Sixteen brave men and women who have all been diagnosed with cancer have bared their scars to the world in a bid to show the raw reality of the disease and embrace their new bodies.
The powerful and unfiltered photos, which form the project ‘Defiance’, is intended to give the public an honest representation of the changes their bodies have undergone – with the powerful message that cancer will not define their lives.
The black and white shots have been released as part of Stand Up To Cancer, a joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 that has to date raised more than £62 million, and aims to shine a light on the strong souls who fight the disease on a daily basis.
Photographer Ami Barwell decided to embark on the project following the outpouring of positive responses to her previous series, Mastectomy, in 2017.
Alison Meaton, 59, West Cornwall, was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer when she was 48. She said: ‘A cancer diagnosis means your life will never be the same again but it doesn’t need to mean that your life is ruined. I want people to see that living with the aftermath of cancer can be a catalyst to change priorities. I want to try new experiences and use my time wisely. I’ve had a tattoo on my mastectomy scar to mark 10 years survival, swum with seals and eels, learnt new crafts and I volunteer to support those living with inequality in our society’
Steve McAllister, 67, from Cardiff, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. He said: ‘When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was completely gobsmacked that it could happen to me. Before my mastectomy I was quite concerned with what my scar was going to look like, because I’d looked online and hadn’t seen any positive images. Now though, I don’t worry about it. I’ve completely embraced my scar, it’s as much a part of my body as my arm or my leg. Stand Up To Cancer is all about showing cancer who’s boss and I really channelled that when taking part in this shoot’
Caroline Caffrey, 58, from Brighton, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She said: ‘I wanted to take part in the shoot as I live flat, having never worn a prosthesis, and I am happy and proud with that choice. I want to highlight and share that not having breasts does not make me less feminine, that it is a positive choice. When I had my surgery I found there were no pictures to show me what I was going to look like post-surgery, things have changed a little but a project like this celebrates the positive side of scars’
She said: ‘To me, “Defiance” is an act of rebellion. Cancer isn’t pretty, it can be dark, painful and destructive. But we aren’t playing to cancer’s rules. These people are strong, beautiful and, most of all, defiant.
‘My previous Mastectomy series was inspired by my mum, who has had breast cancer twice, and a mastectomy, so this was a subject very close to my heart. I wanted to raise as much awareness for breast cancer as possible, showing women baring their scars in a series of gritty and honest portraits.
‘I received an overwhelmingly positive response, with emails from women worldwide explaining how my photographs had inspired them and given them strength. For many, these were the first photographs they’d seen showing women post-mastectomy as beautiful, sexy, strong and amazing.
‘I knew I had to carry on raising awareness with Stand Up To Cancer and empowering people through my photographs.’
Stella Bradley, 53, from Shropshire, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. She said: ‘I wished to model for Ami for two reasons: one to be a bolder, braver version of myself and also to raise awareness of breast cancer and living with a new “normal”. I have found an inner strength I didn’t know I had and it has made me appreciate all I have in life’
Among the men and women baring their scars is Cory Clayton, 24, from Newcastle, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in 2015 and had had to have a titanium rod fitted in his leg.
He said: ‘When I was first diagnosed with cancer I felt such a detachment from my body, like it had let me down.
‘My surgery has left me with a scar running all the way down my thigh and while the physical appearance of it doesn’t bother me so much, it is a reminder of what I’ve lost.
‘I can’t run any more, I can’t cycle, but I won’t let cancer take away the joy in my life. By embracing my scar, I’m standing up to cancer and showing that this disease won’t define me or my life anymore.’
Cory Clayton, 24, from Newcastle, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in 2015 and has a titanium rod fitted in his leg, replacing his thigh bone. He said: ‘When I was first diagnosed with cancer I felt such a detachment from my body, like it had let me down. My surgery has left me with a scar running all the way down my thigh and while the physical appearance of it doesn’t bother me so much, it is a reminder of what I’ve lost. I can’t run any more, I can’t cycle, but I won’t let cancer take away the joy in my life. By embracing my scar, I’m standing up to cancer and showing that this disease won’t define me or my life anymore’
Deborah James, 38, from London, has stage 4 bowel cancer and is known on social media as Bowel Babe. She said: ‘I’m living with stage 4 cancer, but you wouldn’t know it if you saw me walking down the street. For me, it’s about not being defined by my cancer – I want to be seen as the woman I was before and yes, sometimes I do still want to look sexy. Doing this shoot for Stand Up To Cancer has been so empowering. My scars have affected my confidence at times, but I’ve learnt to appreciate my body for what it is – strong and resilient’
Tasha Jilka, 27, from Leicester, was diagnosed in 2010 with neuroblastoma which has affected her face and nose. She said: ‘I was diagnosed with cancer just before my 18th birthday and this massively impacted my confidence. My cancer has completely changed my face, so it’s not something I can hide away from. I’ve had to build a thick skin over the past nine years and now I use my face as a symbol of strength, something that shows everything I’ve been through. I’m standing up to cancer by embracing my new normal every day, which is why I was so pleased to be a part of the Defiance series’
Juliet Fitzpatrick, 57, from Hertfordshire, was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast in 2016. She said: ‘I wanted to model for this project to show what a woman living flat after a mastectomy looks like. We’re hidden too often and I feel like the taboo needs to be broken. I still feel like a woman even though I don’t have breasts and I want the world to see that. It’s important because when I was told that I’d need a mastectomy I’d never seen any photos of women without breasts. I thought it would be scary to look at but actually the photos that I now see are beautiful. We need more photos to be out there for all to see’
Sherry McGill, 44, from Bedford, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in April 2017. She said: ‘I’m tired of seeing pink hearts to “raise awareness of breast cancer”. Breast cancer is real and harsh and unforgiving. I didn’t choose to go through this but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I want women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer to realise that living flat can be a positive choice. I still feel very feminine even after everything I’ve gone through’
Sherry McGill, 44, from Bedford, who was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in April 2017 said: ‘I’m tired of seeing pink hearts to “raise awareness of breast cancer”. Breast cancer is real and harsh and unforgiving.
