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Defiant men and women stand up to cancer and bare their scars in raw photo series

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by Cancer Research UK | News

14 October 2019

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Juliet standing in defiance of cancer
Credit: Ami Barwell

Sixteen men and women who have been diagnosed with cancer have taken part in a photoshoot for Stand Up To Cancer, giving an honest and unfiltered look at the disease.

“We hope that by seeing these images, the public will be inspired to get involved in any way they can and help us beat cancer at its own game.”Simon Harrison, head of Stand Up To Cancer

The project, called ‘Defiance’, has been released as part of Stand Up To Cancer, a joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4, and aims to showcase the gritty and raw reality of cancer. These men and women have embraced scars and changes to their bodies, big or small, as a show of strength against the disease.

Shot by photographer Ami Barwell, the project is a follow up to her ‘Mastectomy’ series in 2017. Following an outpouring of positive responses to her previous photographs, Ami has broadened this series beyond mastectomy scars, to reflect a diverse range of experiences.

Photographer Ami Barwell said: “To me, ‘Defiance’ is an act of rebellion. Cancer isn’t pretty, it can be dark, painful and destructive. But we aren’t playing to cancer’s rules. These people are strong, beautiful and, most of all, defiant.”

“My previous Mastectomy series was inspired by my mum, who has had breast cancer twice, and a mastectomy, so this was a subject very close to my heart.  I wanted to raise as much awareness for breast cancer as possible, showing women baring their scars in a series of gritty and honest portraits. I received an overwhelmingly positive response, with emails from women worldwide explaining how my photographs had inspired them and given them strength. For many, these were the first photographs they’d seen showing women post-mastectomy as beautiful, sexy, strong and amazing.  I knew I had to carry on raising awareness with Stand Up To Cancer and empowering people through my photographs.”

Amongst those photographed is Deborah James, 38, from London, who has stage 4 bowel cancer and is known on social media as ‘Bowel Babe’. She said: “I’m living with stage 4 cancer, but you wouldn’t know it if you saw me walking down the street. For me, it’s about not being defined by my cancer – I want to be seen as the woman I was before and yes, sometimes I do still want to look sexy. Doing this shoot for Stand Up To Cancer has been so empowering. My scars have affected my confidence at times, but I’ve learnt to appreciate my body for what it is – strong and resilient.”

Tasha Jilka, 27, from Leicester, who was diagnosed in 2010 with neuroblastoma which has affected her face and nose, said: “I was diagnosed with cancer just before my 18th birthday and this massively impacted my confidence. My cancer has completely changed my face, so it’s not something I can hide away from. I’ve had to build a thick skin over the past nine years and now I use my face as a symbol of strength, something that shows everything I’ve been through. I’m standing up to cancer by embracing my new normal every day, which is why I was so pleased to be a part of the ‘Defiance’ series.”

Mark Douglas (Doug), 39, from London, who is living with thyroid cancer said: “I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 30 and the psychological impact it had on me and my family was huge. I have a scar on my neck from surgery, but the main physical change for me has been how it’s altered my voice, which is almost like an invisible scar. I was thrilled to be a part of this project for Stand Up To Cancer, because this disease comes in all shapes and sizes and I want show others that we can all be defiant in our own way.”

Simon Harrison, head of Stand Up To Cancer, said: “We’re thrilled to be working in collaboration with Ami again. The images she’s taken are so powerful and really move you to challenge what it means to have been treated for cancer. The strength and defiance these men and women have shown is incredible and truly encapsulates what Stand Up To Cancer is all about.

“We’ve made amazing progress against cancer over the past few decades but one in two people will be diagnosed in their lifetime and we want to make sure we’re funding leading research that will make a real difference to people affected by the disease. Our scientists are carrying out pioneering research every day, taking developments in the lab and working to accelerate them into brand new treatments. We hope that by seeing these images, the public will be inspired to get involved in any way they can and help us beat cancer at its own game.”

Stand Up To Cancer funds life-saving cancer research. To date, the campaign has raised more than £62 million, funding 52 clinical trials and projects, involving over 11,000 patients.

For more information visit

Ami’s photographs will be on exhibition and open to the public on Tuesday 15 October 12-4pm, at Carousel, 71 Blandford St, Marylebone, London W1U 8AB

To see more of Ami’s work go to