1. Pain in the breast or chest:
    Pay attention if you regularly experience an ache, throb, twinge or sharp stabbing pain. You’ll need to make sure that this is a new symptom, and not something that you experience as a normal part of your monthly cycle or PMS, but always get medical advice if you are not sure.
  2. Itchy breasts:
    This symptom, often associated with inflammatory breast cancer is often missed. If your breasts are extremely itchy, and no amount of creams or scratching makes the itch go away, then you need to get to a doctor. This itchiness is caused when fast-growing cancer cells block the normal flow of blood and lymph. Your skin may also feel scaly or look a bit like cellulite.
  3. Upper back, shoulder or neck pain:
    If tumour growth pushes backwards towards the spine then the pain from breast cancer will be felt in the back. It may feel like sore muscles or a pulled tendon — but it doesn’t go away. Bone pain feels like a deep ache or throbbing. If the pain does not go away in spite of treatment, then ask for a bone scan.
  4. Changes in breast shape, size or appearance:
    Tissue growth that is deep in the breast or hidden by dense breast tissue may change the shape of the breast without causing a noticeable lump, so it is important to be aware of what your breasts look like normally. Often this is first noticed by a partner, or you may find that your bra is not fitting in the way that it used to.
  5. A change in nipple appearance or sensitivity, or leaking nipples:
    One of the most common places that breast cancer occurs is just below the nipple. (This is also one of the most common warning signs for men with breast cancer.) You may notice that one of your nipples sticks up more than before, or it may be inverted or flattened. It may also have less sensitivity than normal. Watch out for any form of discharge (usually brown or bloody) from the nipple if you are not breastfeeding.
  6. Swelling or a lump in your armpit:
    The lymph nodes in your arm are where breast cancer often spreads first, and this area may feel tender even before a breast lump is big enough to be easily felt. Colds, flu and other infections may also cause this symptom, but if the infection has gone and the pain remains, then get medical advice.
  7. Red, ‘hot’ and/swollen breasts:
    If your breasts feel like they have a temperature and the skin is looking red or purpleish you definitely need to get medical advice. It may be mastitis, but if you are prescribed antibiotics and the symptoms persist, then you need to make sure that you get extra tests done.

This is why self breast examinations are absolutely critical in the early detection of breast cancer! How well do you know your breasts?

What about genetics?

This painting  of Angelina Jolie is by talented local artist Marc Alexander. You can see more of his work at
This painting of Angelina Jolie is by talented local artist Marc Alexander. You can see more of his work at

What is genetics?

Genetics is the study of genes.  Genes make us who we are and make a tumour behave the way it does.

How are geneticists involved in the management of breast cancer?

Each individual person is made up of genes which determine what colour eyes we have, how tall we are and many other factors that make us individuals.  Sometimes, they influence how susceptible we are to cancer.  In the case of breast cancer, there are several abnormalities that may occur on genes which make the individual more likely to get breast cancer.  The commonest ones are the BRCA mutations.

Women with BRCA mutations have a very high life long risk of developing cancer.  Depending on which mutation it is, the risk may be between 50-80%.  Different mutations carry risks of other malignancies.

Angeline Jolie recently made the headlines when she told the world that she carried a BRCA mutation and had made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy.  I am sure her decision to have the surgery and go public about it took a lot of courage and has inspired many other women however the it is important to emphasise that the diagnosis of a BRCA mutation does not necessarily mean that a bilateral mastectomy should be done.

There is an alternative to bilateral mastectomy, which is secondary prevention.  Screening is an example of secondary prevention.  Imaging can be used to detect disease at an earlier stage and so minimize the chances of spread of the disease.  Generally, breast screening refers to screening mammography, which should start until the 40s or 50s.  However, if a woman carries a BRCA mutation and doesn’t want surgery, she should have MRI screening as well as a mammogram.

The cancer itself also has its own genetic make up and that will be discussed in another blog.

breast course

Conquer Cancer with Coordinated Care!

What does it mean to ‘coordinate care’?

Until about 15 years ago, there was a very strict division between the GP and the specialist. It was a division that the patients recognised; you knew that if you wanted to see a specialist, you would need to be referred by your GP. Now that strict division seems to have fallen away. As more people gain access to the internet, many start “diagnosing” their own conditions and deciding for themselves when specialist help is needed.

A system of proper coordination of healthcare will ensure the best possible outcome for the patients and the healthcare providers (doctors, nurses and specialists) — all helping to manage costs.

Nowhere is this more needed than in the area of chronic diseases, of which breast cancer is one. Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that the global burden of chronic disease will boom from 27% of the total cost of healthcare to 43% in the next two decades!

The WHO points out that positive outcomes for chronic conditions are achieved only when patients and families, community partners, and health care teams are informed, motivated, prepared, and working together.

Advocates for Breast Cancer is lobbying for an effective and appropriate referral system for breast health. This referral system could take the form of five steps in the management of breast cancer:

Coordinated Cancer Care