Photographs: Reality or Illusion?

advocates for breast cancer_blog_tracey derrick_dressing up.jpg

“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!

Basic banana body builder

basic-banana-body-builderIf your appetite is suppressed, if you need to build up muscle, if you need to put weight on, or if you are worried about insufficient protein.

4ozs (100g) plain tofu (silken tofu makes a smoother drink)

1 pink (500ml, generous 2 cups) soya milk

2 bananas

2 tablespoons organic maple syrup

1 tablespoon slippery elm powder

2 teaspoons vanilla essence

Whizz together in a goblet blender or food processor until smooth and creamy

If you have difficult drinking from a glass, use a teaspoon and eat it from a small bowl like dessert, or add more soya milk to thin it and use a pretty straw.


Try any of these additions or flavour variations

2 tablespoons ground almonds

2 tablespoons cooked brown rice/millet/oats

Any fresh fruit – try mangoes for a real treat

Soaked or cooked dried fruits

1 teaspoon honey or concentrated apple juice

1 tablespoon organic, sugar-free preserves



What is normal?

qLet’s normalise a few things right now:

  • There is no “right way” to make sense of what a cancer diagnosis means in anyone’s life
  • We can’t expect everyone to react in a similar way, or say the same things as anyone else – each person is unique and of course their response to their cancer treatment will be individual as well;
  • It’s very common for people to feel confused, disbelieving or angry when newly diagnosed, but this is not true for everyone;
  • Sometimes our bodies even respond to the stress and shock with physical responses – headaches, nausea, diarrhea, sighing, poor sleep patterns etc; and
  • Often people look forward to the end of treatment, but sometimes folks feel fearful, uncertain, or more emotional than they did during the treatment.

Blog by Clare Manicom, Oncology Social Worker

The importance of psycho-social care

bcpicFirst up, let’s be clear that our precious family members and our special friends cannot be our therapists.  The honest ones among them will tell you that they really don’t want to be our counsellors either – they just want to be their normal selves – mom, friend, cousin etc.

Then, while we’re being honest – most of us try to protect the people we love from the ugly, ungrateful, hurtful, or dark thoughts that we have around the topic of cancer, its treatment or an uncertain future.  Which makes it hard to truly share with any one person exactly what we’re thinking or feeling.

  • We edit what we share
  • We filter what we hear
  • We are selective about what we remember

So suddenly it’s very clear that actually, it’s pretty tough chatting through our deep emotions with people who are important to us.  We might not have the words to say what we’re feeling, we might not know what to think.  We usually don’t even know where to begin with our emotional “stuff” that we’re told we have to “deal with”.

And that, very simply, is why it is so helpful to meet with a neutral, objective, trained and skilled person when you’re feeling scrambled, low, overwhelmed or plain pissed off.  It is a huge relief to offload on someone whose job it is not to judge you, but to listen to you.  Their job is to calmly provide a safe space where you can say what’s on your heart, cry or rant without hurting anyone’s feelings.

There will be times when that professional needs to challenge your opinions or perceptions, or may need to provide you with clear information that will help set you on a better path.  There are times that your listener may probe a little deeper, or may ask you questions that make you think and reflect more carefully – all this is part of your healing journey.

Seeing someone for emotional support might mean having a few sessions to examine different issues or concerns, or practice new skills in between sessions.  You will not always come away from a session smiling and jumping for joy – sometimes we need to have a “heavy session” that may include tears or rage, as a catharsis.  What you should feel every time is that you have been heard and acknowledged as an individual.  Often you will feel a sense of relief or lightness that you’ve been able to speak your mind – you’ve been brave and honest enough to express yourself and that is an important beginning point…

A social worker with medical or oncology experience will be able to provide emotional support with an understanding of the psychological impact of cancer and its treatment, as well as having insight into some of the practical challenges that people face.  Most State oncology departments employ social workers, and some private practices offer this service as well – ask your oncologist and ask again if you’re not given names to contact!

