Alison Romanczuk

“I think the project has been powerful in many ways, because I'm not just a photographer, I am a patient, there is total trust and understanding”

Alison Romanczuk, 53, photographer, London 

“I was diagnosed when I was 47, there was no indication apart from the fact I was getting fat! I’ve had two operations, first to remove a tumour weighing 6kg that had surrounded my kidney and attached itself to my bowel, pancreas and spleen, then another four years later when it attached to what was left of my pancreas, diaphragm and stomach.
 

“My life has changed phenomenally – I am a different person now, in a different place. I am a better (if a little sicker) human. There is a lot more honesty, not just in myself, but in the people around me too – and a lot less angst about the little things in life that we go around needlessly worrying about. 

“Taking on this project has been difficult. The hardest part has to be the age of many of the survivors. Some are young people – not that much older than my son – who face an uncertain future and who have had to go through huge traumas, far too early in life. I am older, but I still feel helpless at moments. I have felt inspired and awed by their courage. Pippa has given birth during the project, Holly is the most amazing artist and Hope is about to bravely go through another operation to improve her voice, which has been affected by her treatment. I think the project has been powerful in many ways, because I'm not just a photographer, I am a patient, there is total trust and understanding. We all want to raise awareness towards earlier diagnosis. And hey, I got my kit off too!''

“Of course, I am used to being in control, so it wasn't an easy thing for me to be photographed – added to that I'm no longer the thinner person that I was after the op (some benefits) and because the scar runs right the way down my body, I had to reveal the saggy belly bit too! But we are all in this together, raising awareness, and we have had a lot of fun– I think it’s fair to say the awkwardness pales into insignificance after what we have all been through in our treatments.

“I don't have a problem looking at my scar or showing it to the world – a cliché I know, but yes it is a battle scar and I am lucky to still be here. It’s a bit like having a tattoo I suppose – this is what I have been through and here is the evidence. I remember after my first operation making people wince in desperation as I lifted up my shirt to reveal the 70 or so staples that were holding my stomach together, but life is nothing without a sense of humour!”