Supporting cancer patients with creative power: what is LAVENDER RING?

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The pink ribbon is well known as a symbol for spreading awareness of breast cancer, encouraging early detection and prevention. But do you know what a lavender ring means? The answer is awareness and support for all kinds of cancer, and Shiseido and Dentsu are promoting LAVENDER RING activities in connection with this lavender color.

This project involves activities wherein Shiseido does cancer patients' makeup that suit their personalities and creates photographs of their vivacity, which are then shared. The photos are printed out on the spot and posted with a few words symbolizing the hobbies or activities to which the subject is dedicated. Rather than the difficulties of suffering with cancer, these photos show that living with cancer is an extension of people's everyday lives, and, thanks to this environment, their distinctive individual power and identity can shine.

In relation to these activities, we spoke to Hiroyuki Tsukimura from Dentsu, Masato Kanazawa and Shigesato Kobayashi from Shiseido, and Isao Hamada, who has been involved in photography as a cancer survivor.

There's still an image of "illness leading to immediate death" attached to cancer, and there are many patients who are struggling with feelings of isolation and alienation. (Tsukimura)

Dentsu Mr.Hiroyuki Tsukimura

-- Could you explain to us what the LAVENDER RING initiative is about?

Tsukimura The catalyst was a personal experience. In the fall of 2015, Misono, one of my team in the company, rang me to say he had cancer. He had stage 3B pulmonary adenocarcinoma, and we spoke about how he was going to work from then on.

It is said that one in two Japanese people will have cancer; statistically it occurs in 60% of men and 40% of women. Anyone can develop it; it's not unusual. However, 30% of people who have been diagnosed with cancer leave their jobs, and there are some people who also develop anxiety. There's still an image associated with cancer, which is illness leading to immediate death, and there are many patients who struggle with feelings of isolation and alienation, even if they can live with cancer.

Tsukimura However, I didn't want a distance to develop between myself and Misono, and so I spoke to everyone in the company to receive their cooperation. Since everyone in the Department shared a calendar, we considered the division of work based on Misono's outpatient treatment schedule, and created a sticker with the slogan "FIGHT TOGETHER."

-- "Cancer survivor" refers to someone who has experienced cancer at least once: not just people who are being treated for it but people who have beaten it as well.

Tsukimura For example, when Shonan Bellmare's futsal player Shigetaka Hisamitsu found that he also had pulmonary adenocarcinoma, apparently his condition was diagnosed as stage 3B but he was active as a regular member of the team. Misono found a photo of him running energetically around the field, and we thought, "As there are people with cancer who are so energetic like him, why don't we take photos and share them?"

Our Dentsu workplace is in Shiodome in Tokyo, and a Shiseido office is on the other side of the road; when you think about Shiseido, you picture a company that has always carried out work to do with human beauty and vivacity. I made up my mind, and went to speak to them.

Photographing healthy-looking cancer patients and then making the picture into a poster is quite difficult. (Kanazawa)

-- That has led to the realization of LAVENDER RING, so the result is evident, but what were your first impressions?

Tsukimura I was welcomed more than I had imagined (laughs). Shiseido has a facility called the Shiseido Life Quality Beauty Center, which started off using cosmetics to cover wartime burns, and has continued its activities with cosmetic coverage of scars, bruises, vitiligo, or the side-effects of cancer treatment.

With such a background, they positively endorsed our proposed plan, and Mr. Kanazawa, who is one of Shiseido's top photographers, personally volunteered to be in charge of the photos.

Kanazawa Kanazawa: At first, they asked if we could provide someone as an assistant photographer. But photographing healthy-looking cancer patients, and then making the picture into a poster on site... it was a difficult plan.

Kanazawa Kanazawa: When it comes to photography techniques, even if you can take a photo of someone looking stylish and beautiful, you have to pay attention to a lot of different areas when creating the atmosphere of the place and communicating with the subject. Considering that, we thought that it would likely be more convenient and better for communication if I went rather than sending a young person.

Masato Kanazawa
In the middle of a shoot for LAVENDER RING

Tsukimura The talks were settled in June 2017; in August we set up the first booth at the Japan Cancer Forum, on February 4 the following year we held an event and a shoot for World Cancer Day with cooperation from Credit Saison and Yahoo!, and a further opportunity in August - our activities had broadened before we knew it. The passionate ideas of the survivors, representing the power of their humanity and self-expression, were indispensable, and our encounter with Mr. Hamada was a big deal.

