Secondary breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the breast and spreads to other parts of the body. It mostly spreads to the liver, lungs, brain, or bones. Unfortunately, secondary breast cancer cannot be cured. Secondary breast cancer is also known as metastatic breast cancer, stage four breast cancer or advanced breast cancer. This occurs when the cells spread from the first cancer in the breast, through the lymphatic or blood system to other parts of the body.
As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month spreading awareness of secondary breast cancer is very important. Approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and approximately one in three of these will later develop secondary breast cancer.
After primary breast cancer be aware of the red flags for secondary breast cancer the five main areas that secondary breast cancer can appear:
- Brain: frequent headaches, vomiting, visual disturbance, mood swings. Family members may say you are not your normal self.
- Bones: pain in the bones- commonly thigh, arms, ribs and back. Can be a dull ache or a sharp pain.
- Lung: Sharp pain when breathing in the chest and back area.
- Lymph nodes: Swelling or lumps and pressure in chest/armpit/neck area.
- Liver: Bloating, affected appetite, weight loss, pain, or weakness near ribs on the right side.
Photographer, Jennifer Willis started a project called Seen to be Heard. This project is very personal to Jennifer as she started off photographing her friend Cheryl when she was first diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. In conversations with Cheryl, she realised that she had never heard of secondary breast cancer nor realised its implications, and she knew she needed to help spread awareness of this and the means to live with secondary breast cancer in Northern Ireland.
Jennifer Willis's award-winning exhibition Seen to be Heard is a promise to her friend Cheryl that she would help raise awareness for secondary breast cancer. The images produced are raw, powerful and dignified groups of women living with the disease that are to be shown in the exhibition.
In the exhibition, the images show the physical and emotional pain of living with the incurable disease, they are also accompanied by audio-visuals of the women telling stories of some of their own experiences. The exhibition continues to connect women across Northern Ireland who live in the loneliness of secondary breast cancer.
The first exhibition was hosted by Belfast Exposed in April 2022 with images of 16 women. The exhibition has since been hosted at Dublin Civic Centre and many more.
Scottish secondary breast cancer support charity, Make Seconds Count asked Jennifer to photograph women in England Scotland and Wales she photographed 10 women from them along with two from Northern Ireland and they're currently being used in the UK campaign to raise awareness of secondary breast cancer.
Eventually, Jennifer would like to create a book that will include the images, stories, and her own experience through the whole project. This work has consumed Jennifer for two years, photographing 37 women and the exhibition consisting of 24 women. Since its opening in April 2022, it htas been exhibited in six locations, including the latest exhibition that opened on the 2nd of October 2023 and ran till the 7th of October 2023.