In a pow­er­ful re­minder that knowledge beats cancer, Kiwi breast cancer sur­vivors pose as clas­sic paint­ings

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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.”

Anete’s story:

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.

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