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Imelda Bell's award-winning Faces of Cancer project helps patients tell their story

A hard-hitting diagnosis of breast cancer did nothing to derail a mother's love for photographer as she captured the emotions caged by those afflicted by the disease.

Award-winning children's snapper Imelda Bell was dealt the cruel blow in December 2017 after she found a lump but found a new way of channelling her talents as she met other patients.

In her own words, the 48-year-old said there were positives to come from the negatives when she felt she would be too weak to pick up a camera throughout her treatment.

Pictured is Photographer Imelda Bell with her book
Pictured is Photographer Imelda Bell with her book

She said: "It took a while to sink in. I felt like I was outside of my own body. You always think it is going to happen to someone else and not you.

"If you have the early diagnosis or you catch it early it isn't all bad."

Imelda Bell's portraits of cancer patients (This is Imelda) (4897131)
Imelda Bell's portraits of cancer patients (This is Imelda) (4897131)

Surgeons carried out a mastectomy in January and Imelda embarked on the dreaded chemotherapy. She also shaved her hair and donated it to the Little Princess Trust.

The former television broadcast engineer was forced to quit taking portraits of infants due to her lowered immune system but began taking photos of her self and learning to make the most of the days she was able to work.

Imelda said: "It was pretty s*** knowing you have cancer but there are lots of positives to come out of the negatives.

Michelle wanted to show Imelda that those with cancer could still have fun
Michelle wanted to show Imelda that those with cancer could still have fun

"At the beginning of 2018 I was in hospital and there was a big photography awards ceremony I couldn't go to because of treatment. I was reading all these posts and I got upset thinking it was the end of my photography and that I would be sick for months.

"When I first got diagnosed and when I started treatment I thought I would be throwing up non-stop. I didn't think I would have a life at all.

"That wasn't true and now I know you can get on and do things in between."

Imelda Bell's portraits of cancer patients. Pictured is Stuart who also had breast cancer
Imelda Bell's portraits of cancer patients. Pictured is Stuart who also had breast cancer

After her oncologist saw her self-portraits, Imelda was encouraged to find others battling illness to take part in her project that she would later name Faces of Cancer.

Twenty-four men and women came forward and attended her studio in the back garden of her Kingswood home where they took time to chat and document their emotions towards their diagnosis and day-to-day life.

Imelda, of Charlesford Avenue, said: "The whole thing was quite therapeutic. At the time I was completely bald. I would speak to them for quite a while and then take their picture. It was natural and I could relate to them."

Earlier this month Imelda's stunning project earned her a fellowship with the Master of Photographers Association. The taste of success was marred when she was given a timely reminder of the heartache cancer can cause.

Scott's is the final photo in Imelda's project looking back at all the images before his. He sadly died the day after Imelda returned from the awards ceremony this month.
Scott's is the final photo in Imelda's project looking back at all the images before his. He sadly died the day after Imelda returned from the awards ceremony this month.

She said: "I got home on the Monday after the awards and one of the men in my project, Scott, had died. He was proud to take part in it. He knew he was terminally ill but he wanted people to treat him normally."

Photographs from the Faces of Cancer project are due to go on display at Leeds Castle during this year's Laura's Ball while medical professionals and cancer charities have also been in touch to use her artwork.

To find out more about Imelda and her photography visit photographybyimelda.co.uk

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