Some people are keen to join a support group when facing their illness and treatment.  As these groups are run in different ways by different organisations, ask your local clinic about what may be available in your area.  Remember that groups run for the purpose of sharing information are not designed to provide in-depth emotional support, so make enquiries about the purpose of the group, and about who runs it to help you decide whether it’s a comfortable place for you to be or not.

Social media may also be a source of general support but it’s advisable not to risk your in-depth personal emotions in a public forum, or to take advice from people who may not have the professional skills or training to provide psychological support.

Blog by Clare Manicom, Oncology Social Worker

Creamed root gratin

Another recipe for the tough times. This is pure comfort food for when you feel like nothing else.


500g potatoes, peeled and chopped
a generous cup of celeriac, peeled and chopped
1 small parsnip, peeled and diced quite small
1 small chopped onion
1 clarge carrot, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and the same of black pepper
1 teaspoon low salt stock powder
Soya milk to cover

Bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are very soft. Drain and mash or blend to a smooth puree.

Pile into an oiled, overnproof dish, splash with a little olive oil and soy sauce and bake in a hot oven (200 deg C) until golden.

Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley or chives.



Staying active and healthy

We’re on a mission to help you to live an active and healthy life during cancer treatment, to empower you actively to cope with the cancer journey.

The recipies we are sharing are part of that, and here is a great list of things to do (and not to do) to make your journey easier.


    • talk with your loved ones about your feelings of loss, speak to other breast cancer survivors, find support online
    • get adequate pain medication
    • contact your doctor or nurse when you develop problems
    • massage the scars daily, dry or gently with a non-irritating skin oil. There’s a good video here to help you.


  • push yourself: be mild and accept the pace your body is healing at
  • lift or carry anything heavy for the first few weeks after surgery. This includes vacuuming, shopping and lifting a full kettle or a child.

Watch out for:

Wound infection

If your operation site becomes red, inflamed, or painful, or there is a fluid (discharge) leaking from your wound site, you may have an infection. Contact your surgeon or breast care nurse immediately. If you have an infection, you will need antibiotics to clear it up.

Fluid collecting around the operation site (seroma)

Sometimes fluid continues to collect near the wound after your wound drains have been taken out. This is called a seroma. It causes swelling and pain and can increase the risk of infection. The fluid usually goes away on its own. Sometimes a nurse needs to drain the fluid off with a needle and syringe. They may need to do this a few times.

For some women, the fluid takes a long time to go. It can take up to a few months after your surgery.

Nerve pain

You may have numbness or tingling in your upper arm, particularly if you had your lymph nodes removed. This is normal and happens because some nerves are cut during the operation and need to repair themselves. It can take a few weeks or months to go. If it continues, get in touch with your breast care nurse or surgeon.

Swelling of your arm or hand

You may have some swelling in your arm or hand after your operation. This is normal. But it should start to go away as you do the exercises (see below) to get back the movement of your shoulder and arm.

If you continue to get a lot of swelling, heaviness, pain or tenderness in your arm or hand, let your breast care nurse or surgeon know as soon as possible. After surgery or radiotherapy to the armpit, there is a risk of developing permanent swelling called lymphoedema. Once you have lymphoedema it can’t be cured but early treatment can effectively control it. Look at the information about lymphoedema page for ways of preventing lymphoedema.

Scar tissue in the armpit (cording)

Some women develop scar tissue in the armpit (axilla), which forms a tight band. This can happen 6 to 8 weeks after the operation. The scar tissue is called cording or banding and can feel something like a guitar string. Cording is harmless but can be uncomfortable. It can get better after some time if you massage the area of the scar tissue. Your specialist nurse or a physiotherapist can teach you how to do this.

