Drayton & Taverham

Last chance to see powerful exhibtion

Just Regional
Aug 26, 2015 5 mins read

Just one day remains to see portraits of 50 amazing women who have had breast cancer and are the centrepiece of a powerful exhibition photographed by Julia Holland.

On display at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital until Thursday, August 27 under the title “Femininity Comes From Within”, the women have posed showing their breasts after reconstruction or before it has been completed. They have all had breast cancer or preventative mastectomies.

It has been a two-year project for professional photographer Julia, who lives in Taverham and takes pictures for several Just Regional magazines. She is an avid supporter of the charity Keeping Abreast and decided to create classical style portraits with the women showing their breasts and wearing a swathe of pink georgette.

When she staged an exhibition with a small number of photographs so many more women came forward who wanted to take part that she has been able to expand the project to display 50 striking portraits in one place for the first time. After its first appearance at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital the exhibition will go on to the House of Commons and then several other hospitals around the country.

“When I started to see them altogether this forged me on to see if I could get to 50,” explained Julia. “I felt it needs to be a series to tell a wider story. And to have so many women in a room saying ‘I’m proud of my body and I still feel like me’, they do not realise their strength.”

As for standing there without their clothes, Julia said: “Most of them seemed very comfortable, some of them are “flashing” (showing their reconstructions to other women) as part of the organisation. Some were absolutely terrified, but they were still brave enough to come and do it because they wanted to make a difference.”

The women, whose ages range from thirties to seventies, have had different experiences but have come together through the Keeping Abreast organisation that was born in Norfolk but has now spread to other areas of the country.

They include Melanie, who was bullied at school for being small chested; Michelle, who faced a second time diagnosis of breast cancer; Helen, a young mum who had just turned 30 and got pregnant after her treatment; Nicola, one of several who had a double mastectomy; Helen, who chose a double mastectomy after discovering she had the BRCA1 gene; and Catherine, who was inspired to finally have her reconstruction surgery after seeing some of the portraits.

Alongside each portrait are the women’s own words about their experiences and how they feel now.

Each story or comment is very personal, some are laden with emotion and many are grateful to their family, friends and surgeons. All of them are powerful reflections on their journey through cancer and reconstruction
“At the age of 62, I am out, and proud, and very loud! Empowered by my new found femininity, I’m proud to have been asked to take part in this exhibition of sensitive photography. I hope this shines through to encourage other women to have faith and believe in themselves,” said Gloria.

“I’m celebrating my femininity by having fun and focusing on what makes me feel attractive. The surgery may have changed my body but it hasn’t changed me as a person,” said Nicky.

“I didn’t think that I would ever ‘feel sexy’ again, but, thanks to my reconstruction, I DO,” said Christine.
“I don’t see cancer when I look in the mirror, I see a new more confident women ready for a challenge. I can now wear such pretty bras. I can go swimming and wear nice tops without being embarrassed and feel totally feminine again. I really am very proud of my breasts,” said Alison.

“I cannot thank all the dedicated team involved in my reconstruction enough, they were absolutely amazing. This is not life changing, it is giving back life. Thank you,” said Margo.

“I can face the world with my head held high, proud to say ‘Look at me, I’ve beaten breast cancer and I look good and feel great’,” said Annette.

“Having my DIEP reconstruction is the best thing I’ve done. I feel like me again and that I’m no longer wearing a sign saying ‘I’m different’,” said Kerry.

“Support was fantastic from all areas of my life and I feel amazing, proud and happy when I see this picture. My confidence is back, I’m out there living life to the full, shouting loud and proud and hoping that this shines through and empowers others. We are all gorgeous whatever our age, beauty comes from within,” said Barbara.

The exhibition runs at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital until August 27 and is free. On Wednesday 26 at 6.30pm there will be a talk by photographer Julia Holland and two of the models in the Benjamin Gooch Lecture Theatre.

The exhibition will then move on to the House of Commons in October, followed by a number of other hospitals.

Keeping Abreast was started in 2007 by two patients in Norwich and their local breast reconstruction nurse specialist from the NNUH. They recognised a need for newly diagnosed women and those considering reconstructive surgery to be able to meet other women who have had similar experiences.

Pictured at the opening of the “Femininity Comes From Within” exhibition are (left to right) John Fry, chairman Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust; Anna Skipper, co-founder Keeping Abreast; Mark Davies, interim chief executive Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust; Julia Holland, photographer; and Richard Drew, chairman Hospital Arts.

Pictured at the opening of the “Femininity Comes From Within” exhibition are (left to right) John Fry, chairman Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust; Anna Skipper, co-founder Keeping Abreast; Mark Davies, interim chief executive Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust; Julia Holland, photographer; and Richard Drew, chairman Hospital Arts.

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