A photographic story of friendship and courage. Philipa’s battle with life-threatening cancer as photographed by close friend Julia Gunther.

German-born photographer Julia Gunther recently shared Philipa’s story with the Orms Connect team. We felt compelled to share the project with the community. With Julia and Philipa’s permission, here is the photographic story of a woman’s struggle with life-threatening cancer:

Philipa’s Story

I have been documenting my friend Philipa since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2008. This is a summary that describes the path she had to walk, the decisions she had to make and the consequences she had to deal with when fighting the silent war against cancer.

“Upon finding a large lump in my breast, I went through the process of mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy and blood tests. Diagnosis: Grade 3 ductal carcinoma, HER2 positive – the fastest growing breast cancer which is receptive to my body’s own hormones and feeds on them.

During this process there is an overload on information to understand and very little time for choices. I have a medical Port inserted below my right collarbone, so medication can be administered intravenously. As my cancer has hormone receptors, I’m informed that having children is no longer a possibility and it is too late to harvest eggs for any future options.”

December 2008
Philipa has been in chemotherapy for two months and it will continue until April 2009.

May 2009
Philipa goes into surgery for a mastectomy of her left breast

“I was told early on that I would have to have a full mastectomy of my left breast. After seven months with this knowledge, the description of the actual surgery still makes me burst into tears for five minutes before I continue to ask my doctors’ questions. I go for more opinions and demand all the information relevant to make future decisions.

There are numerous ways to approach reconstructive surgery and after deliberation of all facts provided, I decided for the walk along the longer path, but knowing that this is what I want. Patience is required.”

After 6 months of chemotherapy, surgery, followed by physiotherapy; 2 months of radiation and medical treatment, Philipa goes again into surgery for reconstruction of her left breast in January 2010. After recovery she begins the long road back to normality.

February 2011
Philipa is diagnosed with several brain tumors. They find five tumors in her brain, of which two (the size of golfballs) are operable. The other three have to be treated with radiation. I went back to Cape Town to help and continue documenting.

“In January I had lost my balance and literally fell on my face. Three weeks later I was in hospital with beyond excruciating head pain. The part of my brain responsible for balance and coordination, is where the golf balls have grown. After surgery, ICU and two and a half weeks in bed I was released to go home, but only a physical shadow of my prior self.

I was looking to find some sort of control back in my life, which has just been derailed for the second time. I started this by slowly walking my way back to strength with the support of my friends and family.”

March 2011
Everyday for 6 weeks Philipa has to spend 10 minutes undergoing radical Radiation Therapy on her brain. A mask is created to wear during each session. This mask binds Philipa to the table, and she is unable to move.

In the meantime Philipa’s life consists out of waiting.

March 2011
For the second time – hair loss

Philipa finished radiation 19th April 2011 and continues to be on chronic medication. In September 2011 Philipa will find out if and how successful her treatment has been.

Ludwig Uhland

Die linden Luefte sind erwacht,
Sie saeuseln und wehen
Tag und Nacht,
Sie schaffen an allen Enden.
O frischer Duft, o neuer Klang!
Nun, armes Herz, sei nicht bang!
Nun muss sich alles, alles wenden.

Die Welt wird schoener
mit jedem Tag,
Man weiss nicht,
was noch werden mag,
Das Bluehen will nicht enden.
Es blueht das fernste, tiefste Tal:
Nun, armes Herz, vergiss der Qual!
Nun muss sich alles, alles wenden

Faith in Spring
Ludwig Uhland

The gentle winds are awakened,
They murmur and waft
day and night,
They create in every corner.
Oh fresh scent, oh new sound!
Now, poor dear heart, fear not!
Now everything, everything must change.

The world becomes more beautiful
with each day,
One does not know
what may yet happen,
The blooming does not want to end.
The farthest, deepest valley blooms:
Now, poor dear, forget the pain!
Now everything, everything must change.


Photography: Philipa's Story By Julia Gunther

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