This great advice was shared with us by the fabulous physiotherapist Liesbeth Raymakers



Keeping the balance

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be posting a series of recipies that will help you as you go through treatment. The Cancer Lifeline recipies are divided into three phases:

  • Tough Times, for use when you are very ill, during treatment, while the appetite is poor and the weight low.
  • Clean Machine, for detoxification of the body, post cancer treatment, or to kickstart a holistic health creation programme.
  • Eat Right, to set the right style of eating for the rest of your life to generate optimum health.

The recipies have been created by celebrity chef and nutrition consultant, Jane Sen, for the nourishment and healing of people with cancer. The recipies are part of the Cancer Lifeline Kit by Dr Rosy Daniel, which she has generously shared with us.



In a series of witty PSA videos, the masked superhero Deadpool is using his new popularity to extend the benefits of self-examining your breasts to check for breast cancer. So, #TouchYourselfTonight.

“Did you know that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life? So it looks like you’ve got some fumbling to do yourself.” #TouchYourselfTonight


Moipone’s story

Moipone Sebiya shares her journey with breast cancer and encourages young women to remember that a diagnisis is not a death sentence

A family history of cancer

2014-10-31 10.18.58By Estelle Botha



This is my story of Faith Love and Hope. Without these three I don’t know how I would have handled every situation that came my way in the form of cancer.

The word cancer was never mentioned or heard  of in our family or generations before us. But in the year 1992 the first blow came and the youngest of seven children who was also my twin sister was told she had breast cancer. This shocked the whole family she was only 37 at the time with two children at school. How can this be and why? I think when one does get cancer these are the questions that taunt us.

She had to undergo a complete mastectomy but no treatment. We could not understand this. Two years down the line the cancer had spread to her lungs and she fought a hard battle right to the end. To see her suffer this way was not easy for us as a family. She never got to see her daughter matriculate and son finish school.

Just before her 40th birthday she passed away, struggling to breathe. The night she died, my nephew who had had a brain tumour removed, came out of his coma. He was a young father with twin boys aged 4 and a wife. We all had mixed emotions: both sadness and joy, but all mindful of a sister we had just lost.

My twin’s love for God never wavered and not once did she complain. I realised then that I needed to get my priorities right I went to church but that was all and I thought it was ok.  Greg (my nephew) did not have it easy after that and he battled along, he always had a joke to tell no matter how he felt and in 2001 he too passed away. Greg was the eldest son to my eldest brother.

In 1999 my life took a change and my love for God grew in leaps and bounds and I knew that God had a plan and purpose for me, not knowing from now on the word Cancer would be part of my life. In 2005 my brother-in law and I were both diagnosed with a cancer and sadly he passed away five months later.

When I was told I had cancer in April of 2005 I could not believe it.  Who me? An athlete who ate healthy who did not drink or smoke had competed in three Comrades marathons had a lot of ultra- marathons as well as many smaller races under the belt. Oh boy this was just too much. But surprisingly I accepted it so well due to the fact I knew my Lord and Saviour and that through Him I made a promise that I would fight this battle, not alone but with help of my husband, our son and close friends who kept on praying for me.

One night during this time I called out to God and asked Dear Lord how much more could I take! I just could not handle being sick anymore and as I lay on the cold bathroom floor seeking the coolness of the tiles with nausea, a head that felt like it was in the sun too long and a body that ached I had a vision of the Cross. What an answer from God. I realised at that moment how much my Saviour suffered for me and I realised what a wimp I was, here I am moaning and groaning about being sick and yet He suffered much much more than I would  ever feel or take. I asked God to forgive me for complaining and to help me through this ordeal.

A scripture reading that remains my favourite is “I will never leave you are forsake you”  this verse played a major role in my life after that. In that same year my eldest sister was diagnosed with bladder cancer stage 4. She had just buried her husband and now she was told she now has cancer. This was a lot for her children to take in. The memories I have of her is that she fought this battle with courage and strength: no matter how she felt life went on.

On the day she died we were travelling to East London to say our goodbyes to her as she lying dying in hospital. As we got outside East London I got a call to say she had just passed away. I Cried to God why take her now I was so close in spending a few last minutes with her now she gone. But then I remembered that God had given me time with her two weeks prior this. She always reminded me how naughty we twins were setting mom’s wedding dress alight and almost burning the house down. We got a spanking for this.

