These striking pictures make up the UK‘s first exhibition of black women cancer survivors

All photography by Noam Friedman

You can feel all kinds of emotion in looking at Leanne Pero’s Black Women Rising photography series, a collection of photographs of black women who are cancer survivors and patients. Helena Boyce is joyful, Rosemarie Flash is holding herself, exposed and careful, and Leanne herself looks determined and focused.

These pictures will make up some of the UK’s first all-black women cancer portrait exhibition. They are aimed at getting more black women cancer patients connecting and talking about their cancer experiences – to aid their recovery process, spread some much-needed cancer awareness amongst their communities and to educate some of the UK’s leading cancer care organisations about black women’s needs.

Leanne was diagnosed with cancer at age 30 and began a support group for black women. At the group, she was presented with stories from women who had been through tough cultural and medical experiences thanks to their illness.

She wrote: “[I met] those who had been banished from their families and communities because of their cancer diagnosis, those who were told cancer wasn’t a “black disease”, women who had family members disappear from their lives because they were too scared that they may catch it, women who had been told their cancer was a curse or karma for bad things they had done in the past, many women who had lost their hair through treatment and didn’t receive their free wig they were entitled to because their hospital had run out of the wigs in the “ethnic section” and, most shockingly, women who were advised against vital lifesaving cancer drugs because they were ungodly.”

For Leanne, these photographs were a way of giving back to the women who had so bravely shared their stories – and a way of reclaiming her own narrative, too.

Charlotte Crowl, 28: “I feel inspired to be around so many beautiful survivors to help raise awareness”

Juliette Dawn Giscombe, 64: “Being a part of this project will enable me to help and inspire others suffering from cancer, giving hope that it does not have to be a death sentence. Being a voice and support to family, friends and loved ones that have lost loved ones to that nasty disease, just knowing that there are people out there to turn to for support.”

Helena ‘Noodles’ Boyce: “I have always felt the need to tell the story of my cancer, as I felt there wasn’t really any leaflets etc there that I could relate to. This project helps tackle that by increasing the relatability of cancer experiences in black communities. By spreading knowledge and talking to each other we can create support for each other. I love being a part of that.”

Leanne Pero, 33: “I am so glad I am able to tell these ladies stories, this has been part of my own healing process.”

Amanda Pero, 59: “I am super proud and honoured.”

Rosemarie Flash, 49: “I feel like I’m not alone which has enabled me to embrace my new journey alongside individuals with a shared experience”

Saima Thompson, 30: “This project is a powerful way to get the conversation going In BAME communities. We must start the dialogue and talk about cancer without shame or taboo, as it will affect one in two people regardless of age or race. I am proud to stand side by side with 13 other women showing our scars and sharing or stories.”

Black Women Rising: The Untold Cancer Stories exhibition (sold out) will take place on 27-28 March 2019 at the Copeland Gallery in Peckham. For more information on Black Women Rising and its next tour stop, please contact [email protected]

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