Cancer Student

My Boobs Are More Famous Than Me

A year ago this month, I nervously posted my topless mastectomy photo series on the internet. Not knowing what the reaction would be, I prepared for the WORST (an avalanche of slut shaming internet trolls, hate mail from Breast Cancer Patients saying "I am insensitive", and my father being mortified) and hoped for the BEST (internet trolls showing compassion, breast cancer patients finding comfort and joy, and The Ellen Show begging to have me on).

 

Thankfully, the reaction was the Best Case (minus getting on The Ellen Show) and the internet proved to be incredibly kind to a WOMAN SHOWING HER BREASTS ON THE INTERNET

 

 

In 2014, a year after my mother passed away from ovarian cancer, I was planning a preventative bilateral mastectomy to lower my risk of cancer--thanks BRCA1 genetic mutation. Three days before my appointment to schedule that surgery, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer

If you want to make GOD laugh, tell him your plans.
— Woody Allen

Behind the scenes video of the series and my vulnerable explanation of the process.

The truth is, I was making the photos I wanted to see when I started this process. This series gave me a way to reframe my experience and accept my new body in the process.

Before removing my breasts, I wanted photographic evidence of their original splendor but I didn't want it to look like mug shots of attempted murders taken from my cell phone. Instead, I imagined images that captured the changing emotions of each stage in the mastectomy/reconstruction process.  

I told everyone that my goal was to change the images women saw of mastectomies. Rather than simple Before and After photos, these would share the Evolution, the Life, and the HUMOR in this dark situation. But the truth is, I was making the photos I wanted to see when I started this process. This series gave me a way to reframe my experience and accept my new body in the process. 

The incredible women, Alexa and Ellie, of Blast 'Em Photography lovingly came on board, along with Brynn Burg (Bride of Frankenstein MUA/HAIR) and Tiffany Alfonso (Mannequin MUA). 

I dubbed the series MY BREAST CHOICE. 

"Topless Rosie"   Photographer- Blast 'Em    MUA & Hair- Aniela McGuinness      Model- Aniela McGuinness      One Week Prior to My Mastectomy.

"Topless Rosie"

Photographer- Blast 'Em    MUA & Hair- Aniela McGuinness      Model- Aniela McGuinness    

One Week Prior to My Mastectomy.

Are nipples shameful?

Gasp... REAL Nipples. When the photo series got picked up by the news, this was the only image they censored. The feminist in me finds that funny/heartbreaking.

"Topless Rosie" is an ode to the WWII propaganda image. Taken a week before my double mastectomy and the first time I EVER bared my BARE breasts for a camera, I wanted to capture the "We Can Do It" spirit of determination that was missing in all of the medical mastectomy "before" photos that filled the internet. 


"Cut to Pieces"    Photographer- Blast 'Em            MUA & Hair- Brynn Berg                  Model- Aniela McGuinness  Two weeks after my double mastectomy.

"Cut to Pieces" 

Photographer- Blast 'Em            MUA & Hair- Brynn Berg                  Model- Aniela McGuinness

Two weeks after my double mastectomy.

I felt broken.

Two weeks post mastectomy, with the expanders slightly filled and no nipples, I felt like the Bride of Frankenstein. I was broken and cut to pieces--physically and emotionally. (The stitches around my shoulders and collar bone were movie make-up created by the talented Brynn Berg). 


"Plastic Emotions"  Photographer- Blast 'Em                MUA- Tiffany Alfonso                    Model- Aniela McGuinness  At the end of 4 months of chemo and with the expanders filled.

"Plastic Emotions"

Photographer- Blast 'Em                MUA- Tiffany Alfonso                    Model- Aniela McGuinness

At the end of 4 months of chemo and with the expanders filled.

There was this pressure to always be Happy.

There are so many layers of emotion in this photo. It was taken at the end of 4 months of intense chemo, my expanders were fully inflated, and I looked like a mannequin. It felt like I had become a base model human without the external trappings that define us; hair, clothes, breasts.

