Facing Out

Portraits of people who have experienced face-changing cancers form part of a new exhibition at The Whitworth. Deborah Grace speaks to one of its subjects, Trudi Proctor.

Trudi Proctor has taken down most of the mirrors in her house. Surgery in 2017, to remove a basal cell carcinoma from her nose, left her with significant facial scarring, so she prefers to avoid catching sight of her reflection in the glass. However, a new painting of her – scars and all – will soon take pride of place in Trudi’s home.

“I won’t look in the mirror, but that portrait is me. This is the new me; the face I’ve got now and I’ve come to terms with it.”

Trudi’s portrait is one of a series created by artist Lucy Burscough during her residency at the Maggie’s Centre at The Christie Hospital. Lucy’s subjects are all real people who have experienced facial disfigurement as a result of head, face and neck cancers and their treatments. Now on display at The Whitworth, the portraits are part of the Facing Out art project, which explores the impact of acquired facial disfigurement on people’s lives and identities.

Trudi’s story begins in 2017 when she went into theatre to have a spot ‘as big as a pinhead’ removed from her nose. “The doctor said, ‘We’ll dig it out and put a plaster on it.’ We weren’t prepared for what happened next.”

Coming round from her operation, Trudi was informed that the cancer had been bigger and deeper than originally suspected. So a second procedure had been performed, which involved taking skin from her forehead to graft onto her nose.

“When my daughter saw me the following day she burst into tears. I looked like I’d been in a car crash. If you have a mastectomy you can hide it under clothes, but on your face the scars are visible. It was so traumatic because I hadn’t been given time to grieve.”

During the weeks and months that followed, as her wounds slowly healed, Trudi found shopping trips an ordeal because of the stares and jibes of strangers.

“One man (it was mainly men) said, ‘Did you head the football wrong, love?’ Standing at the till people would be staring at me. I was a prisoner in my own home. My partner and I split up over it and I hit rock bottom.”

During those dark days, Trudi found a lifeline in the support she received at the Maggie’s Centre. A talented artist, herself, Trudi also joined the Christie art group where she found new friends and a valuable, creative outlet. One of Trudi’s paintings, of a lighthouse, is displayed alongside her portrait which also features a lighthouse in the background.

“I’m known as the ‘lighthouse lady’ because I’m always painting them. When I was going through all this trauma I realised that I had to stand strong. Just like the lighthouse; it’s there through storms, calm seas, everything.”

Image: Trudi, by Lucy Burscough (© Lucy Burscough)

Facing Out: The Whitworth, until 2 June 2019