Cancer patients bare their post-surgery scars in touching photo series

Rosie Fitzmaurice and Daisy McCorgray
Ami Barwell

Sixteen men and women who have been diagnosed with cancer have taken part in a candid photoshoot for Stand Up To Cancer in which they bare their scars from surgery.

Photographer Ami Barwell shot the project, called 'Defiance,' which is a follow up to her ‘Mastectomy’ series in 2017, and aims to show the raw reality of cancer. She says she broadened this series beyond mastectomy scars, to reflect a more diverse range of experiences.

"To me, 'Defiance' is an act of rebellion. Cancer isn’t pretty, it can be dark, painful and destructive. But we aren’t playing to cancer’s rules. These people are strong, beautiful and, most of all, defiant," Barwell​ said of her project.


"My previous Mastectomy series was inspired by my mum, who has had breast cancer twice, and a mastectomy, so this was a subject very close to my heart. I wanted to raise as much awareness for breast cancer as possible, showing women baring their scars in a series of gritty and honest portraits. I received an overwhelmingly positive response, with emails from women worldwide explaining how my photographs had inspired them and given them strength. For many, these were the first photographs they’d seen showing women post-mastectomy as beautiful, sexy, strong and amazing. I knew I had to carry on raising awareness with Stand Up To Cancer and empowering people through my photographs."

Deborah James, who has stage 4 bowel cancer is known on social media as 'Bowel Babe' (Ami Barwell)



Deborah James (pictured above), 38, from London, who has stage 4 bowel cancer and is known on social media as 'Bowel Babe', is among those photographed. She said: "I’m living with stage 4 cancer, but you wouldn’t know it if you saw me walking down the street. For me, it’s about not being defined by my cancer - I want to be seen as the woman I was before and yes, sometimes I do still want to look sexy. Doing this shoot for Stand Up To Cancer has been so empowering. My scars have affected my confidence at times, but I’ve learnt to appreciate my body for what it is – strong and resilient."

Tasha Jilka was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2010 (Ami Barwell)

Meanwhile, Tasha Jilka, 27, from Leicester, who was diagnosed in 2010 with neuroblastoma which has affected her face and nose, said: "I was diagnosed with cancer just before my 18th birthday and this massively impacted my confidence. My cancer has completely changed my face, so it’s not something I can hide away from. I’ve had to build a thick skin over the past nine years and now I use my face as a symbol of strength, something that shows everything I’ve been through. I’m standing up to cancer by embracing my new normal every day, which is why I was so pleased to be a part of the ‘Defiance’ series."

Mark Douglas (Doug), from London, is living with thyroid cancer (Ami Barwell)

39-year-old Mark Douglas (Doug), from London, who is living with thyroid cancer said: "I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 30 and the psychological impact it had on me and my family was huge. I have a scar on my neck from surgery, but the main physical change for me has been how it’s altered my voice, which is almost like an invisible scar. I was thrilled to be a part of this project for Stand Up To Cancer, because this disease comes in all shapes and sizes and I want show others that we can all be defiant in our own way."

To date, the Stand Up To Cancer campaign which funds life-saving cancer research, has raised more than £62 million, funding 52 clinical trials and projects, involving over 11,000 patients.

Click through the gallery at the top for the full photo collection. Ami’s photographs will be on exhibition on October 15 at Carousel, 71 Blandford St, Marylebone, London W1U 8AB (12-4pm)


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