During this crappy time, as the treatments were starting to take their toll on me, there was this pressure to continuously be HAPPY. The moment I showed any fear, anxiety, sadness, or depression, people would spew out cliques, "Stay Positive", "Be Strong", "You are going to be FINE". Much of the time was spent managing other's emotions and FAKING my own. I learned that in those moments that all I wanted someone to say was "This sucks" and just be with me as I cried.


"#FreeTheNipples"   Photographer- Blast 'Em         MUA & Hair- Aniela McGuinness            Model- Aniela McGuinness   Prosthetic Nipples by Pink-Perfect  Five months post chemo and two months after my breast reconstruction.

"#FreeTheNipples"

Photographer- Blast 'Em         MUA & Hair- Aniela McGuinness            Model- Aniela McGuinness   Prosthetic Nipples by Pink-Perfect

Five months post chemo and two months after my breast reconstruction.

I feel free of shame or guilt about my body.

Cancer ignited a rebellion within me. Never before had I posed topless because I was a "Good Girl." I followed societies unspoken rules.

Cancer helped burn that away. The human body is beautiful, we are allowed to love ourselves, and there is no reason we should have to hide our bodies. Cancer made me a Feminist and that is why I created this last photo.

I must admit that I still feel shame for the first image. I am embarrassed to show my nipples, even though those nipples are buried in a hazardous waste pile. The censorship of my real nipples goes all the way to my core. YET, this final image, with prosthetic nipples, I feel free of shame or guilt about my body. 


Love,

Did you take before photos of your breasts? Do you wish you did? Comment Below

 

Special Thank you to those who made this HAPPEN:

Reconstructive Surgeon- Dr. Christopher Low and Breast Cancer Surgeon Dr. Avisar

Photography Team- Blast 'Em Photography (Alexa and Ellie)

MUA/Hair for Bride of Frankenstein- Brynn Berg

MUA for Mannequin- Tiffany Alfonso

Wig for Bride of Frankenstein- On loan from Chris and Michelle Diamantides

Prosthetic Nipples- Pink Perfect 

Buzzfeed Contact- Jenny Lorenzo helped make this whole thing go viral.

Cancer Costumes...Halloween FUN

Halloween is for kids and cancer patients! There is a joy that overflows from a child when asked, “What do you want to be for Halloween?” With its endless possibilities to express who they want to become, who they idolize. As a cancer patient, the opportunity returns.  

It is a time to embrace the changes, the baldness, the scars. A time to laugh at the hand you have been dealt.

Ania, is an RN who had Breast Cancer at age 32. Click the photo to follow her on Instagram @FUCancer32.

Ania, is an RN who had Breast Cancer at age 32. Click the photo to follow her on Instagram @FUCancer32.

It is a day off from taking CANCER seriously. 

Lara Honnor was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast cancer at age 31. Click the photo to follow her on Instagram @Blonde_Pony. 

Lara Honnor was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast cancer at age 31. Click the photo to follow her on Instagram @Blonde_Pony. 

It is a time to take charge of YOUR identity, even if it is just for a day. 

Cancer Costume Bride of Frankenstein Mastectomy Breast Cancer Topless Drain Bags

Halloween 2014 -a week after my double mastectomy- there was no party but there was an appointment to remove my final drain bag. Circumstance made my costume…I was the Bride of Frankenstein, cut up and put back together. My amazing husband dressed as Dr. Frankenstein to support my crazy. 

It brought joy to what could have been an otherwise traumatizing situation. I had not seen my bare chest until that appointment and when I did my first thought was “What a F*CKING badass”. It set the tone for my journey to follow.

 

Love,

Aniela Signature

What do you want to be for Halloween?

Comment below.

You Can Plan to Beat Cancer

The CanPlan

At Cancer Grad, we love finding ways to make the cancer experience a little easier and sharing them with you. We have been through this and know how lost and overwhelming it can feel.

