Tracey Derrick - plaster cast of her chest post-mastectomy - self portraiture: photography

Today’s photograph from Tracey Derrick‘s body of work, 1 in 9, is a photograph of the plaster cast she made of her chest, post-mastectomy. Through the tender replication of her chest, she somehow manages to both powerfully AND gently obliterate the media’s ‘requirement’ for women to ‘build themselves back together’ into a state of ‘normal femininity’ —- and instead presents us with a portrait of herself simply as she is: pure, unencumbered, real and unutterably and beautifully herself: unique!

Whether we choose reconstruction, to wear breast prostheses or go breast-free, the power of choice lies in our hands: it is our choice, and our choice alone.

If you would like to share your story about your post-mastectomy body
and your new, YOUnique normal,
please pop us an inboxed message on Facebook!



ART THERAPY BLOG: Activites & Ideas


  • We love the idea of art journalling as creative ‘self therapy‘ (click here to read more!) but the website is full of other wonderful  ideas – and we recommend signing up for her very helpful and inspiring newsletters too!



Tracey Derrick - photographer - breast cancer - self-portrait: lifeline

“In the series, “So Help Me Hannah”, Wilke claimed that taking the pictures improved the quality of her mother’s life. In gesturing and posing for the camera, Selma Butter (Wilke’s mother), felt alive, felt herself in the process of creation. (1998: 36). This has been my experience in this project when taking photographs of myself.

(Lynne) Lomofsky resonates my feelings when she says: “… it is in the delving, digging, probing, unveiling of the layers and scrutinizing the core that personal power is gained – the power of knowledge to make sense of the seemingly incomprehensible. There is also a healing element in forcing into the open that which society wants kept hidden, because the motive for secrecy is fear. By uncovering the truth, one banishes fear and reclaims the power to ‘be the model of one’s own ideology’ 14(2002:67).” ~ Tracey Derrick

14 Lynne Lomofsky: “Body of Evidence”. Master’s thesis, Michaelis, 2002. She has been living with lymphoma cancer since 1992.

TAKEAWAY: Read about Lynne Lomofsky’s exhibition called

“A Pathological Striptease” HERE!

“Untitled” – by Lynne Lomofsky


This Simple Act Helped Me…

Tracey Derrick - breast cancer portraiture - mastectomy surgery - Dr Paul Whitehead

“Myself as Subject

Documenting myself began during my mastectomy operation. It was the first time that I had ever had surgery and requested the surgeon and nurses to take photographs of my operation.

Afterwards in hospital I had a borrowed digital SLR camera with me. This simple act of holding a camera helped me feel more secure and that possibly I had some control over the situation.

This was the beginning of participating in my own recovery from cancer and the first time that I had ever used a digital camera.” ~ Tracey Derrick


TAKEAWAY: Amelia’s Story

Betrayal: Body of Evidence…

"Betrayal" 2008 - photograph from the '1 in 9' exhibition by Tracey Derrick -- breast cancer journey


“So, my future was clouded by new uncertainties – what are my chances of survival? The body tells a new story and so demands a reinterpretation of recent life history.

Is it no longer to be trusted? Why has it withheld such crucial evidence? Whose side is it on anyway? While the mind has been full of stories of life, the body has been planning another story: the threat of death” (Stacey: 1997:5).”

Did you experience a sense of betrayal at your diagnosis? How did you process these feelings?


TAKEAWAY: Episode 1, Act 1 of ‘I Am Woman Leap of Faith’ where Tracey Derrick is confronted with a turning point in her life and has to make the ultimate decision.

‘I Am Woman Leap of Faith’ television series: produced by Lauren Groenewald and Miki Redelinghuys of Plexus Films &  Lisa Chait (

The DITTO project


The Ditto project is an initiative run by Reach for Recovery to provide indigent women access to a silicone prosthesis which helps to restore her self-image and confidence after the traumatic breast cancer diagnosis and surgery.

Surgery after a breast cancer diagnosis may involve part or all of a breast being removed (mastectomy). Having a mastectomy leads to a tier of decision making regarding whether to have surgical reconstruction, wear an external breast prosthesis, or not wear anything at all to replace the amputated breast.  External breast prosthesis may be the best option a woman has, especially if she cannot afford to undergo reconstructive surgery.  However, not all patients can afford the cost of a permanent prosthesis.