A poster that they have created

I felt that I had been reborn by being photographed. (Hamada)

Hamada Hamada: I participated in World Cancer Day in February. I'm a cancer survivor, having had cancer that affected my face five years ago. It was adenoid cystic carcinoma, known as ACC for short, and my facial nerve on the right side of my face and my jaw joint was half resected.

Cases of this kind of cancer are quite rare, numbering 1 or 2 in 100,000; even among people suffering from cancer there is a limited number of people you can consult. Wanting to change this, and also because cancer has a strangely dark image which I dislike, I started up a patient association called TEAM ACC based on the idea of a sports club. As I am the representative, I suppose I'm something like the club director or leader (laughs).

Tsukimura There have been cancer patient associations for a while, and various organizations are carrying out activities, but suddenly this great group called TEAM ACC appeared.

Hamada Hamada: There isn't much information about rare cancers, so I partly intended to disseminate and share information about my treatment using a blog. Then, I participated in the February 2018 LAVENDER RING shoot. Actually, I learned that Mr. Kanazawa attended the same university years later than I had done, and I felt a bit like it was fate.

Kanazawa Kanazawa: There was a sense of "You're my senior, and I look forward to working with you!" and I was nervous in a whole other way (laughs).

Hamada Hamada: He was incredibly friendly, and took wonderful photographs - I was really moved. To be more precise, I felt that I had been reborn by being photographed.

Having had my facial nerve resected means that I can't smile with 100% of my face. I've come to use "My smile is at 50%" as my catchphrase in a humorous way, and in fact even when I'm smiling fully you can only see half of it. However, Mr. Kanazawa expressed 100% of my feelings in his photo. This was partly the reason that I felt that TEAM ACC should continue to completely support LAVENDER RING. Like an enthusiastic troop (laughs).

Kanazawa Kanazawa: Their support is indeed very helpful. I can show the subject in an enjoyable way through the photography techniques of angles and lighting. For example, if you can't smile brilliantly, it's fine to use your hands to pull your face a little to make it smile. But it's important to create an atmosphere of excitement before reaching that stage, and we have numerous survivors as subjects who release their emotions thanks to Mr. Hamada and his team's cooperation.

Hamada Hamada: I could say the same to you.

Kanazawa Kanazawa: Simply put, a good photo depends on the subject's "individuality." All of us frequently find ourselves being negative or nervous, but actually we manage to smile beautifully, even more than you think you can. That's the same for people with different medical conditions - for example, someone with a prosthetic limb can create a positive and stylish photo by showing it off.

Hamada Hamada: Applying for this event, I'm sure, means that those who applied are thinking somewhere in their hearts that they want to take a step forward. There are quite a lot of people who struggle to accept the fact that they have developed cancer and stop feeling. But I think that people want to break that shell around their hearts and live actively going forward, and it's because they have these positive feelings that the number of people applying to LAVENDER RING is increasing.

Tsukimura You'll know if you come along once, but LAVENDER RING events are exciting. We can always hear the sound of Kanazawa's shutter as he takes photos, and the voices of the makeup team. Somehow, that seems to make everyone release their own powers of expression even more.

To go with the photoshoot, we interview everyone for around 15 minutes. Looking back at the videos posted on Facebook, they convey the strength that the participants have because they've experienced this massive event - cancer.

Kanazawa Kanazawa: I've now done this four times, and recently there has been a real feel of challenge from everyone.

Tsukimura In August there were several people who wore Hawaiian clothing! There are also people who cosplay, and LAVENDER RING events have become a sort of festival space. LAVENDER RING involves modern factors, like using social media to disseminate, spread, and share information, but techniques such as makeup and photography have been around for a long time. I think that is why they have the power to liberate people.

The men who participate are really interesting as well. Even if they initially hesitate, saying that they don't want any makeup, by the end they might end up being so excited that they give it a try.

Compared to women, men have a thicker emotional barrier, but I feel that once we've broken through there are more men who are even happier to be photographed.

It's a big deal to meet friends who are suffering in the same way through activities. (Hamada)

-- Mr. Kobayashi, I hear that you're participating as the producer of LAVENDER RING, is that right?

