Me, my digital camera, my brother… our most cancers

Carly Clarke photographs herself in the mirror at a time when her hair was falling outPicture copyright
Carly Clarke

When Carly Clarke was identified with most cancers in 2012, she got down to {photograph} how she modified throughout what might have been the final days of her life. Seven years on, by merciless coincidence, she is at her brother’s facet, photographing him going by way of the identical ordeal.

“I’ve my very own hair on my fingers, on my garments and down within the bathtub beneath me. As I wash, then brush, extra continues to fall out.

“Within the mirror I can see my look change, strand-by-strand.”

Carly Clarke is reliving her expertise as a most cancers affected person, exhibiting me one of many many self-portraits she took throughout six painful months of remedy.

Finally, she would ask her dad to shave the final hairs from her head. She was simply 26.

“I used to have numerous hair. Now I appear to be a most cancers affected person,” she notes.

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Carly Clarke

Six months earlier than these images had been taken, Carly had been residing out a dream in Canada – capturing a final-year college images undertaking in Vancouver’s poverty-stricken downtown eastside.

She had been sick for months, with a violent cough, urge for food loss and ache in her chest and again. Medical doctors had identified her with diseases starting from pneumonia to bronchial asthma and warned her she might undergo a collapsed lung on the flight. However she had ignored them.

“I wasn’t going to let this sickness – no matter it was – get in the lifestyle my life,” she says.

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Carly Clarke

“In Vancouver, I might empathise with these with diseases and habit. My concern for my very own life made me compassionate throughout the shoot.”

A lot of these she spoke to on the near-freezing streets had turn out to be hooked after taking sturdy opiates in hospital, as they had been handled for severe circumstances, reminiscent of most cancers.

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Carly Clarke

Three months later, Carly would wish morphine herself to alleviate the ache in her chest and again, so she might sleep.

Persuaded by Canadian medical doctors to go house for specialist consideration, she was lastly identified with Hodgkin lymphoma – a uncommon and fairly aggressive type of most cancers – in March 2012. A tumour the scale of a grapefruit had already grown in her proper lung and chest wall.

“I burst into tears at Man’s Hospital in London,” she says. “I did not know if I might survive the chemotherapy remedy, being identified at such a late stage. I used to be terrified.”

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Carly Clarke

It was onerous for her household to take.

“My dad and mom felt like their stomachs fell out. There hadn’t been numerous most cancers within the household,” she says.

“My boyfriend was additionally devastated and he flew out from California to England to be with me.”

Again at house in Eastbourne, Carly scrawled hospital appointments and medicine timetables on to a calendar that not lengthy earlier than had been full of coursework deadlines and photoshoots.

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Carly Clarke

“My life slowed right down to concentrating on getting by way of every second, drug to drug, limitless examinations, large needles, biopsies drilling deep into bone, tubes down my throat, and hoping for some day, the ache to finish,” she says.

Ache from her chest was now radiating down her arm, fluid on her lungs made respiratory troublesome, and he or she couldn’t shake an “terrible, continuous cough”.

“A plastic line by way of my arm fed sickening however therapeutic drugs into my coronary heart, making an attempt to kill the most cancers however taking my power with it,” she says.

“My skeleton grew to become extra seen by the day, a reminder of every valuable pound misplaced. Out of nowhere my life was on the road.”

Her view of the world – and herself – was altering. So she determined to {photograph} it.

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Carly Clarke

“I believed that having a inventive outlet would enable me to step out of a few of that actuality for a second or two and take into consideration my present trauma from one other perspective,” Carly says.

Actuality Trauma was to be a sequence of self-portraits documenting her altering look, her life out and in of hospital, and her resilience.

Throughout day visits, or quick stays, the hospital gave her the liberty to make use of a tripod and cable launch as usually as she might. Medical doctors and nurses generally pushed the shutter for her.

“I thought of how others would possibly view these pictures additional down the road and whether or not or not I might even be round to inform my story,” she says.

Carly needed her work to encourage others to “have the braveness to stare most cancers within the face” and never let it take over their id totally.

Picture-by-image, Carly observed her pores and skin was turning into paler and tighter round her bones, giving her an “unfamiliar, virtually alien” look.

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Carly Clarke

She misplaced round 12kg (26lb) within the area of two months and wanted common blood transfusions to make up for circulatory issues that had been ravenous her physique of oxygen and turning her blue.

“Folks had been afraid to take a look at me. Particularly, I feel, dad and mom with youngsters additionally going by way of most cancers – as a result of they noticed me and possibly feared the worst for their very own,” she says.

“Seeing myself that means made me really feel uneasy and frightened.”

