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'Portraits of Strength'
Exhibit celebrates local breast-cancer survivors

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Southern Crescent Breast Specialists (SCBS) at the Spivey Station Surgery Center in Jonesboro recently contracted the talents of a former Kennedy family photographer to capture the essence of 12 local women who have beaten breast cancer.

"Portraits of Strength," unveiled recently at the surgery center, stands as a reminder to visitors that breast cancer is often not a death sentence -- if detected early and treated.

Last year, Susan Timbert, a registered nurse and breast-health-specialist educator at SCBS, enlisted the talents of portrait artist Luke Gandy to create "Faces of Hope," a series of portraits based on women who have been successfully treated for breast cancer at the center. This year, Timbert called on friend and professional photographer, Ronnie Owings, to photograph 12 women of diverse backgrounds, who have been treated at the center for breast cancer and lived to tell their stories.

"[Faces of Hope] was received very well," Timbert said. "It put the idea in my head to do another project with photography instead of oils. The age range [of the subjects] is 28 to 86. I wanted to focus on the very old, very young, and all different ethnicities ... We want to let women, who get that big news, know that they [the women pictured] ... have moved on successfully."

The women selected for the project include government clerks, teachers, homemakers, private business owners, and even a local elementary school principal.

Owings, the photographer and owner of Pro Studio in McDonough, started his career photographing Ethel Kennedy and her 11 children, after the assassination of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He said he was attracted to the idea behind "Portraits of Strength."

"I knew it was going to be a lot of work," he said. "I wanted to capture them at their best. Regardless of what they went through, I wanted them to be proud of the way they look now. When you look at something that took four months to do, and you see the finished product ... you can't help but feel like the mission was accomplished.

"We go through life and go through the motions, but everyday, they make the choice to live," Owings added. "It was a huge inspiration to me."

Tammy Burroughs, principal of McGarrah Elementary School in Morrow, had a double mastectomy in August of 2007 at SCBS. She said the initial diagnosis of breast cancer was depressing, but believes the series of photos will help others focus on the positive.

"When you get diagnosed, you kind of blend in with the color of the pavement," Burroughs said. "When you don't feel your best, and can see a wall of survivors and hope ... it's a talking piece. You have to get up and go, because at the pity party, you are going to be the only one there."

Elizabeth Baker, a native of Colombia and a resident of McDonough, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Having survived surgery and six months of radiation and chemotherapy, Baker said she was honored to be among the 12 women included in "Portraits of Strength."

"I'm very proud," she said. "The ladies that are starting now are going to see all the ladies there that survived, and how good we look."

Throughout the month of October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, "Portraits of Strength" will be featured in various locations throughout the Spivey Station Surgery Center. After October, the pictures will be on permanent display at Southern Crescent Breast Specialists.

For more information about "Portraits of Strength," call (770) 507-5055.