Kobayashi Yes. I have a background in public relations, and I'm involved in LAVENDER RING from the perspective of the sustainability strategy that Shiseido is promoting. As Mr. Tsukimura said earlier, we have been involved in activities that use makeup to cover scars from wartime damage, etc. for a long time, and it's important that we do not let it end as a temporary project.

I have heard that when you work for a long time in sales or on-site jobs in stores, you might lose sight of the true nature of your activities, and wonder what you are working for. The true nature of Shiseido is to give people happiness through beauty, and I can really feel our roots in LAVENDER RING. It's because of this that I want to develop LAVENDER RING to be a significant activity that does not just rely on individual's enthusiasm.

The LAVENDER RING booklet includes a piece with restructured visuals and copy from the company commercial "LOVE THE DIFFERENCES," which Shiseido announced in April 2018, on the anniversary of its founding.

It incorporates the idea of "becoming a company that continues to innovate through diversity," and the feeling that Shiseido will support people who struggle to connect to society due to some hurdle or barrier so that they can live while expressing their honest emotions. In that sense, LAVENDER RING's activities are connected to the core of our company, and are something that we ourselves need to learn from in the future.

-- I wasn't aware that Shiseido offered makeup to cover wartime scars. Is this an activity you have been involved in for a while?

Kobayashi It started in 1956, so it's been continuing for over half a century now. Producing cosmetics is an industry where there are low barriers to entry, but long-term research is necessary for profound skin issues such as scarring or burns. The number of users is also limited, and there is almost no profit, but this is also an activity with a strong link to the idea of "wanting to make people happy through beauty," our raison d'être.

-- In the same way that beauty in a broad sense is something in which we all have a great and continuing interest, we can say that living with an illness such as cancer is also a continuing, lifelong theme. In that respect, I hope that LAVENDER RING continues.

Tsukimura They say that the proportion of LGBTQ individuals in society is one in thirteen, and thirteen people is around the number who would participate in a small meeting. The possibility that an uneasy utterance, said without thought, creates a wall between you and someone with a different sexual orientation is nothing unusual, and this is also true of people with cancer.

It is difficult to break that wall from the start, and trying to break it without any knowledge has its dangers. It's because of this, through activities like LAVENDER RING, I want to share the situation related to cancer and let people know that being a cancer patient is not necessarily something special.

Hamada Hamada: It was completely unexpected for me to have cancer of the face. I was told that anti-cancer drugs are not very effective on adenoid cystic carcinoma, and there is the chance that it will spread somewhere else. Actually, it has spread to my lungs, and when an x-ray was taken, a third of my lungs were completely white. But it's advancing slowly, and isn't hindering my everyday life.

I want people to know about this sort of thing, and most of all, it was a big deal to meet friends who are suffering in the same way through TEAM ACC and LAVENDER RING activities.

-- It seems a huge benefit that people do not become isolated.

Tsukimura There's a sense of community. It's the same in a company. If you consider employee management, it can be dry. However, if you consider it a department with around 20 people, then that is a community in itself. Misono's cancer further strengthened our solidarity.

LOVE THE DIFFERENCES visual with copy text rewritten for LAVENDER RING

There are definitely walls and barriers, but they're not necessarily a big problem. (Kobayashi)

Kobayashi We don't intend to be overbearing and say "learn about cancer" through LAVENDER RING. What we want to say is that there are definitely walls and barriers, but they're not necessarily a big problem. It's not something that is intolerable and you must avoid looking at, but it's something that accompanies normal people in everyday life.

-- The difficulty with the problem of discrimination, which is not limited to illness, is that consciously removing differences and trying to flatten everything out may conversely bring about an atmosphere of exclusivity. I feel what is important is that, even if there are "lines," we become aware that the lines are not uniformly too high to cross. Lines may appear the same when looking at them from above, while the same lines could be low enough to cross if you take a little step over it.

Kobayashi I think that idea is likely possible because this is Japan.

Japan is a country that has grown through repeated assimilation and accumulation. The diversity in Japan is strongly colored by the idea that while we learn differences, we should share them and aim for assimilation. I believe that the possibility of developing LAVENDER RING lies in this.

Tsukimura The catalyst for the start of this project was to eliminate the isolation of cancer survivors, but I would like to consider further development.

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