Tomorrow I am attending the private view of the final year show of a friend of mine, Karen, who has just completed a three-year degree in photojournalism. Nothing too exciting about that you may say, except I am in it. I AM it.
Karen and I have spent the last 6 months working together and she has been shadowing me taking pics of various things, including hospital appts, scans, weekends away, days out, lots of things really. When we started this project, we both agreed that we wanted to capture the reality of my situation but also to show the other side too – my life is not all bad, in loads of ways it’s good and better than it ever has been, there’s just obviously a rather large shadow lurking but it is possible to still live a normal, happy life.
I don’t think either of us will claim that this intense experience has been easy – there have been some days when I’ve found it incredibly hard to have some very difficult and personal moments captured on film and I’m sure I haven’t always been the easiest to work with. Karen has had to go through much of the ups and downs of the last 6 months with me and I know it’s been very upsetting for her at times (Co-op, anyone? Sorry private joke). To her credit she has been flexible, gentle and as unobtrusive as anyone can be, and I guess that’s the mark of a good photojournalist. We have also become firm friends which has been a bonus.
I saw the pictures for the very first time last week and I was, of course, initially very apprehensive about how I would feel looking at them. Would it bring it all flooding back and would I have to relive certain nightmare moments all over again? Weirdly, that’s not how it felt and actually, it made me see how far I’ve come on this journey and I’m proud of me for that. One or two pictures will probably be very harrowing to an outsider and I guess if you haven’t been directly involved, then the sight of me crying rather hysterically (all screwed-up, red snotty face – nice) and looking so desperately scared and sad might be a bit unsettling. But there are other, happy ones too! This is my life, in all its ugly, messy, heartbreaking moments and it’s important to me, still is, that it’s reflected in reality. Breast cancer isn’t all about pink fluff, glitter, painted wonderbras, girl power and ‘the cure’, as great as all that stuff is. There are scars, emotional and physical, and moments of blindingly amazing happiness followed by the pit of absolute despair, especially for women like me who will never be ‘cured’, but the point is it constantly changes and it’s real. Not all bad, certainly not all good, but whose life ever is and having an illness like this is no different.
Anyway I’m really, really pleased with what Karen has done and I think everyone who lives in London should go see her show when it’s on next week. I’m proud to have been a part of it.