Journal: A Mother and Daughter’s Recovery from Breast Cancer
A few days before Christmas of 2002, my mother shared the news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was devastated, having lived with the impression that cancer was a death sentence. I began to imagine what she would look like without hair and a breast. And as the idea was forming, she asked if I would photograph her. I felt that if we turned the disease into a project, it would become less scary. We could objectify and observe it. And if we could anticipate the completion of the project, then we could anticipate the end of the disease.
I photographed my mother over the next year, documenting her recovery from a full mastectomy, chemotherapy treatments and radiation. I knew that she had always kept a journal, and I saw her writing in one throughout treatment. So I asked to use her words to give the photographs a voice and with her permission, put together a book of images accompanied by her text. My photographs and her journal entries tell a parallel story of an illness that I now look back on as something we were lucky to go through.
While they highlight upsetting moments of vulnerability and hopelessness, they also show her incredible will to overcome this disease with both strength and grace. My mother’s will to live has been empowering for me and, I hope, will be for other women and their families who are battling cancer. This experience has shown me who my mother really is, and it has brought us together in ways I never could have imagined.
This is our journal.
Friday, 14 January 2003
I couldn’t write yesterday because I was in Morphine Land. But anyway-my op went fine. Some of the best moments were being with my group waiting to go in. Laughing, loving, then up in the room in and out of consciousness. Benjy came. My beautiful Benjy. My Annabel slept with me on the pull out chair bed. I’ve seen my scar–it isn’t bad at all. The only worry is what is my future prognosis. How much chemo, etc.
I’m feeling really good–my scar doesn’t freak me out–I’m ok–I’m ok. Everyone is so nice here.
Sunday, 19 January 2003
As Annabel and I left the hospital we were helped by William, who had earlier brought me my paper and my breakfast. Waiting for the elevator I started to cry. “One day at a time” he said. “One day at a time. My Mom had cancer” he said, “so I’ve been on both sides of this.”
Monday, 10 March 2003
The birthday was wonderful. To live in my memory of all those weird, emotional, happy, strange times that have happened to me in the new life…
…Yesterday, Sunday–The second gloriously sunny day in a row. Then I went to church. Once again pastor Melinda somehow managed to come up with the sermon that I most needed to hear. About holding anger towards someone. About forgiving? Forgetting. I really like her and really like this church. It’s a wonderful haven for me. I don’t know whether I’ve found God and Jesus yet. But the comfort of shared prayer and company and singing and praying and focusing is healing and nourishing.
Wednesday, 18 June 2003
So here is what happened. Came with Annabel yesterday for what was going to be the dry run radiation but they decided to go ahead and treat me anyway. First though, I had to lay still for over an hour. In my cast. At first its fine but then the fingers of my right hand go dead. Then Annabel rubs it. Much better but now my arm then neck, then head, turned to one side, begin to really really hurt. Mustn’t move. The technicians purposefully stride in and out. Putting in film, moving the big machine. Each time they leave, the radioactive proof door closes automatically. I’m alone in there with a loud machine. They can see me on a monitor, but I am alone. Annabel of course has to also leave the room. Whoever designed the treatment rooms has thoughtfully painted flowers on the ceiling. It’s all very high tech, but they have definitely tried their best to make it patient friendly. And the people are really nice.
Saturday, 28 June 2003
The sweltering heat of the last few days has cooled off and I have had two very happy days…
Suddenly I feel less fearful. What will be will be. The fear of early death seems lifted. I feel good. I feel happy. My 9 radiations are beginning to look a little red–but really not all that bad. It’s easy to close my eyes under the machines and go somewhere else inside myself. I’m not on the table. I’m not being nuked, I’m off with my loved ones. My ability to do this has grown during this funny old journey. By the side of the stage each performance at Talking Heads, my ghosts visit. Dad, Mum, Nanny, Vanessa, Corin, Robert Stephens, Noel Coward. They send me out there calm and ready.
Wednesday, 12 November 2003
Had my 4 month check up yesterday and all is well. My face feels relaxed and peaceful. My scar squeezes, but that tells me I am alive.
Annabel Clark was born in Topanga Canyon, California in 1981. She received her B.F.A. in Photography from Parsons School of Design in 2003. During her final term at Parsons, she photographed her mother, actress Lynn Redgrave, during treatment and recovery from breast cancer. In 2004, the project was published as a six-page spread in the New York Times Magazine and then as the award-winning book Journal: A Mother and Daughter’s Recovery from Breast Cancer, by Umbrage Editions. Her work has been exhibited at the Minnesota Center for Photography, Peer Gallery and The National Arts Club as well as hospitals and medical schools across the U.S. Her editorial work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Observer, Marie Claire, Glamour, Redbook and Proto Magazine. Clark was the 2008 recipient of the Albina Taddeo Humanitarian Award from the Sass Foundation for her contribution to breast cancer awareness. She also teaches photography workshops at the Creative Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free art classes to people living with cancer. website.