These Black Women Bared Their Breast Cancer Scars To Make A Powerful Point (NSFW)

Photographed by Noam Friedman
Leanne Pero
Leanne Pero was 30 years old when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer three years ago, and it was her firsthand experience of hospital care – six months of chemotherapy, 18 Herceptin injections, a double mastectomy and reconstruction – that inspired the award-winning community entrepreneur and blogger to spark some "much-needed conversation" within communities and households in which cancer is often stigmatised or culturally taboo to discuss.
Thus, the Black Women Rising cancer project was born. "It's on the rise and it doesn't exclude because of race," Pero tells Refinery29. There have long been concerns, including from within the NHS, that more needs to be done to ensure the specific needs of black and minority ethnic (BME) people are met in cancer care, with NHS England's chief executive, Simon Stevens, calling on more BME patients to share their experiences in 2017.
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Pero, with endorsement from the charities Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now, hopes to reframe the way cancer is perceived in these communities through talking sessions with BME women who have experienced cancer, and a photographic exhibition of survivors' portraits, Black Women Rising - The Untold Cancer Stories, the UK’s first all-black female cancer portrait exhibition which showed in south London this week and will be touring other communities this autumn, she says.
Photographed by Noam Friedman
The 14 captivating black-and-white exhibition photos feature women Pero met online and through her support group, which she founded in 2018. Among them is restaurateur Saima Thompson, who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at 30 and blogs about her journey on her website, Curry and Cancer.
There's also 28-year-old Charlotte Crowl, a teenage Lymphoma cancer patient who has been in remission for nine years and survived a rare side effect of her chemotherapy drugs that almost killed her and has left her with a permanent disability and speech impairment.

Even things such as getting a decent wig to match our hair types seemed impossible

Leanne Pero
Helena Boyce, a 41-year-old Southampton-based dancer and exercise instructor who had breast cancer twice in two years and underwent two rounds of chemotherapy, is also pictured; along with Pero's own mother, 58-year-old Amanda, whose second cancer diagnosis came just six months before her daughter's. Amanda first survived breast cancer 21 years ago and has had her breasts removed.
Photographed by Noam Friedman
Helena Boyce
"When I was going through my own cancer treatment I was actually shocked at the lack of services tailored towards and catering for BME patients," Pero says. "Even things such as getting a decent wig to match our hair types seemed impossible for services to get right. We have had enough of our needs and voices going unheard, we have had enough of cultural taboos and myths stopping us from speaking out about our experiences and traumas within our communities."
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The photos, Pero asserts, are "the start of some much-needed conversation with everyone – cancer care services, the media and most importantly our communities. It's a time to excitedly
change the narrative of cancer among the BME community."
Photographed by Noam Friedman
Most women Pero spoke to about their experience through her meet-up group were "traumatised" and "seriously suffering" months – and in some cases, years – later, she says. Pero heard stories of women who had been banished from their families and communities because of their diagnosis, those who were told cancer wasn’t a "black disease", those whose family members disappeared from their lives because they were too scared that they may catch it.
Photographed by Noam Friedman
Charlotte Crowl
Others who confided in Pero had been told their cancer was a curse or a result of karma for bad things they'd done in the past, and some women were even advised against vital lifesaving cancer drugs because, they were told, such drugs were "ungodly". This led to depression, permanent hair loss and even suicidal thoughts, Pero added.
With black women nearly twice as likely as white women to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, due to a lack of awareness of the symptoms, according to Cancer Research UK and Public Health England, the importance of Pero's work can't be understated.
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