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Saturday, December 04, 2021

PinkDayToShine: Photography initiative celebrates the spirit and resilience of breast cancer warriors

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Meet photographer Nithya Rajkumar, whose project captures portraits of women affected by the disease and also survivors.

Written by Jayashree Narayanan | Pune |
Updated: October 31, 2021 7:11:30 pm
Nithya RajkumarNithya Rajkumar's PinkDayToShine aims to create breast cancer awareness. (Source: Nithya Rajkumar)

As someone who believes that social responsibility is an extension of photography, it was natural for Nithya Rajkumar, a licensed professional photographer and mentor, to initiate a project that celebrated individuals and their undying spirit. But what started as a one-off portrait photoshoot back in 2018 — of a stage III breast cancer survivor — soon transformed into PinkDayToShine, a pro bono photography project that comprises an exclusive portrait photoshoot along with professional makeup artistry for 10 breast cancer warriors — both survivors and those fighting the disease — to celebrate their strength and lift up their spirits.

“The woman who came to me left a deep impact on me as a young mother. During my pre-consultation photoshoot, she opened up about being a breast cancer survivor and the ordeals she faced as a mother. She mentioned her concerns of having scanty eyebrows and eyelashes (from all the chemotherapy treatment). An otherwise successful and confident woman, she was anxious and concerned about her appearance. So I decided to make it special for her, throw in a free photo shoot, called in a makeup artist – not to turn her into something different but to enhance what she already had. I did expect her to have a good time, but I didn’t know it could have such a profound impact on her such that she said, ‘I’m so glad to be alive today to see myself the way you have clicked’. And I wanted to do it for more women out there who have battled breast cancer in the coming years,” mentioned Dubai-based Nithya whose website of is up and running.

Nithya Rajkumar Nithya Rajkumar has photographed various breast cancer affected women and survivors. (Source: Nithya Rajkumar)

The NIFT graduate then decided to invite 10 such women to join her for a day-long photoshoot every October in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “I try to focus on the people behind these tag lines. ‘See the able, not the label’. We should all try to see beyond the labels. I believe that by being authentic and respectful, one can communicate and connect better with others. My idea is to showcase the person full of zest for life and aspirations and fears as any of us do. Putting them at ease and respecting their space has always been my utmost priority. Everyone has an inspiring story to share,” the photographer told

Some of her her other social impact projects include photographing children born with HIV; and ‘Special People, Big Hearts’ – photographing children with special needs and their families. Nithya makes sure the portraits capture the spirit that the warriors have, as she says the focus is on the positive side “because I don’t want them to relive the pain they have been through”. “I ask them about that one positive thing that they held on to, that helped them on their toughest days. For some, it was their child, for some others it was their faith, or else their sheer will to not give up,” she expressed.

One of the stories she has documented is of Jennie Hennessy, a mother of two and a survivor. “In 2020, I was the fittest and healthiest I’d been in years and I felt great. One day in June 2020, I was giving my hairdresser full control over a funky new rainbow hair look and a week later, I was at a doctor’s office with my husband being told I have breast cancer. As if 2020 didn’t have enough with Covid-19,” shared Jennie, in an interview with Nithya in 2020, who was undergoing chemo and preparing for surgery in Dubai.

While organising the project, currently is in its third year, Nithya who has a branding background and worked in retail for many years, could gather support from brands like Nikon to offer goodies to the warriors among other things. Every October 26, the initiative organises a casual get-together which sees over 40-50 women breast cancer warriors and experts raise awareness about early detection of the disease. This year, it was again a virtual event over Zoom like the past year owing to Covid-19.

Nithya Rajkumar Nithya Rajkumar is passionate about photography as a medium for social impact. (Source: Nithya Rajkumar)

“Around 180 people attended from various cities and countries. The speakers included oncologists, surgeons, mental health specialists, and breast cancer survivors who joined to share their insights and answer the many questions from many. All of them volunteered their services for free. There are many who want to help others but don’t know where to start. I just want to tell them that if you have an intention to do something good, no matter how small you think it is, just do it. What you do might mean a lot to someone. Some mothers who joined us at Pinkdaytoshine share how proud their family and children felt upon seeing the images,” said Nithya whose on-site photoshoot this year featured 15 warriors, and also a remote photoshoot involving survivors from India’s Kerala, her hometown.

Notably the 2021 photoshoot happened over two days in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this October 20-22 with all covid safety measures. While the core idea is to celebrate the sheer strength and resilience of the women affected by cancer, Nithya’s use of the medium of photography to create awareness is unique.

So, what is the takeaway from her project? “I realised the importance of spreading the message of early detection as the chances of recovery are more. Everyone should know to do the self-breast examination. And the taboo and shame associated with breasts need to go. And while mastectomy is a medical procedure, it is largely associated with femininity that needs to be done away with,” expressed Nithya.

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