as Isla McCurrach gazes at her protrait on the wall of ward 34 at Victoria Hospital, she is transported back to the moment the photograph was taken at our Maggie’s Centre in 2008.
“I remember sitting there feeling very relaxed,” she said. “I actually didn’t realise Sam had taken the photograph. I thought she was just fiddling with her camera, and I was enjoying the peace in the centre, when she told me that it was done.”
And that seems to be the general mood of most of the subjects of the new photographic exhibition by renowned photographer and film director Sam Taylor-Johnson which was officially unveiled in the new wing of the hospital this week.
The powerful series of 12 pictures, which were first displayed at 10 Downing Street, aims to give patients, staff and visitors to the oncology ward a sense of optimism, no matter what their experience of cancer may be.
All the subjects have undergone a cancer journey of their own, and all have used various Maggie’s cancer caring centres to help them through their journey – the good times and the bad.
Like Isla (53), from Edinburgh, who was at the launch with her son Jamie (23). Jamie was only 17 and was sitting his final exams when his mum was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at the age of 46.
“I underwent a mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, the whole lot, and through it all I used the Maggie’s Centre,” explained Isla.
She explained that she had turned up at the hospital for her operation only to find it had been delayed.
“I found myself wandering around the hospital grounds when I saw a sign for Maggie’s. A man greeted me as I went in and asked how he could help. I told him I just wanted to sit for a while because my operation had been delayed. He asked how I felt about that and I just burst into tears.
“I realised everyone else around me had been scared and I had been trying to reassure them, but I was terrified too. Somehow though Maggie’s softened the fear.”
That’s why, when Isla was sitting round the table at the Maggie’s Centre and the subject of taking part in a photographic exhibition at Maggie’s Fife to highlight the work of the centres and the people using them, she was keen to take part.
“I was glad to be able to give something back,” she said.
“Maggie’s has done such a lot for me and my family during my treatment, and was still there when I had surgical complications afterwards.”
Sam Taylor-Johnson (45), who photographed the subjects of the exhibition all on the one day at Maggie’s Fife, was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 30 and then breast cancer in 2000.
She said: “Maggie’s asked me to photograph people whose lives are affected by cancer. What struck me about the protraits is the sense of optimism in the faces of the subjects.
“I didn’t ask them to portray any particular emotion but this is the overwhelming sentiment that shines through. Muhammad Ali, who faces daily adversity himself, said of cancer, ‘Don’t count the days, make the days count’ and I think that this is what Maggie’s does for all those that it empowers on a daily basis.”
The exhibition, which has visited the Great North Museum in Newcastle, is on long-term loan to the Victoria Hospital.