SHARING their journey with cancer, 42 South African women have told their stories to the world in a new coffee table book, Resilience, which has been launched globally.
The free-to-download book is by renowned photographer and businessman, Ramzi Mansour, in collaboration with his wife Nicole, who is an integral coach with an extensive background in media.
Speaking to the Independent on Saturday this week, Nicole said the book was her husband’s brainchild.
“He had been looking at his photographs and felt there was a calling to do more, to take it one step further and get involved in something meaningful. Most of Ramzi’s portraits are women and he wanted to photograph real women and tell a story with his portraits.
“When Ramzi was much younger, his father had cancer and it was a brutal journey, but he survived and is still here with us today,” said Nicole.
The couple, who are based in Cape Town, worked on the book for the past two years, gathering stories of courage and hope.
“We worked in parallel, Ramzi worked on the shoots and I worked on the interviews. It was imperative for him not to have a pretty picture, but to hear their stories and capture the emotion.”
She said that while many of the women who were interviewed had been diagnosed with breast cancer, other cancers were included in the stories.
“We all know someone who has had cancer and this book took time. There was a big responsibility when I was doing the interviews, which is close to my role as a coach, and to hear what the person is saying, empathise and validate. I was really inspired and living the experience with them.
“I was just blown away by what they went through and how they got through it. The overwhelming feeling was this awe at what the human spirit is capable of during times of adversity, not only to survive but to thrive.
“It makes me feel really connected to all human beings, it makes you feel not alone and how to approach things differently. It’s such a human story and we have made it accessible to everybody,” said Nicole, adding that all those involved with the production of the book had done so pro-bono and it had been a collaborative team effort.
The women in the book are from across South Africa and only first names were used for each story. Because the book has a global reach, each story is not defined by a locality, but created a sensitive space for each woman to tell her story.
The foreword is written by pre-eminent oncologist, Dr Peter Harper, medical oncologist and lead consultant at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas hospitals in London.
Harper writes: “This book charts that journey in a way that offers each of us renewed hope in the human spirit. Ramzi Mansour’s portraits are strong and beautiful, capturing as they do the individual character and spirit of each one of these extraordinary women who has stared into the unknown and then made that journey back to the light with their dignity intact, and a determination that life itself should take on a new and different meaning.
“Nicole Mansour has curated every story. Each one is different, and every story fits a different facet of us all. These brave women take us through their stories, on a journey from the seismic shock of that first diagnosis, to the unreal sound of cancer in a context relating to oneself. It is a journey through the real and cold realisation that mortality beckons from some far, dark corner: A corner where fear, anger and denial lurk. But for many of them, light has arrived.
“On diagnosis, patients often tell me that they feel as though they are in a ‘parallel world’ – a world where the cancer patient lives somewhere on the outside of normality, separated by a pane of glass, through which they can see, but cannot break through. These portraits and words provide us with a glimpse through that window into their lives; through that pane of glass – and we feel their pain, their fear and their loneliness, despite the clamour of relatives and friends.
“But resilience in all its manifest glory is here, too. These beautiful, strong, human portraits truly bear testament to the bravery, acceptance and hope of these women, who have broken through that pane of glass and rejoined the world.
“Those who have been on this journey help us all to be strong. We should, and will be, inspired by these stories of the strength of the human spirit.”
To download Resilience, go to resiliencebook.org
The Independent on Saturday