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A Celebration of Survivorship and Self-Acceptance

They say that age is just a number, but for Debora, it's so much more than that. After overcoming life-threatening illnesses, Debora is ready to celebrate herself and all that she's accomplished. That's why she decided to take part in the 50 over 50 project. It's a portrait photography experience which is designed to honour women who have reached their fifties and beyond while showcasing their strength, resilience, and beauty. From survivorship to motherhood, self-acceptance to growth, Debora has a story worth sharing - one that will inspire you to embrace your own journey with open arms.

How did you find out about the 50 over 50 Project?

I noticed one of your portraits on Facebook and it sparked my interest. I then had a look at your website and saw what you were up to and thought that sounds like a really great idea because I’d just turned 60 and I wanted to mark the occasion in some way. I’d always really liked having portraits done during lots of different periods in my life and it seemed like a really great idea.

How did you find the process of booking the session through me through to the actual session itself?

You responded to my email quite quickly and following that we arranged to speak on the phone. We had a

long chat about it and you were asking me lots of questions in order to understand what my goal was.

This conversation allowed me to reflect on the impact that a mastectomy had on my mental health, especially alteration in my body image as I felt a huge sense of loss. I was trying to re ach a point of acceptance and I was thinking that having my scars photographed may help me to accept those changes in myself. I hoped that the process overall would allow me to see myself as a beautiful whole woman. That might sound conceited, but we’re all beautiful in our own way. It’s important to realise that losing a breast for a woman is a very difficult thing to cope with as you’re losing a big part of yourself especially your femininity. Your rational self knows that not everyone is looking at you, however, you are always self-conscious. I really like clothes and fashion so it was a big deal for me as I also had to change what kind of clothing I can wear. The transition was not easy.

The whole process was straight forward and I felt included in every part of the process. The contract I signed made everything clear and very professional.

You have overcome cancer twice in your life, as well as undergoing heart surgery. You also mentioned your daughter, and how precious she is to you.

I got married when I was 35. We had decided to delay starting a family. When we eventually felt the time was right we experienced difficulty conceiving. I would have liked to have had another child, however, this was not to be as I was peri-menopausal aged 42. The chemotherapy which I’d undergone when I was treated for lymphoma may have affected my fertility and so this is why my daughter’s very precious to me. When I told you my story about myself and my daughter you invited her to join us for the session.

Furthermore, Serena was turning 21 and it seemed an appropriate way to mark the occasion, Mum aged 60 and daughter 21.

It was a lovely thing, such a great idea, and I realised that this was a very special part of the session.

What was your experience of planning the portrait session?

We put together a Pinterest board of poses that we liked, we expanded this further when you visited me at home. Your visit was very useful because you helped me to choose my outfit and also when you’re doing something like this your connection to the photographer is very important. I guess by seeing me in my home you had a better understanding of me and I gained more trust in you. Together we created a more special relationship which I think was reflected in the portraits.

How did you find the experience of working with us on the day of the shoot at the The House of Hair with Creative Director Lorraine Malcolm and Professional Make Up Artist Jodie Griffith?

I don’t usually wear a lot of make up so I was a little bit nervous. I needn’t have been, Jodie was very relaxed

and chatted with me. So it was a really easy process and a lot of fun. When I saw myself in the mirror, I thought: ‘I don’t know this person!’ The make up seems much darker than it actually is and when you see the photographs it doesn’t look that heavy. I think the way that my make up was done was absolutely beautiful especially my eyes. I also really liked the way Lorraine dried my hair and it was also really relaxing and easy.

By the time we did the session with Serena I felt much more comfortable as I had changed what I was wearing. My first outfit wasn’t a great choice and I was more comfortable with what I wore later on. If there is anything I would change, it would be what I was wearing. I told you I’m fixated with clothes! (laughs) But I felt really quite relaxed overall. I really enjoyed my session.

We did three sessions on the one day: The portraits of you wearing the blue blouse, then Beauty in Survivorship, followed by the mother and daughter portraits. it was a lot of fun for me as a photographer, but how did you find the experience?

The only session I found difficult was the Beauty in Survivorship. Even looking at the pictures now, I think I’m looking at my naked breast!’ (laughs.)

But I felt safe and I didn’t feel threatened at all. I trusted you and there’s no way I would enter into it otherwise. The portraits with Serena were much more relaxing and felt more natural. We are very close and are comfortable with one another.

Did you surprise yourself with the Beauty in Survivorship portraits?

After my open heart surgery I felt proud of my scar, totally different to how I felt after my mastectomy. By the time both surgeries were complete I joked with myself about the unique line of scars on my chest which serve as a daily reminder of what I have survived.

The portraits were liberating because after a mastectomy you are very self conscious of how you look, you don’t want to draw attention to the fact that you only have one breast. Seeing the photographs helped me to heal in many ways, they especially helped me to recognise my feelings and to accept that how I look is ok.

What do you think of the folio box and prints which you purchased?

The finished portraits are so much nicer than looking at the clips online. The folio box allows you to change portraits regularly which is great as you get to display all the pictures over a period of time.

What’s the response been from friends?

They say things like: ’Wow you look so brave, you’re so beautiful!’’ ‘’That must have been a very brave thing to do.’’

People have been very positive about it and have said some of them should be hanging in a gallery as they’re works of art. Everyone who has looked at them says that I look very vulnerable and genuine and I think that’s probably a true reflection of how I was feeling at the time.

Even if just one other woman looks at the Beauty in Survivorship portraits and thinks ‘wow gosh I think I would like to try that too” and by doing this are helped in the way that I was I would feel this has been even more worthwhile. I know so many women who’ve had mastectomies and it sometimes feels like they’re ‘accepting their lot” like eating burnt toast. I think things could be so much better than that.

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about doing it?

I would say ‘Do it!’ You won’t regret it. It’s a wonderful experience. You will see yourself in a way that will capture your true spirit; your true essence. It will be captured forever more. It’s a legacy for your family, for your future.

And you’ll be amazed by how beautiful you are even though you think that you’re not.

If Debora's story has inspired you, then get in touch to take part! Become empowered with a 50 over 50 photo session by booking here

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