Quickly afterwards, she discovered herself attending hospital so continuously she was admitted full-time.

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Carly Clarke

At her lowest, always nauseous or asleep, she would reject all meals from the hospital trolley. She was unable to review and, some days, too drained to {photograph} herself or cellphone her boyfriend.

By now she was additionally coughing so onerous she would convey up blood. And generally she would wake after an evening of chilly sweats, itching and drenched as if she had showered in her hospital mattress.

However then at some point, after about three months of chemotherapy, the coughing stopped. Her different signs additionally started to ease.

The remedy was working, she thought. Biopsies confirmed it: the most cancers was shedding.

Her notion of life modified once more.

“Helplessness changed into hopefulness – after which euphoria. Whenever you come so near loss of life, instantly you need to reside your life to the fullest.”

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Carly Clarke

The hospital ward went from being a spot of ache to house. Workers grew to become associates, and a few sufferers even nearer.

Now Carly would enterprise exterior her room. The fish tank within the communal space of the ward attracted sufferers of all ages.

An aged couple, being handled for several types of terminal leukaemia, would usually endure chemotherapy on the identical day as Carly. At some point, the husband stated his spouse had been instructed she wouldn’t make it to Christmas.

“I keep in mind hugging her and wishing her properly – that couple would by no means go away my thoughts.”

As Carly started to really feel higher, she additionally began to attach extra with the world exterior.

Her boyfriend and associates would take her for lunch, generally driving to Beachy Head – the place white cliffs meet the ocean – and Carly would discuss concerning the future whereas watching boats transfer slowly throughout the horizon.

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Carly Clarke

From course mates and tutors, she started to grasp that her images had been affecting different folks.

Not solely had been they capturing the bodily and emotional results of most cancers remedy however demonstrating that it did not all the time should be scary – it might be constructive, Carly says.

“Wanting again on the pictures I had taken, it made me really feel stronger as a result of in these photographs I used to be confronted with an end-of-life scenario however part of me nonetheless believed I might get by way of it.”

Carly started exhibiting her work to different most cancers sufferers and took portraits of a few of them within the ward. It grew to become a means of beginning a dialog or placing a smile on their faces.

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Carly Clarke

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Carly’s images captured the temper of those that had undergone profitable remedy

“If it is true {that a} easy smile, small gesture of assist or type phrase can change how an individual feels and brighten their day, and have a constructive impact on each cell in a single’s physique, then a constructive photographic story may help change somebody’s life,” says Carly.

“It may be the defining think about somebody’s psychological power and have an effect on their willpower sufficient to maintain them going by way of the struggling in hope that it’ll quickly finish and that, in my view, is what helps to maintain you alive towards all odds.”

As Carly’s remedy got here to an finish, in September 2012, she might look again by way of every part of her journey, in 15 rolls of movie and 150 images, and say she survived most cancers.

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Carly Clarke

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Her picture titled Final Day of Chemotherapy was shortlisted within the Portrait of Britain Awards 2018

It was a second for celebration, however returning to the household house – to “piece her life again collectively” – was not simple. When she took again her bins of unused drugs, she felt unhappy she was now not in hospital.

“The hospital employees and a number of the sufferers felt like household to me as a result of we had constructed a really shut relationship over many months.”

Just a few months later, Carly flew to California and stayed along with her boyfriend for many of the following yr.

She returned house a number of occasions, and visited the hospital ward for the primary of her twice-yearly check-ups. Each time she went again, she appeared round for outdated faces: nurses who had handled her, sufferers she had shared moments with.

On one event, a number of years after ending remedy, she arrived early for a session and sat alongside a lady within the ready space.

“We casually glanced at one another and instantly tears got here to my eyes.”

It was the girl whose husband had instructed Carly she wouldn’t reside to see Christmas again in 2012.

“I could not imagine it was her,” Carly recollects. “Moments like this are lovely.”

Carly shortly rediscovered her starvation to doc the lives of individuals all over the world. In 2014, she spent 4 months in India.

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Carly Clarke

Her work on that journey would garner honourable mentions within the Worldwide Photograph Awards in 2018. That very same yr her “Final Day of Chemotherapy” {photograph} from Actuality Trauma was shortlisted within the Portrait of Britain Awards.

She received work helping photographer Michael Wharley, producing promotional pictures for Summerland, a forthcoming movie starring Gemma Arterton.

As her inbox stuffed with awards invites and her calendar with shoot schedules, she started drawing up a undertaking idea along with her native hospice, St Wilfred’s, to take portraits of most cancers sufferers of their final levels of life.

