Breasts: Object, Device, Possession?


“After breast cancer treatment this identity of ‘desirable object’ becomes confused because the ‘traditional’ nude, as an idealized object of male desire, clearly precludes any possibility of illness or ‘imperfection’ and denies the ‘unacceptable’ hidden truths within, for example, the scars, a single breast, lumpy breasts, false breasts; changes that women live with after treatment. Through the media, the ideal woman is ‘put together’ and defined by appearance.

Artist Jo Spence was especially concerned with the breast as an object of desire, as a device for nourishing babies, and finally in her case of breast cancer, as a possession to be placed in the hands of the medical institution. This is exemplified by her photo of her breast, marked with a pen “Property of Jo Spence?” where she appears to question her rights over her own body, using the breast as a metaphor for women’s struggle to become active subjects. Following her *lumpectomy, she documented the appearance of her scarred breast, thereby challenging traditional representations of that subject. In one image she documents the struggle between her everyday appearance (revealing her scars), and the glamorous representation of women – signified by the Hollywood-style sunglasses and the seductive pose and drape of her blouse off her shoulder. (1986:157)

*Lumpectomy is surgery in which only the tumor and some surrounding tissue is removed. It is a form of “breast-preservation” and technically is a partial mastectomy. Jo Spence had a mastectomy later on in her life when her breast cancer returned.” ~ Tracey Derrick



The Bare, Naked Truth

Tracey Derrick - photographer - breast cancer - hair-loss and wigs

“As Jo Spence stated in Cultural Sniping, “It is not easy to make your journey through trauma and disease the subject of your own camera. I am literally putting my trauma on the wall. It isn’t an interpretation: it’s the trauma itself or an extension of it.” (1995:139-214).

The photographs are a mediated rendition of the event and through photographing and editing, the photographs have two dimensionshaving the trauma and then photographing it. Consciously working with my trauma through photographs and exploring depictions of the body has helped the trauma to become real and acceptable.

Photographs often imaged Hannah Wilke naked, and as she happened to be accepted by the media ‘norm’ as beautiful, she was constantly accused of narcissism by critics. Yet, it is the critics and the media who had put her looks on a pedestal. She exposed a truth, which is like nudity, uncovering the raw experience, and this is our site of original subjectivity.

What I share with her work ultimately is a celebration of the body as opposed to a commiseration of suffering or abjection. We both seek to empower ourselves and others by laying bare the truths of disease.” ~ Tracey Derrick

Barely there…

Tracey Derrick - breast cancer - self portraiture: hair - Advocates For Breast Cancer in South Africa

After chemo, Tracey wrote in her seminar paper about her hair:

“Then the hair dies. Initially, it feels as if one’s scalp is burning as the roots die, then the hair falls out. The first handful is an alarming relief; it is happening as you have been dreading that it would. The boundaries between public and private begin to melt, for all to see. My hair had been a physical, public security – it identified me and I felt naked without it. Then one experiences the head sweating constantly with no layer of hair to absorb it; the body chills quickly with no hair to warm it. As the hair on the rest of the body slowly falls too, all borders between inside and outside are laid bare.

Stacey describes it well, “the loss of pubic hair reveals what has remained hidden for years. Returned to pre-adolescence and yet prefiguring an aged body, time has nothing to tell. The nose runs without any tiny nostril hairs, sweat runs into eyes without eyebrows or eyelashes to catch it. Ears are tunnels for flies and insects to enter at their ease. The hairless body is uncannily silky smooth to touch, a familiar, yet strange state. A return to childhood and yet an inevitable ageing. A big bald baby but with adult organs”. (1997:84).

Physically and emotionally this “was me” but when I looked at myself in the mirror – was it me? I photographed myself repeatedly during this vulnerable time as an attempt to regain some power over my situation.”


TAKEAWAY: How & Why Hair Loss Happens Because of Chemotherapy

“1 in 9: My Year as a Statistic”

The exhibition catalogue for Tracey Derrick’s 1 in 9 project begins with these words:

“One in nine women contract breast cancer in South Africa. This statistic takes
into account the high prevalence of HIV and TB.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2008 and this project was undertaken
in response to my illness, its treatment and my survival. I am ‘one in nine’ and
as the active subject of my own investigation, it helped me understand my own
condition and integrate it into my life.”

'Ignorance is Bliss' 2007 from '1 in 9: My Year as a Statistic' by Tracey Derrick

How do you feel about photographs of yourself taken before your diagnosis?


Treatment: What Questions Should I Ask About My Treatment?

In order to make an informed decision about your own cancer treatment, you need to (and have a right to!) ask every question that arises in your head (and heart).



Advocates For Breast Cancer - Treatment Advice

It may be very useful for you to keep a diary/notebook to chart your treatment journey – like noting down questions to ask at your next appointment, and then writing down the answers during the appointment itself; or writing down side-effects etc.

Besides writing down the facts and medical nitty-gritties, journaling is also wonderfully therapeutic. Read more here, here and here if this tickles your fancy!

Here are the key questions you should ask your doctors about your specific treatment plan:


  • What treatments are recommended for my cancer?
  • What are the short-terms risks of this treatment?
  • What are the possible long-terms risks of this treatment?
  • Is this hospital able to give me access to the most up-to-date treatment for this kind of cancer — or should I be look further afield?
  • Which are the medical centres of excellence for my particular kind of cancer?
  • Are there an adjuvant (‘extra’ or ‘additional’) treatments which will further improve my chances of survival or well-being?
  • Are there any ‘medical frontier’ treatments for my kind of cancer available? Are they only available privately – and if so, at what sort of cost?
  • Are there any promising research trials going on for my kind of cancer?
  • Are there other types of cancer specialists who may be able to help me? e.g. a surgeon, medical oncologist, GP, palliative care physician, anaesthetist.)

Also, in terms of the timing of your treatment, these are  important questions to ask yourself:


  • Do I want to go straight into medical treatment of my cancer or do I need time to prepare myself mentally, physically and practically (eg. lifestyle, work etc.)?
  • Do I want to put medical treatment on hold as an option, while I work only with a holistic approach in improving my health? Do I want to try alternative cancer treatments?
  • If I do wish to defer medical treatment while trying to use natural methods, am I sure I’m not putting myself at undue risk?



Top Breast Cancer Apps (for Android and iPhone!)


Cancer Guide App (only for iPhone…)


And, for those you with an old-fashioned passion for stationery: click here for some gorgeous (and effective!) journey-journaling ideas!



{ Questions kind courtesy of the Cancer Lifeline Programme, Dr Rosy Daniel of Health Creation }


Advocates for Breast Cancer - Dr Rosy Daniel - Integrated Medicine

Face to Face with Reach For Recovery!

advocates for breast cancer_reach4recovery_breast cancer support_volunteers


We’re excited that one of our members, Reach For Recovery, is now also Facebooking!


Click here to find them!


Like and Share their Facebook page on your own Facebook page to make YOUR very own (and incredibly important to us) difference! 

And if you’ve personally travelled the breast cancer journey and want to get involved, click here!

Let’s face it: we MUST use our time on social media to raise our voices together on behalf of the voiceless about why South Africa needs an equitable and sustainable breast health policy

Specialist Breast Cancer Hospitals in South Africa

 This post is a follow-on of ‘Does Diagnosis = Debt?

 Below is a list of all the hospitals in South Africa where breast cancer is diagnosed and/treated.

specialist breast cancer hospitals in south africa 1

specialist breast cancer hospitals in south africa 2