Reach for Recovery believes that all women who have had breast cancer surgery should have access to appropriate breast prostheses, regardless of whether they can pay for it or not. The reality is that many breast cancer patients in South Africa cannot even afford a bra, let alone a breast prosthesis. Reach for Recovery wants to help these women who come from low income groups to feel confident again after the traumatic diagnoses and surgery.  We believe that a breast prosthesis is an important step in her recovery, especially to those women from communities where a there is still a stigma attached to a cancer diagnoses.  A more natural appearance with a breast prosthesis, together with the emotional support that she can continue to receive from Reach for Recovery volunteers through support groups, will help her to return to her place of employment and continue to provide for her family.

Any breast cancer patient who can present a current Provincial Hospital Card qualifies for access to subsidised silicone prosthesis.  The patient is asked to make a donation of R80 towards the project (R160 in case of a bilateral).   However, no patient has ever been turned away because she could not afford to make a donation.  The prosthesis may be replaced after three years.

Unfortunately Reach for Recovery cannot provide the paying customer with an invoice to claim back from their medical aid as we do not have a Medical Practice Number.  However, we do offer as much support as possible in terms of general information on local and international manufacturers, suppliers etc.

The Ditto Project started in 2011.  Since then, a total of 3235 silicone prostheses costing more than R2 million were given to women who could not afford one.  Many women donated a small amount (R80) as a token of their gratitude, but we also supported women who could not afford any donation at all.

Apart from state patients, a growing number of women only have a Hospital Plan which does not cover breast prostheses. Pensioners are particularly hard hit.

We have also seen a steady increase in the number of women needing silicone prostheses since 2011:  from 475 in 2011 to 930 in 2015.  There is without doubt a growing need for this service.   Unfortunately a silicone prosthesis is guaranteed to last for only two years; therefore we are also experiencing women returning to Reach for Recovery to have their prostheses replaced.

The need for silicone prostheses for newly referred breast cancer patients plus the need for replacements impacts heavily on the funds that we use to subsidise these products. A needs analysis has shown that we would subsidise at least 1000 women with a new silicon breast prosthesis in the new financial year.  This includes women who would need a replacement.

We are extremely thankful to our donors who help us to ensure the sustainability of this project!

Reach to Recovery is one of the breast cancer organisations that is a part of ABC.


Reach for Recovery Logo (2)

Chemo Q & A
Original colour photograph by Mary Elizabeth Gentle from the article by writer, Allison W. Gryphon, Stage 3a Breast Cancer Survivor: “What Does Chemo Look Like?”


How often is the chemotherapy given and how long does it take?

This is decided by:

  • the type of cancer.
  • the goal of the treatment — i.e. either curative or to relieve symptoms.
  • the different chemotherapy drugs.
  • how your body copes with the chemotherapy.

It can be given daily, weekly or monthly and given in cycles where treatment is alternated with rest periods. Just make sure that you stick to the schedule so that you can get the best results.

Can I take other medication?

It depends what you are taking. Make sure that you give your oncologist a list of any prescription drugs or over-the-counter medication you are taking so you can get the best advice for your specific situation. e.g. vitamins, allergy pills, indigestion aids, pills for colds and flu, aspirin, pain killers and any minerals or herbal supplements.

ADVOCATES FOR BREAST CANCER_what is chemo_what does chemo look like_south africaBlack and white photograph of a chemotherapy drip/cancer treatment - via The Why Foundation: "What Does Chemo Look Like?"










~ original colour photographs by Mary Elizabeth Gentle from “What Does Chemo Look Like?” by Allison W. Gryphon ~

How will I know if the chemotherapy is working?

When necessary, you will be sent for examinations and tests which will help your oncologist determine how effective the treatment has been. Please ask your oncologist to explain these tests to you.



Important questions to ask before you start:

When you are having treatment, it is sometimes difficult to know what to ask about — so here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Why should I receive chemotherapy?
  • What are the benefits of chemotherapy?
  • What are the associated risks of chemotherapy?
  • Are there any other methods of treatment available for my specific cancer?
  • What is the standard of treatment for my type of cancer?
  • Are there any ongoing clinical trials for my type of cancer?

Ask these questions about your TREATMENT SCHEDULE:

  • How many chemotherapy treatments must I get?
  • Which chemotherapy drugs/agents will I receive?
  • How will the chemotherapy be administered?
  • Where will the chemotherapy be given?
  • How long will each chemotherapy treatment take?

Ask these questions about the SIDE EFFECTS of chemotherapy:

  • What are the possible side effects of my chemotherapy?
  • When will the side effects start?
  • What side effects usually occur with my type of cancer?
  • Are there any side effects that need to be reported immediately?
  • What can I do to minimise the side effects?

To ask any more questions – or answer other users’ questions – join us on Twitter here or Facebook here!


A must-read by THE WHY FOUNDATION:

What Does Chemo Look Like? 



