“Nusha Loubser” ~ Photographed by Tracey Derrick
50 years old, | Hairdresser | Vredenberg
Diagnosed: 1st November 2005 – mastectomy, chemotherapy and tamoxifen for five years.
“The worst was losing my hair and being so tired, yet we believe all things are possible like the Word of God reminds us in the Bible.”
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!
RESOURCES & IDEAS:
ART THERAPY BLOG: Activites & Ideas
EXPRESSIVE ART WORKSHOPS by Shelley Klammer
- 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!
TITLE: “Hang on? – come unstuck, detach, unfasten, free. Why reconstruct, whose ideals?” 2009
This particular photography by Tracey Derrick simply refused to fit into our graphic designer’s template – so it was decided the photograph would be most powerfully appreciated shown – purely – on its own.
How do you feel looking at this image?
How does it resonate with your own experience of mastectomy and the decision to opt for either reconstruction, prostheses or go completely breast-free?
Within the South African public health space, the bare minimum of breast cancer treatment options are very often not even managed – so how do our public health survivors navigate their post-mastectomy recovery where even one breast prosthesis costs R700?
Reach For Recovery is “a breast cancer support organisation with a unique focus on breast cancer support and one of the only organisations that provide a patient support service on a national basis. It is built on a simple yet universal principle: that of one woman who has experienced breast cancer herself giving freely of her time and experience to assist and support another woman with breast cancer.
Well-selected and trained volunteers, who each have experienced the breast cancer journey, render an emotional care and practical support programme to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and their families.”
The Ditto Project aims “to help these women who come from very low income groups to feel confident again after the traumatic diagnoses and surgery through our Ditto Project… and aim to assist them with a silicone breast prosthesis.”
For SUPPORT: get in touch with Reach For Recovery by clicking here!
To VOLUNTEER, click here!
To help support The Ditto Project, click here!
“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
READ MORE ABOUT THE WHAT, WHY & SIDE-EFFECTS OF CAF HERE
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!
“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 dimensions – having 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
In this image of Tracey Derrick with her two young daughters, she managed to capture so much more than mere words are able to convey… What did your heart bounce back to you when your eyes beheld this trio of warriors?
TAKEAWAY: “How To Tell Your Young Children You Have Breast Cancer”
“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!
“Treatment options for breast cancer are dependent upon the type of cancer and the size of the tumour. I was diagnosed with a grade 2, invasive ductal carcinoma, tumour size 30mm. It was suspected and confirmed after surgery, that 3 out of 21 lymph nodes under my arm were infected. These were subsequently removed.
Aside from surgery, the main forms of Western medicine’s attack on cancer are chemotherapy and radiation. The two methods are based on a single principle: generally, cancer cells are extremely fast growing. They divide much more rapidly than any of the body’s normal cells. Therefore if you administer cell-poisoning drugs to the body that kill cells when they divide, then you will kill some normal, healthy cells but many cancer cells. This is what both chemotherapy and radiation do. Chemotherapy is administered intravenously and travels through the bloodstream to every part of the body. The normal cells in the body that grow more rapidly than others, such as hair, stomach lining, mouth tissue, nose, nails, will also be killed more rapidly, hence accounting for hair loss, stomach nausea etc. At the end of a successful course of chemotherapy, the tumour is dead and the patient only half dead.
I chose (how much choice did I have? – I wanted the cancer cut out, eradicated, gone), a mastectomy and six sessions of chemotherapy because the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and possibly to somewhere else in my body – cancer cells use the lymph nodes for travelling. After chemo I now follow a drug regime to reduce the possibility of the cancer returning.”
How to Manage Chemotherapy Symptoms Through Food
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.”