Inspired by the way one of her close friends dealt with breast cancer, Honley photographer Amanda Crowther launched an amazing project to celebrate the survival of women who have undergone cancer treatment. HILARIE STELFOX reports
THEY ARE single women, wives, mothers and girlfriends – but all have one important connection to each other.
All the women featured in photographer Amanda Crowther’s website project, On The Bright Side, have survived breast cancer and want to tell their stories in order to help others.
Not only do the women bare all in the literary sense – revealing their innermost thoughts and feelings – but they also agreed to be photographed either naked or semi-naked, celebrating their bodies post surgery.
“I want the project to be an inspiration and help to others,” says Amanda. “It’s about showing women who have gone through the breast cancer journey and being able to say it has enhanced their lives, changed their attitudes and outlook in some way.”
In a few months time Amanda will have completed the initial stage of the project, posting artistically-produced images of 12 breast cancer patients on the website www.onthebrightside.org.uk along with their stories.
Stage two will involve transforming the pictures into a calendar which will be sold to raise money for Haven, a charity that runs support centres for breast cancer patients in Leeds, London and Hereford.
The first volunteer for On the Bright Side was one of Amanda’s best friends, 48-year-old single mum Di Holden, who lives in Netherthong. In fact, Di was the inspiration for the entire project.
The women first met 10 years ago while working together at Cragrats in Holmfirth where Di managed the café bar and Amanda worked in marketing.
Di discovered a breast lump shortly after giving birth to her daughter Mia who is now eight.
Di said: “I found it when breastfeeding, but I had to wait for things to settle down and for people to actually believe me.”
It was five months before she finally received a diagnosis.
“I was told I needed an immediate mastectomy and five days later I had the surgery,” she said.
Sadly, Di’s marriage didn’t survive the trauma.
“Simon has been fantastic since we split up and really supportive, but he just didn’t know what to do at the time,” she explained.
“We hadn’t known each other very long when we got married so there wasn’t that history to bind us together.”
But they were dark days for Di, who says she coped by focussing her efforts and energies on Mia.
“Being a mum with breast cancer was exhausting, scary, frightening and kind of bitter sweet at the same time because in a way it made me appreciate the little things about my baby’s development even more,” she says on the website.
It wasn’t until Mia started school in 2006 that Di, who now has her own cleaning business, decided to look at reconstruction options.
“Having no breast meant that the cancer smacked me in the face in the morning,” she explained. “After the mastectomy I found that no matter what I wore, I never looked right and clothes didn’t fit me properly.
“I was always trying to hide my body and wore cover-up clothes that masked everything. I wore nothing glamorous or fitted.”
However, reconstruction proved to be a turning point.
She said: “Physically I feel normal again. I’d had a left mastectomy but when they did the reconstruction they put an implant in the right breast as well to even things out. I’ve got better boobs now than I’ve ever had.”
Amanda says Di was so thrilled with her new figure that “she kept getting her boobs out to show people”.
“I watched her go through the whole process and then I saw this new person emerging. She started buying new clothes and wanting her life back.”
Di added: “Amanda just saw the spark of light come back on with my reconstruction.”
She says that breast cancer has made her a more patient and understanding person, someone who is stronger and wiser and feels a need to help others.
The idea for the calendar grew into the website and Amanda put out feelers for more volunteers.
It was, she says, a sort of viral campaign to find women from all over the country who wanted to celebrate their new post-cancer lives and bodies. As well as local women, from Huddersfield, Holmfirth and Halifax, there are volunteers, aged 30 to 63, from as far afield as Newcastle and Brighton.
“Having cancer is a massive personal journey and it has been an emotional experience for all of the women,” she explained.
In order to cover travelling expenses for the photoshoots, Amanda held a fundraising burlesque evening in October last year – and took to the stage herself. It raised £1,000.
Further fundraising this year will be needed to finance the project.
“Everyone involved gives their time without payment,” explained Amanda, who has found make-up artists, hairdressers and camera assistants willing to donate their skills.
“It’s turned out to be an enormous investment in time and I’m really looking for someone who can help us to take it one step further.
“We need to publicise the calendar to sell as many as possible.”