Journal by Annabel Clark

A FEW DAYS BEFORE Christmas in 2002, my mother shared the news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Having lived with the impression that cancer was a death sentence, I was devastated. I began to imagine what she would look like without hair and a breast. As the idea was forming, she asked if I would photograph her through this process. I felt that if we turned the disease into a project, it would become less scary. We could objectify and observe it. 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. At the same time, I saw her deal with her own mother’s mortality as my grandmother spent her final weeks with us. I knew that my mother had always kept a journal, and I saw her writing in one throughout her treatment. I asked if I could 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 together.

In 2006, the cancer returned and my mother lived with the disease for another four years before she passed away earlier this year. While she knew that a cure was no longer possible, she was determined to live the rest of her life to the fullest. She acted in several plays and films, never missing a performance even at her weakest. Each night, she transformed into characters who lived free of cancer and for those brief hours, her energy was restored. Acting was her therapy, or as she called it: Doctor Theatre. It was an integral part of her treatment and healing. Throughout her illness, photography was my therapy. The lens allowed me to look at her changed body, to make sense of the endless treatments and ultimately to be closer to her.

While the photographs 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 was empowering for me and, I hope, will continue to be for other women and their families who are battling cancer. This experience showed me who my mother really was, and it brought us together in ways I never could have imagined.

This is our journal.

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