At the end of last year I visited BBC Wiltshire in Swindon to do a live radio interview with Graham Seaman, talking about our fabulous charity Flat Friends UK and my year long photographic project to produce our first Calendar – quite exciting for me! Catch it on iPlayer here (listen from 1hr 28mins in). The Wiltshire Times also covered the story…
Organising the printing of this remarkable project was an experience in itself, and my thanks to Mike at Serenarts in Bradford On Avon for coming to the rescue at such short notice, and working so hard to get things right.
See the images from the calendar and some of the extras in the Flat Friends Gallery
Full press release below:
WILTSHIRE WOMEN SPEARHEAD UNIQUE CALENDAR FOR CHARITY FLAT FRIENDS
Two Wiltshire women have become “Calendar Girls” to create a unique calendar that features uplifting photographs of remarkable women celebrating friendship and life after mastectomy without reconstruction. Sarah Dow from Keevil and Salisbury resident Susie Colson joined other members of Flat Friends from all over the UK in producing the calendar to raise awareness and funds for the charity. Sarah was lead photographer on the year-long project while Susie was in front of the camera, featured in August and on the cover.
The calendar’s launch coincides with additional celebrations for Sarah, who has also just gained professional recognition and top marks to become a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society.
Both Sarah and Susie are members of Flat Friends, the UK’s only charity solely dedicated to the support of women facing or living with mastectomy surgery without breast reconstruction, due to either a breast cancer diagnosis or preventative surgery. When the group started throwing fundraising ideas around, it was never going to stop at t-shirts and phone cases: in no time at all “Calendar Girls” was in the mix and that was that – the seed was sown. Sarah picks up the story:
“If you’ve ever met a Flat Friend you’ll understand that this was never going to involve strategically-placed cupcakes, we were after something much more authentic. Most importantly we wanted to celebrate our friendship, and to show that it’s normal and fulfilling to live without reconstruction after mastectomy surgery. So much ‘survivor’ photography focuses on scars and the kind of portraiture that doesn’t really reflect our everyday life or how we see ourselves. We wanted to show that life goes on, we still look fabulous, and focus on what we have gained, not what’s been lost.”
All the photographers and models involved with the calendar are members of Flat Friends living with either unilateral or bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. Some use prosthesis when they feel like it, some never do and go flat all the time. Gilly Cant, who founded Flat Friends two years ago, continued: “We wanted to show that survivorship is something that happens every day, and even though our experiences have changed us, friendship, love and understanding matter far more than body shape, and every one of us is still all woman”. Both Sarah and Susie are prime examples of this ethos.
“I was really clear from the outset I didn’t want reconstruction – I simply didn’t want to put my body through any surgery that wasn’t necessary, and after trying prostheses once, I just knew it wasn’t me. But back then there was no-one to turn to for advice or support, so I had to figure things out for myself. Being part of Flat Friends is like being part of a huge extended family of people like me, and it’s been my absolute privilege to travel, meet and photograph so many of my flat friends throughout the year – something truly magic happens every time we come together, it’s like we’ve known each other all our lives.”
The calendar was a major project for Sarah in her burgeoning career as a creative photographer, which launched with an exhibition at Salisbury Library in September. She is now working closely with one of the UK’s foremost portrait photographers, Bella West FBIPP ARPS, and developing a challenging self-portrait project that explores identity, loss and healing after physical and emotional trauma.
Susie Colson (right), 56, was diagnosed with two tumours and DCIS last year: mastectomy was her only option.
“I pleaded for both breasts to be removed,” she says: “I knew instantly that reconstruction was not an option for me, but I was told I was having a knee jerk reaction – in effect, I couldn’t possibly know my own mind, I was only 55, so what did I know.”
Her first mastectomy and the discovery of Flat Friends coincided in August 2015. She found that the refusal of doctors to consider a bilateral mastectomy when only one breast was affected was a common experience – and that Flat Friends was a firm advocate for individual choice.
“At last I knew I wasn’t weird for wanting to go flat and had my second mastectomy in January 2016, which turned out to be a good choice as I had extensive neoplasia in my “healthy” breast. I love being a member of FFUK: everyone is so positive and if anyone is having a hard time, then we all jump in their pocket and take the ride with them as best we can. And I loved being part of the calendar: there was lots of fun and laughter on the shoot. I look forward to the next FFUK meet up because these girls are all bonkers!”
More from the Calendar girls on the Flat Friends website…