Plymouth woman battling breast cancer – and the stigma of surgery
AN ARTIST who underwent a double mastectomy following breast cancer is urging other breastless women to "celebrate their differences" with a unique photography project.
Hannah Whale had her right breast removed in August 2010 after finding three lumps.
She then opted to have her left breast removed earlier this year after suffering with her asymmetrical body image.
Now the 46-year-old says it is the "best decision" she ever made.
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Hannah has teamed up with local photographer Eileen Long, who lives on Dartmoor, to find and photograph 80 women from Devon and Cornwall who have either had one or both breasts removed as a result of cancer.
The pair intend to remove the stigmas surrounding breast cancer and mastectomies and celebrate the scars that represent life through 'The Amazonian Project'.
Hannah, who was diagnosed at the age of 43, said: "When I found the lumps in my breast I never once thought it would be cancer.
"It was not in my family. I wasn't overweight, I ate healthily and yoga kept me fit. I guess I just bucked the trend.
"Telling my parents about the cancer was the most terrible thing I've ever done.
"I had no doubt in my mind that I needed the breast removing. I had a horrible thing living inside me that could kill me and I just wanted it gone.
"For me, the worst part about the cancer was finding out I would never be able to have children. I know at 43 years old I'd left it late in the day, but it was devastating to learn I wouldn't ever have children."
Since the age of 40 Hannah has taken a picture of herself every year to document the ageing process. Following her diagnosis she enlisted the help of photographer Eileen to chronicle her journey with cancer.
"Never, from day one, have I ever wanted reconstructive surgery," Hannah said. "Breasts don't define who I am.
"I decided to have my other breast removed in March this year because I hated having just one.
"As an artist I like things to be precise, maybe that had something to do with my decision. I felt insecure with one breast but with none I feel confident.
"If people have a problem with the way I look it's theirs, not mine – I've been through enough.
"Yes, my body image is different now, but it's a difference that needs to be celebrated. It represents life.
"Without it I wouldn't be here. I can't not like the way I look, I have to embrace it."
Hannah and Eileen, a third year BA Photography student at Plymouth College of Art, now hope to recruit 80 women in the region for their collaborative photography project.
Eileen Long, 48, who has lost a number of relatives to breast cancer, added: "We need to raise awareness of the disease, remove the stigma attached to it and let these women just be who they are."
The pair are looking for women of all ages, who have undergone a single or double mastectomy, to participate in the photographic project to "demonstrate their inner strength and beauty".
"This project is to make women feel valued," Hannah said. "We live in a breast-obsessed society, so where do women without them fit in?
"This is a really good opportunity for women to come together who may not have spoken to anyone about what they're going through or have been through.
"Breast cancer is still the third most diagnosed caner in the UK so it's imperative that we raise awareness of it."
Hannah and Eileen are holding a recruitment day for the project at the Jury's Inn hotel, in Derriford, on Saturday, November 3, from 1pm.
For more information contact Eileen by emailing email@example.com or Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.