'Defiance' photo series shows reality of cancer


Stand Up To Cancer hosted a gallery showcase of a series of photographs, giving an honest and unfiltered look at cancer. The project, ‘Defiance’ aims to highlight the gritty and raw reality of a cancer diagnosis. The men and women involved in the series have embraced scars and changes to their bodies, big or small, as a show of defiance against cancer. 

Shot by photographer Ami Barwell, the project is a follow up to her ‘Mastectomy’ series in 2017. Following an outpouring of positive responses to her previous photographs, Ami has broadened this series beyond mastectomy scars, to include a range of experiences.

Photograph of Deborah for the Defiance series
Photograph of Doug for the Defiance series
Photograph of Sherry for the Defiance series
Photograph of Caroline for the Defiance series

Deborah James, 38, from London, has stage 4 bowel cancer and is known on social media as ‘Bowel Babe’.

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.”

Mark Douglas (Doug), 39, from London, living with thyroid cancer.

He 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 wanted 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.” 

Sherry McGill, 44, from Bedford, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in April 2017.

She said: “I’m tired of seeing pink hearts to ‘raise awareness of breast cancer’. Breast cancer is real and harsh and unforgiving. I didn’t choose to go through this but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I want women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer to realise that living flat can be a positive choice. I still feel very feminine even after everything I’ve gone through.” 

Caroline Caffrey, 58, from Brighton, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.

She said: “I wanted to take part in the shoot as I live flat, having never worn a prosthesis, and I am happy and proud with that choice. I want to highlight and share that not having breasts does not make me less feminine, that it is a positive choice. When I had my surgery I found there were no pictures to show me what I was going to look like post-surgery, things have changed a little but a project like this celebrates the positive side of scars.”