Sergei Stroitelev is an independent documentary photographer from Saint-Petersburg, Russia, who regularly works with National Geographic Russia, Vice UK/USA. He also works with RIA Novosti and Kommersant Photos as a stringer. Sergei worked as a human rights lawyer for three years before becoming a photographer. During that time, he dreamt of field-work instead of doing paperwork, and documentary photography happened to be the best tool for it. In 2013-2014, Sergei spent ten months in Asia cooperating with different non-governmental structures and organizations such as Red Cross Nepal and Nepal Leprosy Trust. He focused on human rights issues in the country - children with HIV, discrimination of people suffering from leprosy, and drug addiction.
At the moment, Stroitelev is interested in social issues such as gender/racial prejudice, discrimination of HIV-positive people, migration, the aftermath of conflicts and natural disasters, which he explores using various visual languages. Sergei prefers to work in regions vulnerable to human rights violations, including his home country and countries of Southeast Asia such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Stroitelev believes that a well-executed documentary project is the best instrument for raising awareness about social issues, and that is what is missing in those regions.
Am I not scared anymore?
About 55 thousand cases of breast cancer are identified in Russia every year - that's a lot. There are stories of thousands of women hidden behind statistics and numbers who fight this disease every day.
When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, not only surgery is important, but also the post-surgery condition. First of all, this is hard emotional work - the process of accepting a new body: from surgery and first steps to first look in the mirror, chemotherapy and hair loss. It is a process of fighting the fear of death or simply that people around won't accept you anymore.
In the project "Am I not scared anymore?" eight girls tell their stories and share thoughts about what happened to them. The diagnosis and following post-surgery processes transformed their personality - they changed their attitude towards themselves, their femininity, time and priorities. These girls found the inner strength to fight all fears. This project is a powerful message to all women who couldn't accept themselves after the surgery. It's about the fight with beauty cliches and stereotypical perception of a woman's body.
An x-ray displaying breast cancer (stage 3).
For most women with this diagnosis, nude photography is not possible for many reasons - one of them is a total rejection of a new body. However, portrayed women decided to take this step: it was a brand-new experience for every one of them.
Katya: "I was diagnosed at the end of March last year. At first, I couldn't believe that I had been diagnosed with cancer. I began to read about breast cancer before the operation. I was almost not scared - I'm a calm person. To be honest, I still don't understand whether I accepted my new body or not - at times, there is acceptance, but after that, there is a period of severe depression.
Anna: "I was diagnosed on April 13, 2016. My sister was scared because our parents died of cancer. She looked at me and noticed how I looked at her - we sat down on the sofa and started crying. The chemotherapy was like a war - you just had to survive it, no turning back.
Then I lost my hair. I could accept my new body. You look in the mirror - there is a huge scar there. It's getting better, but still..."
To see yourself in the mirror for the first time after surgery - the real challenge for any woman. Acceptance of a new-self doesn't happen instantly and might take some time.
Elena. "I got diagnosed with cancer one year ago. I was terrified, and I didn't think about whether I needed my breast or not - I was just scared that my life could end. After the surgery, I saw myself in the mirror for the first time at home. The seam was ugly, but I perceived it quite calm. Then I had chemotherapy. My hair started to fall out. It happened for the first time at Kuindzhi's exhibition, after which I rushed to the store to buy a wig. My life is a blank canvas now, as one of Kuindzhi's paintings."
Evgeniya: "I went outside in tears when the doctor informed me about the tumour in my breast.
I really wanted to set myself up to accept my new body as it was after the operation. However, I felt incomplete. It took me a long time to realize what was going on, and the surrounding was unkind. My husband had betrayed me and left after the surgery. I decided to turn the page, and now I try to live a brand new life.
*Evgeniya died in March 2020.
Anna: " I got to know about my diagnosis in summer 2014. The doctor said: "Baby, you have cancer." I had chemotherapy before the operation. I perceived all changes as an experiment with my look and style. I had many insecurities before, but after my breast got removed, I looked at myself and thought - I'm perfect. When you stand on the edge of the void, you begin to appreciate your uniqueness."
Katya is showing the scar on her chest.
Катя позирует без парика, который она обычно носит. Ее коллеги до сих пор не знают о диагнозе.
The scar on Evgeniya's chest after the surgery.
Each year around 15 thousand women die of breast cancer in Russia. This number goes up to 400 thousand in the world.
2/3 of all cases result in the recovery of a patient. Despite this, doctors say that breast cancer is a highly recidivous disease. The relapse may happen at any moment within five years after the first surgery.