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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Sustainable Prospects – Shoot Mod4#15 – Behind the Mask – Sara


Figure 1: Sutherst. Sara. 2017

I have known Sara for some time now as a disabled model.  What I did not was just how much she has been through in her life and how much she hides from everyone. She volunteered to be part of the project as the aims are ones that she shares and are very close to her heart.

To make things easier for Sara, I traveled to her home and we did the whole session there. To ensure that the images taken fit cohesively into the project, I placed a piece of grey mount board behind Sara.  This is a convenient and non-intrusive way to add a consistent background to the shots.

Sara has many medical conditions to contend with and faces each day with a myriad of medications. Her husband does a sterling job caring for her each day as her mobility is limited and there are times that she cannot do anything for herself. Whilst I was there, she needed to drink coffee with a straw as her mouth doesn’t always work as she wants it to.


Figure 2:, 2017

Sara has suffered a couple of strokes in the past. The result is that she cannot do an awful lot with her left side as that was the side most affected. Her other medical conditions mean that she is in constant pain. Sara has a really healthy attitude towards this. She explained to me that every so often, she reduces her pain medication to stop the body getting used to it.  As her body gets used to the dose, it needs increasing. At times that dose can approach that needed by people on end of life care. That scares Sara, so she allows her body to re-adjust and re-calibrate so that the medication begins to be effective again at a lower level. It is an incredibly brave move, as her pain levels are intense.

Sara had other medical conditions on top of this and these just exacerbate the stroke effects. Yet, Sara gets on with her life and tries her hardest to support those around her as they support her.

Sara has a loving and supportive family around her and this was evident throughout our session. Sara was unable to hold the pens to write on her mask. Her daughter stepped in, first decorating around the left eye to represent the makeup that Sara wears as part of her mask. Sara’s daughter then wrote the words that she asked her to, filling the mask with keywords that have a dramatic effect on Sara’s life. At times, Sara’s memory fails her. It is part of her condition. At these times, she will insert the word ‘carrot’ and the whole family knows what this means. The bond between Sara and her family was beautiful to observe. They all support each other and it is a very nurturing, calm environment to be in.

Sara explained that she took up modeling as a way to overcome her lack of confidence. She is able to become another person when being photographed and this allows her to forget her pain and everything else for a short time. Sara told me that she does not like the photos when she first sees them but gets to like them after a time. She is stunning in her images (as can be seen in figure 1).

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

– (Coelho, 2017)

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation.”

– (Coelho, 2017)

Every day that Sara puts on her mask and goes out, she faces stares and comments from other people. Because her mask is so good, she does not look ill. People stare and comment when they park the car in a disabled bay. They do not realise she is disabled until they see that she has to open her door fully and use her whole body to turn and get her legs out of the car. She needs her husband to help her sometimes. Other people then see the wheelchair and realise their initial reactions were wrong.

Sara can walk when pushing her granddaughter in her pushchair. The pushchair acts as a walker for her, providing support. Sara loves doing this but pays for it in pain later.

Spending time talking to Sara and listening to her story reminds me of the following from the ‘The Holocaust Lady’.

“. . . you do not know how strong you can be until put to the test. Heroes or cowards are not born that way. They are created by circumstances . . . what gave me the strength to live . . . hope”

– (Sender, 1993)

Sara is a perfect example of how well someone can look when behind the mask they are suffering and in pain. She has amazing mental strength and resilience which gets her through each day with a smile on her face. I am so inspired by her courage and determination to do everything she can to get on with her life and to ensure that her family are happy and loved. Thank you, Sara, for being part of this project.


Figure 3: Sutherst. Sara. 2017

If you notice any of the symptoms in figure 2 in yourself or other people, please call 999 immediately.

To find resources to cope with issues arising from strokes, please visit the Stroke Association Website.  You can also help fund their ongoing research and support by clicking DONATE.

Other helpful websites include the following:

Figures 4 and 5: Sutherst. Sara. 2017


Coelho, P. (2017). Things I learned with Paulo. [online] Paulo Coelho. Available at: [Accessed 28 Oct. 2017].

Sender, R. (1993). The Holocaust lady. Macmillan.


Figure 2: (2017). Stroke. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Oct. 2017].

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