She needed to doc how terminal diseases have an effect on folks’s psychological state, and the methods sufferers spend their remaining moments, making an attempt new hobbies or saying final goodbyes.

However that plan was halted abruptly in September final yr by a cellphone name from her older brother, Lee.

He instructed her their youthful brother, Joe, had been identified with Hodgkin lymphoma – the exact same most cancers Carly had crushed six years earlier.

“We each shed tears on the cellphone,” says Carly.

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Carly Clarke

Joe was simply 16 and beginning school. His most cancers was much less superior than Carly’s had been however – identical to his sister – he had additionally been ailing for months earlier than being identified.

Medical doctors had initially put his extreme itching right down to “dry pores and skin”, or creativeness.

“He wasn’t ready for his analysis. None us of had been,” says Carly.

Hodgkin lymphoma

The NHS says Hodgkin lymphoma is an unusual most cancers that develops in a community of vessels and glands referred to as the lymphatic system. It could shortly unfold all through the physique however can also be one of the crucial simply handled kinds of most cancers.

Joe tried to reside as usually as he might, spending time together with his girlfriend, studying to drive and making profession plans.

However as he spent increasingly time travelling to hospital and again, his grades took a success and he started to lose contact with a few of his associates.

Desirous to spend extra time with him, earlier this yr Carly requested if she might {photograph} his most cancers journey. He agreed.

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Carly Clarke

Sixteen years older than Joe, Carly had left house when he was nonetheless younger. However, as his solely sister, she had all the time felt a accountability in the direction of him, educating him how to attract and paint when he was a toddler.

Later, when Carly moved to London for college, they noticed one another solely sometimes. With every go to, she observed him stand a bit of taller, his voice barely deepen.

However now she stood behind the digital camera in his hospital ward, she captured a fast change with each {photograph}.

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Carly Clarke

The hair he’d dyed blonde after which colored flamboyantly, figuring out it could fall out, got here out in chunks till he shaved it off, as Carly had carried out, to cease it getting throughout his garments and bed room flooring.

He started protecting his head within the photographs, and talked about sporting a wig.

The steroids he took in preparation for the subsequent stage of chemotherapy aged him, and had one other dramatic impact.

“Joe placed on weight to the purpose the place he was unrecognisable. The photographs additionally confirmed his stretch marks from the extreme weight achieve,” Carly says.

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Carly Clarke

Increasingly more, Joe reached out to Carly for assist and recommendation. As a younger boy he’d seen her undergo most cancers; he knew what the sickness had carried out to his sister, however he additionally noticed her defeat it.

“Even when he had doubts and misgivings, the truth that I recovered meant I might present him with the hope and positivity to proceed his remedy,” she says.

As a result of Joe’s most cancers was much less superior, she thought his remedy can be faster and her photographic sequence shorter. The gathering would signify the journey of a younger man overcoming most cancers.

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Carly Clarke

However Joe’s first spherical of chemotherapy was unsuccessful.

“The information shook everyone up loads. Our relationship modified, it grew to become a bit of extra unstable,” Carly says.

Having suffered a relapse, Joe must endure 4 extra months of chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplants. His hair, which had begun to develop again, fell out once more.

Joe stated he now not needed to be photographed – a choice Carly says she understood and revered – however with time got here better dedication and recent positivity. A month or so later, he modified his thoughts once more.

“The picture I favored most was him turning away in a contemplative method. There, he knew what was to return, and his eyes glared into the space,” Carly says.

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Carly Clarke

“It confirmed how he had modified and the way he had tailored to this function of being a younger most cancers affected person.”

In opposition to his advisor’s recommendation Joe stopped stem-cell remedy. He feared the side-effects – the respiratory hassle, pores and skin issues, jaundice and diarrhoea that may happen if donor cells assault the host – would blight his life.

And shortly after taking that call, in Could, his scans got here again clear. It meant that he was put into remission and capable of be part of his household on vacation in Menorca, after which at Lee’s wedding ceremony.

He could have common appointments over the subsequent few months to observe his situation, however he has misplaced the load he gained and his hair is lastly rising again once more.

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Carly Clarke

Carly says her pictures supply stark proof of how actuality modified for the household throughout a time wherein each her and Joe’s “physique, thoughts and soul had been examined to the final word ends”.

“These images I’ve captured, of each Joe and I, evoke some painful reminiscences for me; nonetheless, in addition they remind me of the large capability of the human physique to endure by way of such hellish occasions.

“This assortment of pictures might give solely a glimpse into these occasions however my hope is that an viewers can see not simply the horrifying features, but in addition the promise that being a survivor of most cancers provides and the super hope for others dealing with an analogous situation.”

Pictures: Carly Clarke

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