By Annette Healey

14th February 2014

We’ve all seen them: those photos of Beth Whaanga, posted on Facebook, the ones that prompted 100 people to unfriend her, branding the pictures ‘disgusting’.

In the first photo, Beth looks a knockout: bright red dress, immaculate hair and makeup, a very attractive woman with a lovely figure.

In the following photos, shown in black and white, Beth, still with immaculate hair and makeup, has stripped down to her knickers and is showing the world what her body looks like after breast cancer and her subsequent breast reconstruction operation.

These images are not disgusting but they are confronting. Very confronting.


UnknownBecause the truth of breast cancer, as depicted on the battleground of this young woman’s body, doesn’t match the public image of breast cancer that we see in the media.

Where are the middle-aged men and women in curly pink wigs, shown laughing and chatting with friends as they walk to raise money for the ’cause’?

Where is the advertisement showing women that all they need to get through cancer and feel better about themselves is to apply some lipstick and find a flattering wig?

After all, we shouldn’t let a little cancer get in the way of our beauty routine and ability to get on with things.

Where is that product, now available in pink, that allows us to buy it, knowing we are helping ‘such a worthy cause’?

By challenging our perception of breast cancer and the effects of treatment on her body, Beth is showing us the real story behind the pink.

Of course, what can’t be shown in those photos are some of the other effects of treatment, equally as confronting as the scarring but rarely, if ever, mentioned.

I can’t speak for Beth, only my own experience, but I’m sure the side effects of treatment are reasonably universal. The vomiting, the diarrhoea (oh the diarrhoea!) the oral thrush that makes everything taste like it has been encased in cotton wool, exhaustion, and burns to your skin from radiation.

None of these side effects are pretty and none can be made any more palatable by the addition of pink.

By all means, look at those photographs and turn away muttering “disgusting”, but only if you’re referring to the disease that has caused such devastation.

Beth, I take my hat off to you, not only for being brave enough to have these pictures taken and published but for having the sheer guts and determination to show the real breast cancer story.

I think you’re gorgeous.