Projects > common threads

In the Breast Cancer History Quilt, I have presented a patchwork of the history of breast cancer. Instead of chronicling the history in an academic manner, I have included varied references to give the viewer more of a sense of the history of the disease. The earliest extant medical documents of breast cancer appear in Egyptian papyri from the eighteenth dynasty, 1587-1328 B.C.E. The first successful mastectomy was in the 1700’s and, since the accounts in the Egyptian papyri, only four advancements have been made towards the treatment of breast cancer: the mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and Tamoxofin, a drug-based hormone therapy.

The central image of the history quilt is a computer-generated image of Fanny Burney, an English novelist who wrote one of the first personal accounts of breast cancer, with her diary entries from her mastectomy in 1811 printed in red text over her portrait. The diary entry is horrific and in many ways impossible to imagine. Fanny Burney endured her mastectomy without anesthesia. Her account is written at a time when it was very inappropriate for a woman, or anyone for that matter, to talk about breast cancer. Much like the women I have interviewed, she has told her story. Through the history quilt, I am addressing the timeless nature of breast cancer and the common assumption that cancer is a disease of the 20th century.

History Quilt, Francis Burney
History Quilt, Francis Burney
Heat transfer and media quilt
64”W x 72” H
1998