The big question is always, where do you START? Canplan has answered that with this perfect planner. It is filled with information from clinical trials to tips on what to bring to chemo.

As our co-founder, Aniela, said "I almost wish I had cancer again so I could use this...ALMOST."

To find out what is inside, watch Nora and Aniela in this Facebook Live Replay as they as they review it page by page.  

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, use "THINKPINK30" to get 30% off.

MyCanPlan.com

CanPlan is a one-of-a-kind planner designed specifically for cancer patients and their caregivers. It provides daily reminders, guidelines for positive living, and methods for monitoring and tracking all of the details of your illness every step of the way. This isn’t simply a planner: it’s a roadmap to recovery, a book that will return control of your life back into your hands. Once you’re sick, you know you need a hand. With CanPlan, you’ll have one.

Oil Pulling + Chemo = No Mouth Sores?

MOUTH SORES...they are like a portal to Chemo HELL. What if they could not only be treated but PREVENTED? Oil Pulling is the magical answer, plus its cheap and easy. 

My final chemo treatment was April 11, 2015, and this has been the one tip I share the most. Oil Pulling has made me one of those overly excited people pushing unsolicited holistic remedies onto unsuspecting cancer patients (I know...ugh), but this one actually works and made it possible for me to eat during chemo. Plus, it isn't connected to a mid-level marketing product.

Prior to chemo, I couldn't justify the hassle of oil pulling. My random attempts couldn't “proved” that it accomplished more than slowly whitening my teeth, but during chemo it became my secret weapon against dreaded mouth sores.

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic technique that involves putting oil in your mouth for 20 minutes every day in order to draw out toxins from the body.

Sounds like a party, right? 

Christmas morning, 2014, my first mouth sore broke open one week after my first chemo treatment--what a gift! My internet chemo-comrades informed me that I could get my doctor to prescribe “Magic Mouthwash”, but they warned that it tasted like crap and and would make my mouth numb. Out of simple laziness to avoid another trip to the pharmacy, I decided to try oil pulling again. By the next day my mouth was HEALED.

From that moment on, every morning, the first thing I would do--after peeing, of course-- was put a spoonful of coconut oil in mouth. A year later, I am still doing it. With four months of intense chemo, the first mouth sore was my ONLY mouth sore. Oil pulling also saved me THOUSANDS of dollars in dental work after chemo. Something no one mentions during treatment is that all of those sores wreak havoc on your mouth, causing damage that could result in gum disease, cavities, and tooth loss. I only needed two preventative fillings. Thank you, Oil Pulling!

 

what I use:

  • 3-4 drops Organic Clove Oil
  • 3-4 drops Organic Peppermint Oil
  • 1/2 cup warm salt water (for rinsing)

I prefer coconut oil but you can also use sesame or sunflower. Amazon sells “pure, unrefined, cold pressed, 100% organic extra virgin coconut oil” (with that many adjectives it must be good) in a 54oz jug for about $17.

Share on Pinterest

Dr. Mehta, my integrative medicine doctor at UM Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, suggested I add several drops of clove oil to my oil pulling. Clove oil and coconut oil both have antiseptic properties and the clove oil has a huge list of added benefits. Now, I also add a few drops of organic peppermint oil to give me extra fresh breath. 

Why does oil pulling work? I came to find out it's not magic. Dr. Mehta explained that during chemo the cells are exploding and leaving their toxic waste floating in your body. By drinking water you flush the water soluble parts out but the fat soluble bits are stuck. By oil pulling, you give a place for those fat soluble toxins to go and then you spit them out. Abracadabra, the magic of our bodies. 

First thing in the morning, before drinking water or brushing your teeth, put a teaspoon of coconut oil with a few drops of clove and peppermint oil in your mouth and gently swish for 20 minutes. If you are finding that your mouth is cramping or you are gagging, start with less oil and less time. Then do your morning ritual; use the bathroom, make the bed, shower, feed the cats, meditate, etc. 20 minutes is the optimum time to get the full benefits. It's long enough to break through the mucus membrane and short enough so the toxins don't seep back in. Spit the oil into the TRASH (you don’t want to clog your drains). Then rinse with salt water as an added antiseptic while in chemo. DONE. 

