Heroine? Victim? WARRIOR!

Breast Cancer - Self Portrait - Photographer: Tracey Derrick

Continuing the thread of thought from Tracey’s seminar paperwe quoted yesterday, read about photo therapy/therapeutic photography  and  how Tracey made it work for her!

Spence uses the term ‘photo therapy’, which she explains is using photography to heal ourselves. It is about transformations and change and thus challenges the fixity of the photographic image and the search for an ideal self.

Spence and Martin use a kind of internal permission giving: permission to change, to re-view, to let go, to move on.

“Ways in which I have used the camera therefore include taking naturalistic photographs as things happen to me and around me; staging things especially for the camera; using old personal photographs and re-inventing what they mean. The whole technique depends upon expecting photographs to help us to ask questions, rather than supplying answers”.

This helped her with breast cancer and she says, “As a result I see myself neither as a ‘heroine’ or ‘victim’, but merely as a person in a struggle, changing and adjusting daily, and trying to keep a state of equilibrium which will allow me to function optimally, at the same time as I strive to regain health”. 4

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”


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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

Abreast of Advocacy!

Now that we have a firm grasp on what advocacy is, let’s put it in the context of breast cancer – and more specifically, within the framework of South Africa and its absence of a breast health policy, what the consequences of this are and how an equitable and effective breast health policy would change lives – and save lives.

Let’s take UNICEF’s definition of advocacy and fit it into ABC’s framework:

“Advocacy is the deliberate process, based on demonstrated evidence, to directly and indirectly influence decision makers (i.e. government), stakeholders (i.e. pharmaceutical companies) and relevant audiences to support and implement actions that contribute to the fulfilment of people receiving breast cancer treatment and survivors’ rights: accessible and equitable care, treatment and support.”

Below are just some of the current consequences of not having a breast health policy in place – most especially for the people receiving breast cancer treatment within our public health system:

  • Cannot afford the treatment itself, and very often, even the cost of transport to and from the treatment centres themselves, especially in the rural areas.
  • Do not have access to the information they need in order to understand their cancer and know how to cope with and manage their diagnosis, treatment and potential surgery and its aftermath.
  • Long waiting periods between diagnosis and treatment resulting in negative treatment outcomes.
  • Do not have access to psycho-social support for both themselves and their families.
  • Are very often breadwinners (and even sole breadwinners) and face unpaid leave of absence and very possible unemployment as a result of time spent recovering from treatment and/surgery.
  • Have cancers inadequately diagnosed because of poor quality diagnostic technology and must therefore face the dire consequences of incorrect or inadequate treatment and/surgery, as well as the aggravated risk of metastatic BC.
  • Had they been sufficiently (or at all) educated about regular breast self-examination, may have discovered their lumps in efficiently treatable time.
  • Do not know what their rights are as South African citizens, and therefore do not give voice to their needs, questions and right to ensure they get them met – fairly and equitably.

We need to ignite a revolution in the hearts of South Africans to call policy makers to task! Let us combine what we know about our current breast health crisis with what we know about what an equitable breast health policy looks like and why and how it will work!







Is Pinktober just a ‘cruel illusion’?

photo by Kerry Sherck
photo by Kerry Sherck

Now that Breast Cancer Month is officially over, it is a good time to reflect on lessons learned. We were interested to read this blog which is an excerpt from the Cancer Chronicles by George Johnson.

When the woman he loved was diagnosed with a metastatic cancer, science writer George Johnson was determined to learn everything he could about the disease and the people who dedicate their lives to understanding and combating it. What he discovered is a revolution under way—an explosion of new ideas about what cancer really is and where it comes from.

In his blog, he says this:

With another Breast Cancer Awareness Month almost past, more money has been raised for medical research. But the hype, however well intended, comes at a price — the spreading of the cruel illusion that by next Pinktober or the next or the next, scientists will have found The Cure.

As I’ve written before, there is no such thing. Cancer is a consequence of entropy, “the legacy of being multicellular creatures in an imperfect world.” It is an unfortunate tradeoff of evolution, and against it there can be, at most, incremental progress. As the sloganeers demonize the inevitable,  scientists are concentrating on smaller battles, ones they might actually win. They are seeking ways to make screening  work more effectively — to identify tumors before they become fatally metastatic, but without falling into the trap of overdiagnosis. That can lead to disfiguring surgery, chemical poisons, and radiation — all to treat harmless “Stage 0″ growths that would have been better left alone.

 What do you think of ‘Pinktober’? What is your take on awareness campaigns?

We’d love to hear from you.