Black and ethnic minority women with cancer are the stars of this beautiful photography exhibition in Peckham’s Copeland Gallery

Katherine Johnston (06 March, 2019) Culture Health

'I was actually shocked at the lack of services tailored and catered for BME patients - even things such as getting a decent wig to match our hair types seemed impossible for services to get right'

28236Rosemarie Flash photographed by Noam Friedman, for Black Women Rising

The first portrait exhibition in the UK to feature black and ethnic minority women cancer patients and survivors goes on display in Peckham this month.

Black Women Rising – The Untold Cancer Stories, profiles fourteen women from BAME backgrounds at different stages of their cancer treatment and recovery, photographed by Noam Friedman.

Exhibition creator Leanne Pero, from Peckham, was diagnosed at 30 years of age with stage three breast cancer, six months after her mother was diagnosed with the disease for the second time.

She says the project aims to challenge myths about cancer that still exist among some black communities, and help support women going through diagnosis and treatment.

Leanne says back-to-back operations, including a double mastectomy, and gruelling rounds of chemotherapy gave her mental health a ‘battering’ during her treatment, describing the emotional support promised by healthcare professionals as ‘non-existent’.

Exhibition creator, and breast cancer survivor, Leanne Pero

After setting up an online blog to chronicle her experience, she says many other patients from BAME backgrounds contacted her to share their own stories, including those who had been rejected by their families and wider community, women who were told cancer wasn’t a ‘black disease’, patients shunned by friends afraid they were infectious, and others told their cancer was a curse in punishment for past deeds.

The portraits, on display at Peckham’s Copeland Gallery this month, include Leanne and her mother Amanda, and 49-year-old Rosemarie Flash, a midwife from Peckham diagnosed with breast cancer in August last year, who described the experience as ‘very empowering’.

She said: “I feel like I’m not alone which has enable me to embrace my new journey alongside individuals with a shared experience.”

Also photographed are primary school teacher Rosemarie Morgan, from Peckham, who was diagnosed with grade three, triple negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease, and 34-year-old teaching assistant Charlene Young, from Rotherhithe, who has bone cancer.

Charlene, who was diagnosed in September 2011, said taking part had been a bonding experience with the other women: “I am truly grateful and proud to be a part of something so special,” she said. “I couldn’t have chosen a better bunch of women to continue my journey with me.”

Leanne told the News she hopes the exhibition can help push for more support: “I’m absolutely delighted to be able to create a platform for these wonderfully brave and courageous cancer warriors to share their stories and join me in spreading some much-needed cancer awareness amongst our BME communities.

“When I was going through my own cancer treatment I was actually shocked at the lack of services tailored and catered for BME patients – 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.

“This exhibition is 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 amongst the BME Community.”

Black Women Rising is funded by the Leanne Pero Foundation and Brightooms photography Studio in Peckham.

The first free exhibition will be on held on Thursday, March 28, from 6.30pm-10.30pm and includes a panel talk with the women photographed.

For more information, visit: copelandpark.com

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