Imelda is a bubbly, warm and easy going 48 year old whose passion is fine art photography, winning awards for her work including a Guild of Photographers Contemporary Portraiture Image of the Year 2016 and most recently, a Fellowship of the Master Photographers Association due to the quality and impact of her work.
Here, Imelda tells her story about the shock of being diagnosed with Breast Cancer and the journey she has been on since then.
In early December 2017, Imelda noticed a lump in her right breast and immediately booked an appointment with her GP. Following an examination, her GP recommended that she see a specialist who would be able to do further examinations and tests.
“I didn’t really think anything of the lump at first and when my GP suggested I should see a consultant, I just thought they were being extra cautious. I have private medical insurance through my husband’s work, so I booked an appointment in the Breast Clinic at KIMS Hospital in Maidstone. I called them on Friday, after I left my GP’s, and had arranged an appointment to see Consultant Breast Surgeon, Mr Dani, in the clinic on Tuesday, four days later”.
Imelda attended the Breast Clinic at KIMS Hospital on her own as she had insisted that her husband went to a meeting at work. She had an initial appointment with Mr Dani, Consultant Breast Surgeon, who examined Imelda’s breast and lump and recommended a mammogram which would allow him to see the lump in more detail.
“I had never had a mammogram before so wasn’t sure what to expect. Lesley, KIMS Hospital’s Macmillan Breast Care Nurse Specialist, was on hand to guide me through my appointment. She took me round to the imaging department where the Mammographer explained what would happen and that the images would be sent straight back to Mr Dani who would discuss the results with me after the mammogram. Knowing that I was going to get the results on the same day was reassuring; it meant there was no anxious waiting time.”
Following her mammogram, Imelda went straight for an ultrasound scan during which a sample was taken for biopsy. She was called back into the consulting room with Mr Dani and nurse Lesley to discuss the findings of her scan. Unfortunately, the results from the mammogram were not positive and showed a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
“It wasn’t until I heard the words “almost certainly cancer” that it dawned on me what was happening. Although, Mr Dani was very considerate as he broke the news to me, I was in complete shock. It was difficult to take it all in; I had no one there to hold my hand and listen to what Mr Dani was telling me”.
“In that moment, Lesley became the support I needed. I still had to wait for the results of the biopsy but she was there to talk to me, give me advice and calm me before I went home with an appointment scheduled for a week later to discuss the biopsy results”.
Sadly, the results of the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of breast cancer for Imelda and in January 2018, Mr Dani performed a mastectomy at KIMS Hospital.
“No one ever really wants to go to hospital especially not to have a mastectomy. It’s such an emotional and private thing to go through. The team at KIMS Hospital were well aware of this and I was given the care and respect I needed by everyone, which made the stay just that little bit easier. As I was in for a few days, knowing that I was so close to home was such a comfort. It meant my family and friends could visit me and saved the arduous journey to London everyday.”
Imelda has subsequently had further surgery to clear and remove her lymph nodes and is currently receiving chemotherapy. She regularly attends the Macmillan Cancer Support Group at KIMS Hospital run on the first Friday of every month.
“When I first got my cancer diagnosis, I felt very alone despite a very supportive husband, family and friends. KIMS Hospital invited me to their Macmillan Cancer Support Group and I have attended every one since my diagnosis. The Support Group has enabled me to connect with people who are all going through similar experiences, we are able to share are thoughts and feelings openly in a safe environment and I now consider these people my friends including Lesley, who has become more like a friend than a nurse to me.”
Imelda Bell – Faces of Cancer Project
Following her diagnosis and treatment, Imelda has continued her photography and found it a therapeutic process taking self-portraits depicting the emotions and side effects she was experiencing. Through word of mouth, interest in her work grew and people began to contact her about using the images for charities and education. Other people with cancer started to get in touch, wanting to have their journey documented and so “Faces of Cancer” was born.
“The idea of “Faces of Cancer” is to break stereotypical opinions about people with cancer. Everyone dealing with a diagnosis has a different journey and each journey is as individual as the person undertaking it. Every person has a unique story to tell.”
The panel of images Imelda has created features 20 individuals, all of whom are either currently undergoing or have had treatment for cancer, and shows the varying emotions and feelings associated with dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“The aim is to show the subjects as they are, not as an idealised version of themselves, in order to raise awareness of the emotions, both positive and negative, of cancer sufferers.”
Imelda has subsequently submitted her Faces of Cancer portfolio to the Master of Photographers Association in the hope of gaining an Associateship. This is what the judges said of her work:
“…after a couple of minutes viewing the images I simply replaced my score pad and said to my fellow judges, I cannot even begin to take marks away from such a stunning and emotional body of work…We all agreed that we should award the author a Fellowship such was the impact her work had on us all…If you ever get to view this work I implore you to take the opportunity.”
Imelda Bell, Fellowship of the Master Photographers Association