Updated: Nov 10, 2018
I took advantage of the great weather at the end of April & rode my motorbike up from Auckland to meet Amy Oakes. She had taken two weeks to recuperate at her mother & step-father's property on a peninsula just outside Keri Keri. A beautiful location with a fabulous outlook (as you can see from the video & photos) & the perfect place to rest up after several months of aggressive chemotherapy.
Amy has breast cancer. She had grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma. She found a lump in her left breast while touring in Australia. It grew fast & large & although she didn't hang around, it was Christmas & so took 3 months from discovery to final diagnosis. "Not too long to make much of a difference" she reckons. But then Amy reckons on the positive side of most things. In her calm, measured way she described the, frankly rather horrifying, process to me. She has the measure of it; she has educated herself about what is going on in her body; she is planning to defeat it on schedule.
According to the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation 3000 women are diagnosed every year. Breast cancer affects men as well - 20 annually. 75% of diagnosed women will be aged over 50, but as Amy has found out, that remaining 25% is a real number.
Statistics help us place a scale on the issue, but I think they also disguise the real effect; the emotional impact on lives. I spent a whole day with Amy, and although her pure strength of character allowed me to forget, temporarily, that she was a very sick woman, when I talked to her about it there was no hiding the real & lasting effect it has had & will have on her life.
If you watch the video interview you will perhaps understand the strength & vulnerability that Amy exudes far more eloquently than I can describe it. And in the many pictures I took, it was always her serenity & inner peace that shone through. Her life has been turned upside down but she is striding determinedly along a furrow that has been ploughed for her. Where it ends, no-one really knows, but Amy does. She will return to her life when this episode ends. Just before the diagnosis she & her partner were on their way to London - jobs vacated, possessions sold - & they will pick up where they left off, but possibly Australia not England. The climate is better & cost of living is lower.
Where does she get her strength from? Having met her mother, I think I know; in part. The quiet determination, the self possession. Amy is her own person but her mother helps guide her from within, now more than ever. Despite some nightmare days of physical incapacity, Amy is mentally strong. She is using some of her 'down time' to create. Painting, drawing, dressmaking. You can find some of her creations for sale amongst her clothes on TradeMe. Search for Amy000 in members & make a bid because you'll be helping her support herself through this nightmare.
As a photographer, I went to take pictures of Amy because of her lack of hair - due to the chemotherapy . Why am I attracted to hairless women (& men)? Apart from blaming the influence of Sinead O'Connor on a pubescent boy, I think it is because without the distraction of hair the true person is exposed. But more than that, real adversity reveals the soul, the human core. And Amy has been revealed to be beautiful to the core.
Amy talks to me frankly about life & cancer
KeriKeri - April 2016
Since I visited Amy at the end of April, she has returned home to Wellington for further treatment & discovered that she has the full BRCA1 gene. Therefore she has made the courageous choice to have a full double mastectomy to avoid any recurrence of a cancer that she is pre-disposed towards.
Typically sanguine, she plans her reconstruction & comments: "It's a bit sad really, my breasts will never be the same, but I have no choice. I just have to roll with it. Rather lose my left arm to be honest, but that's not the problematic body part."