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



Rebecca Musi: Kilimanjaro Conquerer

“In 2001 I had a rough innings with breast cancer.

I detected a lump through breast self examination. It was not easy, however I bundled myself off to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital Breast Clinic where a mammogram and fine needle aspiration were done. Lo and behold the words I detested hearing came out of the doctor’s mouth:“You have breast cancer”. I went through a rollercoaster of emotions: from anger to denial and flooded with questions which didn’t have answers. Throughout this time I thought it was a bad dream that would be over in no time.

My message to people is: Don’t delay – and don’t think your symptoms are going to go away as if some fairy has waved a magic wand. When it hits, cancer strikes fear into everybody.

As a single mom, I wondered what was going to happen to my son. How was he doing to cope? I thought to myself …. Nkosi yam, Don’t make any plans.  There’s no shame and embarrassment feeling down and having a good cry – just for a few days. But it’s no good feeling sorry for yourself in the long term and thinking, “Why me?  Woe is me!” Sitting and crying doesn’t help. You’ve got to have a good go at beating this monster because otherwise it’s going to beat you. I said to myself, “Listen, this isn’t going to get rid of the cancer. I’ve got to pick myself up and say: Right, what are we going to do?”

I underwent lumpectomy surgery to remove the lump, as well as six courses of chemotherapy and 35 days of radiotherapy. Thereafter I was put on hormonal therapy as I had oestrogen positive breast cancer.  I got myself ‘buddies’ (fellow cancer patients) along the journey. We shared our moments that no-one else understands. During visits to the hospital for chemo we’d reminisce about the side effects. One day one of the guys took out a huge container of Zambuk that he used for his extremely dry mouth – Walla! We had Zambuk containers coming out of pockets and handbags. We had a Zambuk* party! The frank, fighting spirit kept us together during months of treatment.

After chemo gave the cancer its powerful kick: 35 daily sessions of radiotherapy followed.  This phase I called the “Poly Shorts” of my journey (a reference to South Africa’s epic Comrades Marathon). Don’t let anybody tell you this treatment is a picnic. It’s not just unpleasant, it’s a whole lot more awful than that. Every day it was all about having the treatment and getting through it, getting through the day to get to the next day. You have to stay focused and positive because it is easylet it get you down.

The support I got from my family and friends kept my hopes high.Though they did not understand anything about breast cancer they kept a diary of my appointments and would phone for constant feedback from my hospital visits.

I am pleased to be here. I am living proof that you can recover. When you have something as drastic as cancer, it doesn’t change who you are or your basic characteristics. It gives you a different perspective, a softer outlook on life. What I’ve learned is that breast cancer can affect anyone, which is why it is so important to take care of yourself and do monthly self breast examinations and annual mammograms – no matter what your risk profile.  When I was diagnosed I knew very little about breast cancer and would not like anyone being in my position. I now work for the Breast Health Foundation and there’s no work more fulfilling than educating and empowering women with regards to breast health issues, as well as providing emotional and informative support to those diagnosed with breast cancer.

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I just lived, now I live strong. As I celebrated each year of survivorship, I started to call deep into my courage and dream bigger. In 2013, to celebrate 10 years of survivorship and to help raise funds for breast health education, together with 10 other ladies, I conquered Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. The climb was not about me — it was about millions of people facing breast cancer who need support as they fight the toughest battle of their lives. Together we can make a difference.  


My motto:  By serving you can heal, bring hope and remove depression.  Service can heal without you knowing.

Next month I’ve been entrusted with the responsibility to represent the Republic of South Africa’s breast cancer survivors and ABC at a Metastatic Breast Cancer conference held in Taipei. It is a huge responsibility – however, I guess with the ‘peaks’ I had to overcome, I’m tested and tried. I’ve got the stamina, strength and courage for this task.”


Zambuk*‘Zambuk – the Real Makoya‘: a much loved South African green-coloured, eucalyptus balm which fixes everyting from chapped lips, cuts and scratches, tight chests, blocked noses, itchy bites and bee stings!