BREAST CANCER AWARENESS
In a powerful reminder that knowledge beats cancer, Kiwi breast cancer survivors pose as classic paintings
We are lucky to live now with such amazing treatment
In his masterpiece Samson and Delilah, Rubens captured his model in broad, sumptuous brushstrokes. Unwittingly, he documented something sinister beneath her skin that would only be revealed centuries later.
Dutch masters such as Rubens faithfully painted their models as they saw them. In doing so, they captured dimpling, puckering, lumps and marks that, today, we recognise as signs of breast cancer.
This extraordinary fact has sparked a striking campaign for Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, launched for October’s Breast Cancer Month. The campaign message, Knowledge Beats Breast Cancer, celebrates the improvement in medical care in the 21st century while reminding modern women to “know your normal” and be aware of any changes.
Three Kiwi breast cancer survivors have been photographed in similar poses to three masterpieces. At first glance, the photographic style tricks the viewer into thinking the pictures are from yesteryear. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see that the scars of these women tell of a happier outcome than they could’ve expected in Rubens’ or Rembrandt’s day.
The three survivors have received the best treatment modern medicine can offer: life-saving mastectomies combined with chemotherapy and drugs. These 21st century women are looking forward to long and healthy lives.
Sadly, though, breast cancer still strikes women at a devastating rate, jumping to more than 3300 diagnoses a year in the most recent statistics. Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s chief executive Evangelia Henderson says, “When breast cancer is found early, survival rates are significantly improved. However, we’re still losing more than 600 Kiwis to breast cancer every year. Our vision of zero deaths from breast cancer can only be achieved if it is found and treated earlier, and modern medicine continues to make treatment breakthroughs.”
The campaign aims to raise awareness amongst all Kiwi women aged 20 and over. “Be breast aware – know the signs of breast cancer, know your normal and report any changes to your doctor immediately,” says Evangelia. “It’s good to remember that, unlike in the past, the knowledge we have these days can beat breast cancer.
“And knowledge will be key to beating those tough breast cancers doctors still struggle to treat. The foundation, which relies entirely on donations, is funding various innovative research projects aimed at finding better, more targeted treatments.”
I was 35 when I found a lump in my right breast – I was lucky and found it early. I had a lumpectomy, chemo, radiotherapy and five years of Tamoxifen. No-one can ever prepare you for such a life-changing diagnosis, but I had great doctors and fantastic, unconditional support from my partner Dave.
Later, more cancer was found in my other breast. I elected to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. My confidence was knocked by the second diagnosis but eventually I bounced back – it just took a lot longer. I looked for silver linings everywhere and I have gained a good perspective on what is important in life.
I studied art history at university and love the curvy female models of Rubens. I was amazed to hear how modern doctors were able to diagnose breast cancer from the paintings. I took part in this campaign to illustrate how lucky we are to live now with such amazing treatment. Also, who wouldn’t want to be in a beautiful painting?
I’m 51 years old and I’ve just celebrated my 15-year cancer-free anniversary; I intend to celebrate quite a few more!
Know your breasts. Check yourself regularly. If you are worried, go and get checked early because knowledge beats breast cancer. Don’t wait. Now is good.