FEATURE: Japan-founded project changing perceptions of cancer patients

    A project launched in Japan in 2017 by a cancer patient to help dispel the image of those suffering from the disease as incurable victims has been gaining momentum internationally, with beauticians, advertisement professionals and other volunteers getting involved to help change perceptions.

    As part of the “Lavender Ring” project, nine cancer patients in late June took part in a “Makeup & Photos with Smiles” event held at the Aichi Cancer Center in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture.

    One of them was Miho, 21, a third-year university student in Aichi who received a makeup tutorial from a staff member from Shiseido Co., the biggest Japanese cosmetics maker.

    Miho, who asked not to be identified by her real name, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her first year of high school. Despite her treatment having gone smoothly following surgery, she lost her hair and a lot of weight due to her medication.

    Donning a wig, Miho carried on attending classes in school but gradually began keeping her distance from others, as she did not want to be labeled as a cancer patient.

    In May, however, she applied to take part in the event. “I wanted to change myself before starting my job search,” she said.

    During a post-makeup photo session set up to resemble a magazine shoot, Miho could not hold back her smile. “You are beautiful like a model,” a staff member told her. She wrote “Value myself” on her printed photo as a personal manifesto.

    “When I dared to stand in front of a camera, I was able to embrace my illness as a part of my character and strength,” Miho said.

    Kazuhito Yamamoto, head of the ACC, said, “Cancer patients need opportunities to smile.”

    It has recently been estimated that 60 percent or more of cancer patients live for five years post-diagnosis.

    The figure represents a benchmark because some in the medical community consider surviving five years or more after a cancer diagnosis an indicator that the disease has been cured. Yet among the public in many countries, the perception that cancer patients are all sufferers of a “fatal disease” remains commonplace.

    The Lavender Ring project was launched by Yasuaki Misonou, a lung cancer patient. At the time, Misonou was a 40-year-old employee of Dentsu Inc., Japan’s largest advertising company, and organized the project in cooperation with his boss Hiroyuki Tsukimura, 55. The color lavender is considered a support symbol for those with the disease.

    Receiving support from Shiseido and Cancer Net Japan, a nonprofit organization, Misonou and Tsukimura began taking pictures of smiling cancer patients in a bid to show them being happy and living their lives to the fullest.

    The first event, held in Tokyo in the summer of 2017, proved highly successful. Misonou and Tsukimura then started running talk sessions about cancer, and also began publishing photos of smiling cancer patients to diversify the project.

    Sadly, Misonou died at age 43 in April 2021. Tsukimura, who has since been leading the project, said, “We pledged to continue at any cost after the first event.”

    The project has also expanded overseas. In 2022, a Makeup & Photos with Smiles event was held in China, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand, where coronavirus pandemic restrictions have been eased.

    In Japan, events have been held in Nagoya, Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, and there are plans to also hold one in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, on Sept. 23. “We hope to hold it in all 47 prefectures by 2030,” Tsukimura said.

    By Web Desk