As an added bonus, you will have a bright white smile to go with your shiny bald head. 

Aniela and her husband, Jordan, at an event during her chemo.

What It Will NOT Do:

  • CURE cancer (Go to the doctor)
  • Heal pre-existing cavities and decay
  • Magically make all of your problems go away (Cancer Sucks)

Benefits I felt:

  • Whitens Teeth
  • Freshens Breath
  • Reduces Stiff Joints
  • Reduces Sinus Problems
  • Clears Skin
  • Detoxifies the Body
  • Increase Energy Level
  • Prevents Mouth Sores before they start

Game of Oil Pulling

By the end of Chemo, it was an all out battle between oil pulling and the chemo drugs. My mouth felt fuzzy, food tasted funny, and I could feel that the mouth sores were clawing to come out. Chemo compounds and oil pulling can only do so much, but if you are diligent with oil pulling you can hold them back as long as possible. 

Love,

Did you try oil pulling during your chemo? what was your experience?

Comment below.

 

This is something that worked for me, but please talk to your doctor. Also, check to see if your cancer facility has an integrative medicine doctor. They are a wonderful resource for adding holistic medicines to your standard medicine. *DO NOT discontinue your actual medicine because of what you read here.  

 

Survive vs. Graduate

Warrior. Fighter. Hero. Courage. Survivor.

These are just a few terms that may be familiar if you've ever been diagnosed with cancer. These are all wonderful words, and are usually used by people who want to support you through an incredibly difficult time in your life-  people who want to honor your struggle.

I still vividly remember the first time someone referred to me as a cancer "survivor." It gave me pause- I had a visceral reaction, where I had to stop myself from revealing my cringing face. The term fell flat for me. At that moment, I wasn't sure why. 

Surely, there is some truth in the term "cancer survivor"- most of us who have come through a diagnosis are keenly aware of our avoidance of death and the incredibly challenging circumstances towards becoming healthier. I understand why so many use the moniker with pride. If the name "survivor" is one that makes you feel proud and empowered, by all means-kudos to you, keep rockin' that term.

As I reflected on my reaction to the term, I was able to determine why "survivor" didn't resonate with me. Within the world of cancer, so much of the rhetoric surrounding the disease is couched in war and battle terminology. "Fight like a girl", "Cancer Warrior", "Kick cancer's ass" "Wage a war on cancer" are some popular examples. For those people who have passed on from the disease, we often read they have "lost their battle", or "lost their fight" with cancer. Is this supposed to mean they didn't "fight" hard enough? Does that truly honor their lives and their struggle?

Sure, some of us survive cancer, but I'm striving for more than survival. I'm striving to live out loud, to create, to learn more, love more, grow more, explore more, and share more during my time on earth, until I pass on and end up "studying abroad".

I never looked at my own cancer diagnosis through the war lens. I viewed it as some cells that went haywire in my lower abdomen (GO HOME, DNA. YOU'RE DRUNK.) - that my body needed a lot of help healing through surgery and chemo and teams of doctors and nurses and a comprehensive plan to get it back on track to healing itself. It was incredibly hard, but I learned much more about cancer and my body, about empathy and sympathy, about physical, mental and emotional strength, about love and support, about grief and pain, as well as joy and healing. I didn't just survive cancer. I got schooled by cancer, and then I graduated from it.

I love the power of words. I love trying to find the most appropriate, descriptive words to communicate emotions and experiences. So when Aniela and I asked each other the question, "What's an empowering term to call someone who has lived through a cancer diagnosis?" we thought long and hard about our choice of words. 

Cancer Grad.

We hope that if you are getting schooled by cancer, that you graduate from it with honors.