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Who has not been touched by cancer, or known a cancer survivor? No two stories are the same, and yet, for people working with patients, for people coping with chemotherapy or radiation, for people watching someone they love grapple with issues of mortality, there is a sense of recognition: Cancer. I know this beast. These images of cancer survivors show the good, the bad and the ugly.
Cancer Connections is a result of PhotoSensitive teaming up with the Canadian Cancer Society, in a spirit of wanting to bring cancer survivors and their families together. They wanted to give them a place to express their intimacy with cancer through images and their stories.
There are cancer survivor images of bare breasts – one tattooed with a sunflower; young children undergoing chemo; adults with hurting bodies and healing scars; faces full of fatigue, eyes full of hope. In each photo, there is a sense of dignity, patience, and courage. The stories of loss, of the people who have passed, show us the strength and resilience of their friends and family - their courage and optimism through it all.
One thing that made this PhotoSensitive show unique, was that it was the first of its kind to accept submissions from the public. The images of cancer survivors took on a deeper meaning when photographed by a wife, mother, daughter, or brother. Private moments were captured, some happy and some sad. But all were inspiring.
From James Burns, Project Coordinator: Having those who know and love the person with cancer contribute photos – like this image (right) of Dave Jarrett with his granddaughter, taken by Dave's wife – allowed for images of cancer survivors to show a magical intimacy. It was the public involvement that set this PhotoSensitive project apart from those that preceded it.
Carmel Darmanin, seen here with Mary, his wife. Carmel is a two-time cancer survivor; he fought colon cancer and is now recovering from lung cancer. Their daughter, Jessica Darmanin, captured a fragile moment between husband and wife, as they shared their grief.
Childhood cancer survivor
Breanna Gillespie-Bumstead was only 17 months old when a tumour was found in her chest. Although this ominous image foreshadows trouble ahead, Breanna is now a cancer survivor, at the young age of four. Her mother, photographer Jennifer Gillespie, was in shock. "We were very lucky," Jennifer says, "Surgery was enough for Breanna. She didn't even need to have chemotherapy or radiation."
The biggest PhotoSensitive project to date, Cancer Connections, included over 1,000 images of cancer survivors. The first exhibit was at Toronto City hall in May 2008. Cancer Connections traveled across the country, hitting Charlottetown, Montreal, Regina, Winnipeg, St. John, Halifax, St. John's, Vancouver, Calgary, and Ottawa. Since the exhibit was outdoors, hundreds of images of cancer survivors reached thousands of people each day, over a span of two years.
Photographer Jeff Harris, diving head first into a cold lake, November 16, 2008, two days after being diagnosed with neurofibrosarcoma. Jeff says, "It seemed appropriate, considering the challenging months that lay ahead." He was paralyzed after the grapefruit-sized tumour was removed from his pelvis and tailbone and had to learn to walk again. He is now a four-year cancer survivor, sharing his images with the world.
Cancer is horrific as we all know, and image submissions brought this home, may times over. Above, Sumreen Siddiqui removes her prosthetic eye to clean it. She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at birth and had her eye removed at the age of three. Image by Ashley Hutcheson.
In the beginning we'd hoped, at the end we knew: Cancer Connections connected us as Canadians and as human beings, from image to survivor, and as one big cancer family.
Images of prostate cancer
A second cancer-related photography exhibit, followed in the heels of Cancer Connections. The project TIEd Together was a partnership with Prostate Cancer Canada. Like every project including the intensely effective an effecting Cancer Connections, TIEd Together is an entirely black-and-white photo exhibit.
One in seven Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, so again this issue touches every life. Everyone's life will be touched by this cancer. TIED Together debuted in Halifax in 2011 and it included video as well as images.
Two time Olympic gold-medalist Alex Baumann was one of the ceebrity subjects in this collection of images. A model of mid-life fitness, Baumann was shocked to be diagnosed with prostate cancer at 47. This hero of the 1984 summer Olympics can't remember having any symptoms at all, and credits the PSA test for early detection. Baumman is one more reminder that cancer can catch any of us, just as it touches just about all of our lives.