There’s not a woman I know in my circle that hasn’t been affected by breast cancer one way or another through family and friends, through colleagues near and far, and of women old and young.
Since the late ’80s, when I began working with a nurse whose worldview expanded my own into new and challenging directions, breast cancer has been on my agenda for action — for self-care, for support, for advocacy, for prevention, for education, and, yes, for fundraising, too.
I have written in previous columns about “pinkwashing” (selling products coloured pink to raise awareness), about the movement to Think Before You Pink, about the powerful film “Pink Ribbons Inc.” challenging all the ideas we have about breast cancer and its cause, and about apologies and lessons from the Cameron Inquiry looking at the failures in the breast cancer testing process.
I have also written about body image in real women and in cartoons, on television and in film. I have written about empowerment and decision making, about taking care of ourselves as something to make first on to-do lists.
I even wrote about the continuing value in breast self-examination, despite some fairly deep and critical research studies suggesting it doesn’t help, because I firmly believe that when we focus on learning what normal looks and means for our own bodies, we will learn to recognize when it changes and when we have to go further for help.
I still remember when I saw an image that struck me and my colleagues with such raw power and beauty that we were left speechless.
It was a black and white photo of a woman nude from the waist up, her arms outspread to encompass the whole world in her being with this incredibly detailed tattoo of a tree of life growing, embracing, transforming her body and her mastectomy scar in one giant act of defiance.
Last spring, some 20 years after I saw the first photograph, I saw pictures that reminded me again of that moment.
It was a series of photos taken by Malin Enström in collaboration with breast cancer survivor Sondria Browne. Browne had started a blog, called The Rising, in which she described the process of gathering the raw edges of her self that needed mending and rebuilding after experiencing her breast cancer diagnosis, surgery, treatment and recovery.
Browne writes: “Sometimes, even words were not enough to articulate or express what it is to have a part of you taken away.
I looked for an alternative expression for my experience and found it through photography. I asked Malin Enström to take pictures of me as I am now, spirit intact, to show the world that cancer could not take my essence. The pictures reflected exactly that and helped me gain acceptance. With the reality of the disease in each frame, ever present was hope, resilience and courage. I wanted to share this gift with other women.”
The result is “One Out of Nine,” an art project that provides astonishing revelations in its finely rendered, documentary approach. And it is coming to the Leyton Gallery in November 2013.
Enström notes in the fundraising appeal she and Browne have started to support the exhibition that the images of 12 women between the ages of 31 and 82 are “intended to reveal a personal side of breast cancer and the scars that come with it, be they on the outside or on the inside.”
Our culture is inundated with images of breasts, almost all of them sexual in nature and showing or using breasts perfect in size, shape, and form according to current fashion. Rarely do we see breasts that don’t fit that profile; the exception was a calendar that was published for several years called Breasts in Canada, dedicated to expanding our visual library of breast imagery in a society that focused exclusively on purported perfection. As Enström and Browne state: “Every scar has a story, every story has a scar.”
“One Out of Nine” goes beyond that.
These women invite us to look and to see hope; they ask us to move past our assumptions and to embrace their scars and the life stories they embody.
These women have staked a claim on life that is both unsettling and empowering.
Most of all, they have shown us, in that space of normal long seen as forbidden territory, something profoundly beautiful thrives.
To learn more about “One Out of Nine” or to support the exhibition, visit:
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living
in St. John’s. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org,