‘I didn’t choose to go through this but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I want women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer to realise that living flat can be a positive choice. I still feel very feminine even after everything I’ve gone through.’
Meanwhile Thomasina McGuigan, 45, from Portsmouth, who is also among the 16 men and women baring their scars, said that she wanted to give the public an honest impression of what cancer did to the body.
Thomasina, who was diagnosed at 20 with stage 3 invasive breast cancer, said: ‘A lot of women get breast cancer and a lot of those now survive it. Those survivors often live very comfortably with their new body image.
‘But the public impression of this illness and what it does to your body hasn’t caught up with this. The first mastectomy scar I ever saw was my own, and that kind of secrecy and mystique just adds to the perception of fear.
‘I am extremely proud of my scar. It is a story of survival of an unexpected diagnosis and some pretty unpleasant treatment and is an important part of who I am.’
Thomasina McGuigan, 45, from Portsmouth, was diagnosed at 20 with stage 3 invasive breast cancer. She said: ‘A lot of women get breast cancer and a lot of those now survive it. Those survivors often live very comfortably with their new body image. But the public impression of this illness and what it does to your body hasn’t caught up with this. The first mastectomy scar I ever saw was my own, and that kind of secrecy and mystique just adds to the perception of fear. I am extremely proud of my scar. It is a story of survival of an unexpected diagnosis and some pretty unpleasant treatment and is an important part of who I am’
Angela Crossland, 46, from Buckinghamshire, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. She said: ‘My body bears the scars, but is still capable of doing all the things I love. I came across a number of women online – including Ami’s first round of mastectomy photographs – that were showing their post mastectomy bodies. It was a source of strength to see those ladies baring their scars, and demonstrating life goes on – with or without breasts. If I can help other women facing mastectomy, or indeed anyone not confident about their body, then I’d like to pay that feeling forward’
Nicki Hastie, 50, Nottingham, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2018. She said: ‘There are many different ways to be a woman. Indeed, many different ways to be human and to inhabit a body. That’s part of the message I hope to portray. It would be great if LGBTQ media and mainstream media pick up the photo campaign. I feel proud of my scars’
Mark Douglas (Doug), 39, from London, is living with thyroid cancer. He said: ‘I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 30 and the psychological impact it had on me and my family was huge. I have a scar on my neck from surgery, but the main physical change for me has been how it’s altered my voice, which is almost like an invisible scar. I wanted to be a part of this project for Stand Up To Cancer, because this disease comes in all shapes and sizes and I want show others that we can all be defiant in our own way’
Samantha Evans, 42, from Norfolk, was diagnosed in 2015 with triple negative breast cancer. She said: ‘I think it’s important to show women are beautiful, confident, sexy, desirable. In my experience people don’t think you can be all those things without reconstruction. The reality is we are still all those things and so much more! I had a tattoo not to cover my scars but to give me something beautiful, a work of art on my body. It’s given me confidence’
Alice-May Purkiss, 30, from London, was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer in 2015 when she was 26. She said: ‘It’s taken me a long time to get my breast back to any semblance of normality and I want to celebrate that. Also, I just got a badass mastectomy tattoo which has completely changed my feelings about my fake boob and I adore it, so I’m keen to share that joy’
Head of Stand Up To Cancer, Simon Harrison, said: ‘We’re thrilled to be working in collaboration with Ami again. The images she’s taken are so powerful and really move you to challenge what it means to have been treated for cancer. The strength and defiance these men and women have shown is incredible and truly encapsulates what Stand Up To Cancer is all about.
‘We’ve made amazing progress against cancer over the past few decades but one in two people will be diagnosed in their lifetime and we want to make sure we’re funding leading research that will make a real difference to people affected by the disease.
‘Our scientists are carrying out pioneering research every day, taking developments in the lab and working to accelerate them into brand new treatments. We hope that by seeing these images, the public will be inspired to get involved in any way they can and help us beat cancer at its own game.’
For more information visit www.su2c.org.uk. Ami’s photographs will be on exhibition and open to the public on October 15 at Carousel, 71 Blandford St, Marylebone, London.