Shot by photographer Ami Barwell, the project is a follow-up to her Mastectomy series in 2017. Following an outpouring of positive responses to her previous photographs, Ami has broadened this series beyond mastectomy scars, to reflect a diverse range of experiences and we’re so here for it.
Sixteen incredible men and women who have been diagnosed with cancer have taken part in an empowering photoshoot for Stand Up To Cancer, giving an honest and unfiltered look at the disease.
The inspiring project, called Defiance, has been released as part of Stand Up To Cancer, a joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4, and aims to showcase the gritty and raw reality of cancer. These men and women have embraced scars and changes to their bodies, big or small, as a show of strength against the disease.
Speaking about the poignant series, 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.”
Amongst those photographed is Deborah James, 38, from London, who has stage 4 bowel cancer and is known on social media as ‘Bowel Babe’. Speaking about her involvement in the campaign, 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, who was diagnosed in 2010 with neuroblastoma which has affected her face and nose, 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.”
Mark Douglas (Doug), 39, from London, who is living with thyroid cancer 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 was thrilled 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.”
Scroll down to see some snaps of the series…