The Show must go on…!
“You’re having an exhibition on vulval cancer? What, open to the public? With drawings? Blimey!”
The evening of Thursday November 22nd was a wet and windy in Cardiff. It seemed the torrential rain would never let up as we peered through the darkened windows of the Senedd building. Everything was prepared for the launch of Drawing Women’s Cancer – we needed only the guests…. and you came! Wet coats, wet hair and with stories of huge tailbacks on the M4 which lead to standstill traffic in the city… but you came!
This was not a traditional Exhibition; it was not just about looking at pictures. The evening was about getting everyone there to talk about the issues; to bring the world of vulval cancer out into the open, because the disease is invisible, inaudible and as yet ‘without a voice’
No-one can see it – No-one can hear it – No-one talks about it
The good news is we are trying to change this and you helped us do so just by being there, on that wet and windy night!
“Cancer is increasingly becoming a chronic condition people can live with, however, that does not lessen the impact it has on the lives of people who fight and survive it.“This exhibition is not only unique; it is emotive and thought-provoking. It gives an insight to the torrent of emotions a woman might experience when she has been diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer in a visual and interactive way.”
Minister for Health and Social Services, Lesley Griffiths
“Clinically, more and more people survive cancer. However, the emotional trauma a woman may go through when faced with the prospect of physical changes to her body cannot be underestimated. The exhibition is a physical expression of the psychological effects cancer can have, and I think it will resonate with many people. It is important that services respond holistically to peoples’ needs and preferences.”
The Chief Nursing Officer, Dr Jean White
Amanda spoke about the nature of vulval disease:
It can be a simple eczema type illness, it can be pre-cancerous and it can be cancer.
She spoke about a series of articles by Hilary Jefferies that focus on the Lived experience of women with vulval cancer. There are key themes that are fundamentally meaningful to women – the most pertinent perhaps being :
For want of awareness – For want of openness – For want of a shared experience
Our two guest speakers: Dr Jean White, Chief Nursing Officer for Wales, and Gaynor Kavanagh, Dean of Cardiff School of Art and Design at Cardiff Metropolitan University, spoke eloquently of what we have described as the ‘unspeakable’
The silence is now well and truly broken. Drawing Women’s Cancer draws on!
See you at the next event in November 2013
Amanda and Jac would like to thank:
Catherine Morgan, Alan Le Marinel, Julian (for the van!), HPV Research Group, Cardiff University, All staff at Cardiff and Vale Hospital, Staff at CSAD , Events and Security Staff at the Senedd, The Minister, Lesley Griffiths for sponsoring the exhibition, Jean White, Gaynor Kavanagh, and most of all, the women who shared their experiences.
Please find the Catalogue to download here: DWCCATALOGUE
Drawing Women’s Cancer
When I first read the motto entering into the Medical School in Sheffield (Art is Long, Life is Short), little could I imagine the new meaning it would come to have for me over a quarter of a century later. As a women’s cancer surgeon and researcher at Cardiff University, I was introduced to Jac Saorsa, an artist at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Jac wanted to draw women’s experiences of cancer and I wanted to find a way helping to explain to women what it would feel like after surgery, rather than just what it would look like. Drawing Women’s Cancer is the result. The drawings in this first exhibition represent visual interpretations by the artist of the experience of a vulval disease, based on conversations with patients, health care professionals and scientists. The exhibition is designed to raise public awareness of the disease and provide the catalyst for an information booklet for women undergoing surgery.
Vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) is a skin condition affecting the vulva in women of all ages. The name comes from the appearances of the disease when seen down the microscope, and literally means ‘abnormal cells in the skin of the vulva’. The condition causes itching, burning and pain and may develop into cancer if it is not treated. Standard treatment is surgical removal, but this does not guarantee that the condition will not come back – it does in about fifty percent of cases – and the surgery leaves behind scarring, which can cause physical and psychosexual problems. There is little information available for women who decide to have surgery and part of the Drawing Womens’s Cancer project was therefore to provide a booklet for women about the surgery, covering both practical and emotional aspects. The intention was to explain both with words and with visual imagery what the treatment would feel like.
There is much research going on to try to understand VIN and to test new treatments and scientists in the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) group at Cardiff University Medical School are at the forefront of this. Some of them have also shared with the artist their experiences of working in this important area of research.
Women often suffer with vulval illness for a long time before seeking or receiving help. This is due largely to embarrassment, lack of awareness, and a reluctance to speak about their problem. The Drawing Women’s Cancer project hopes to help change this situation by using the language of drawings to explain the illness that is the subjective overall experience of disease. There is no name for the illness associated with VIN; this exhibition will help to give it a voice.
The exhibition is a result of encounters between the artist and women who have undergone surgery, the nurses and doctors caring for them and the scientists in the laboratory. I hope you are as moved and inspired by the result as I have been by all those involved.
Dr Amanda Tristram