World Cancer Day highlights urgent need for a breast health policy in South Africa


It has been 16 years since World Cancer Day (WCD) was declared as part of the Paris Charter adopted at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New on 4 February 2000, but for most cancer patients in South Africa little has changed.

“Cancer is still not regarded as a priority in South Africa,” says Salomé Meyer, spokesperson for the Advocates for Breast Cancer (ABC), a coalition of interested breast cancer organisations in South Africa.

ABC was formed in 2014 to campaign for a national breast health policy for South Africa and to prioritise the management of this disease. Eight breast cancer organisations – The Breast Health Foundation, Reach for Recovery, CANSA, Pink Drive, Project Flamingo, Breast Course for Nurses, People Living with Cancer and Wings of Hope – are working together to lobby government to create and implement an equitable breast health policy for all South Africans.

“We know that breast cancer is still the leading cause of cancer related deaths for women in our country,” Meyer said. “But we still do not have a cancer registry which would provide the vital real-time data that is needed to plan or budget appropriately.

“This World Cancer Day we are calling on the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, to urgently develop a breast health policy for our country.”

As part of its advocacy campaign, ABC provides information about breast cancer on its blog at and through its Facebook page at

Onwards and upwards!

Well, here we are in 2016, ready to jump in to all that this year will bring.

We hope you will join us as we carry on advocating for an equitable breast health policy in South Africa!


I Have Cancer & This is What I Need You to Know

i have cancer_lynn edwards

The presentation of some evidence-based ideas on the pathway to optimistic care and support of those with advanced breast cancer. By LB Edwards (August 2015)

These ideas are based on the research findings of 3 studies (2 International surveys and one local (SA) qualitative research project):

Count Us, Know Us, (2013). Join Us Advanced Breast Cancer Survey, Harris Interactive,. (Read here.)

•Mayer M., Hunis A., Oratz.R., Glennon, C., Spicer, P., Caplan, E., & Fallowfield, L. (2010). Living with metastatic breast cancer: a global patient survey. Community Oncology. Sept 2010 (406-412)

PLWC Cancer Advocacy Research Project (2014). Pv 41, Pv 58, Pv 130 , Pv 131, Pv 132, Pv 137. PLWC National Photovoice Project: ABC focus Group. Edwards L & Greeff L (Eds.) PLWC CT South Africa.

Water Your Own Garden: Practical Tips

Following on from last week’s post about how and why to take charge of your own recovery, we’ve collected together a series of practical tips for you to use in your own recovery journey:

advocates for breast cancer_south africa_horticultural therapy

Ensure that you have the right relationship with your treatment team. 

REMEMBER: you have the right to be treated as an equal partner in your health care management.


To make sure you become part of your treatment team, it is important to let them know:


  • how you are viewing your situation — and the way you are choosing to deal with it
  • how much information you want to be given
  • how hard you want to fight your cancer and to what lengths you are prepared to go medically
  • if you prefer not to have medical treatment or to stop treatment you are having
  • how you are reacting emotionally to your situation and how well you are coping (or not.) 



ASK = Attitude + Skills + Knowledge




  • take COMPLETE ownership and charge of your situation, never allowing yourself to be rail-roaded into any treatment decision!
  • ask for understanding and flexibility and help if at any time you feel too vulnerable to have treatment
  • ask for the support you need
  • try to explain to your team your values which underpin your approach and beliefs
  • ask your team to be tolerant of the choices you are making with regards to your health care.



  • To get ALL the appropriate information about your situation
  • be given time to digest and react to this
  • gived informed consent to treatment
  • prepare yourself for treatment – and then embark upon your treatment fully confident that YOU have picked the very best course of action for YOU!

NB: if you are unhappy and uncomfortable with your consultant and their opinion,

it is your right to ASK for a second opinion!




Here are some seeds to plant in the garden of your heart to grow hope and a healthier, more resilient you: inside and out!


(Please note that one or two of the articles are quite scholarly – but we thought you would still find them helpful!)

Healing Gardens

The Healing Garden

Home Gardening: An Effective Cancer Therapy  by The Journal of the Cancer Institute

Growing Hope: Horticultural Therapy & Restorative Gardens by Cure Today 

Advocates for Breast Cancer - Laetitia Maklouf - Gardening Therapy for Cancer


And for those of you who fear their thumbs could never be green, then the delightfully darling Laetitia Maklouf will be just the right cup of tea for you with her book, The Virgin Gardener, which comes wonderfully recommended by one of our bloggers who herself experienced the therapeutically grounding and growing benefits of getting her hands down ‘n dirty!