My mission in life was to get my family saved by acknowledging Jesus as their Saviour. I knew where I was in my walk with the Lord and I needed to know where they were in their walk with Him. She told me “Stellie I know my God I have accepted Jesus as my Saviour and I am ready to go to a place where there will be no more suffering for me anymore”. She was now the eldest sister to pass away from our family. My three older brothers were also diagnosed with early prostrate cancer.

Now I come to one closer to home … wait for it … my husband Theunis who was diagnosed in 2010 with colon cancer. This not only hit me harder but this time it affected our son as well. It was bad enough that mom had to go through cancer and treatment and now his dad has it. He was a scared and angry young man and overwhelmed by it all. I really questioned God. Why did Theunis have to get this big C? He is the bread winner etc how are we going to cope? Why let him get cancer – a guy that does not wrong anyone? He is always giving to the poor or food to the beggers. This was too much!

Theunis and I met after running our first Comrades Marathon 1978 and we married in 1979. It took me to a whole new level of prayer interceding for my husband and deeper soul searching to fine peace and assurance from God that He is close to those who call upon His name and that in time of troubles He will lift you up on wings of eagles you will soar and not grow weary.

Theunis got through the long operation and he was so fortunate that the doctor could cut away the bad part and re-join the colon. The good news was Theunis did not need a bag. What a God we serve. He had to undergo treatment which meant that he would get chemo and today he is still in remission. Dad Botha was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2011. He too had lost his first wife at an early age to breast cancer when my hubby was only a boy of 10 years. To lose a mother at that age was hard for him.

My story does not stop there. After being in remission a year another blow was dealt to me. I now have bladder cancer. The good news was that all I have to do is have a check-up every three months and  if it’s there surgeon will remove it and that is how it is going to be for the rest of my life.

In 2012  I had to go yet for another procedure. This time the left lung as there were markings and the doctors did not want to take a chance. I came out of it well until two weeks later I started to battle with my breathing. X-rays were done and I was told that the lung had collapsed due to air leakage. My real testing came at this time when no matter what the specialist tried, the lung would not take to the lining. I suffered panic attacks and became depressed. I lost weight. At times I felt that if only I could jump out the window all this would be over. I would cry out of sheer frustration and ask God “what now? Why this on top of it all?”

The problem was that here I was attached to pipes and oxygen and nowhere to run I could not take the pipes out as they were there for a purpose. I was scheduled for another operation so that the specialists could found out which hole was leaking. Can you imagine for a moment lying on a bed in ICU, drips and drains attached, and next to you are all the men and women who have just undergone heart surgery. This is not funny. All you see is monitors beeping and going off then you look at yours to make sure your heart is ok. It’s really nerve raking. The lining of my lung was removed and 6 weeks later the lung had improved and I could go home.

I came home to a house filled with close friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. What a surprise. This year both my hubby and myself did the Relay for Life. We were the only two in the team we walked and ran throughout the night to come 4th overall out of all the teams that ran that night. Another feather in our cap.

It is with Faith Hope and Trust  in God that has taken us through all this knowing that He is near to those who call upon His name. He promises us in His word that He will never leave us or forsake us for He is with us in all situations.

When I look back through these last nine years I thank God for His Faithfulness, Love and Mercy that through it all I have become a stronger person relying on Him for inner strength.

Through all this I continue to be a candle in the dark by giving hope to newly diagnosed breast cancer men and women by encouraging them to take one day at a time and to trust in God no matter what life throws at you. To Love God with your whole heart , with all your mind and with all your soul. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. I give Him all the Praise and Glory.

The question I asked you all earlier was “do you think life changes after cancer”?

I would say it does, as one sees life differently and the things that use to be our first priority are no longer first. I would say in my life, God comes first and
the rest can follow.