An Australian mother of four with breast cancer bared it all on Facebook and lost at least 100 Facebook friends as a result. Beth Whaanga was diagnosed with breast cancer as she turned 32 and also discovered she carried the BRCA2 gene, which made her more predisposed to the condition. Following a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in November 2013, the registered nurse paired with her friend and photographer Nadia Masot to take pictures of her ravaged body for the Under the Red Dress project.
When she posted the images, she warned friends and family via a Facebook message that the images were stark and graphic. However, the backlash was nonetheless extreme, with over 100 Facebook friends unfriending her. Commentator Andrew Young said he felt that the pictures were inappropriate and that children could potentially come across the images and be frightened by them.
The images were reported to Facebook, but Facebook has said that the images will be removed. Although the mother of four lost over 100 Facebook friends as a result of posting images of her breast cancer-ravaged body, Whaanga says that she is grateful she posed for the pictures, and notes that she is one of the fortunate ones in the war against cancer. She says that with her family history of cancer, and the fact that she has the gene mutation, things could have been much worse for her. Whaanga notes that thankfully, her cancer is not as aggressive as it could have been.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the two genes carried by humans that produce tumor suppressor proteins. The proteins contribute to repairing DNA that has been somehow damaged and enhance the stability of cells. According to statistics, roughly 12 percent of the public at large run the risk of getting breast cancer.
Masot says that the goal of the social media campaign that she and Whaanga launched was to bring awareness to breast cancer and to encourage people to be vigilant about their bodies when it comes to detecting early signs of the disease. The duo now have plans of getting others involved and potentially creating a coffee table book to raise funds and encourage awareness and vigilance.
Masot also notes that many people are completely unaware of the health struggles others face until the clothes are off and they are truly vulnerable. She says that neither she nor Whaanga were prepared for the extent of the response they received for their campaign, and Masot referred to cancer as being a truly life changing ordeal. Whaanga’s family stands behind their daughter and sister and supports the awareness campaign.
Masot says Whaanga’s willingness to pose for her gave her something meaningful to work on in her photographic work. The mom of four who lost over 100 Facebook friends echoes her friend’s sentiments, expressing her gratitude that she was able to share images of how breast cancer devastated her body. She is unconcerned about those who unfriended her, and puts the huge response that she and Masot have gotten to the campaign down to the power of social media. On her own Facebook page, she refers to herself as a breast cancer preventer, not a survivor. In fact, in a Facebook message, she encourages both men and women to be vigilant about their bodies, as breast cancer also targets men.
By Christina St-Jean