Photography courtesy of Sarah Dixon.
Roughly 100 people die every day of breast cancer in the U.S. — and virtually all of these deaths are from metastatic breast cancer. That’s individual people — moms, daughters, sisters, friends — multifaceted women for whom cancer is just one thing, not everything. In October, we are telling the stories of these women who have found strength in their sense of self, power in their beauty, and who refuse to let an incurable, deadly disease tell their story for them.
“I actually just started wearing makeup two weeks ago,” 19-year-old Brittney Beadle says excitedly as I compliment her crisp cat-eye. “I got foundation and I got cover-up — I was really excited.” Like any budding makeup enthusiast, Beadle is slowly discovering the endless options that the beauty landscape has to offer. But Beadle isn’t quite like other teens learning the ins and outs of makeup.
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The Pennsylvania native has been battling a fatal form of breast cancer, but when we start chatting, the first thing she wants to discuss is anything but. Looking at the vivacious woman in front of me, I don’t see someone with a terminal illness — which is exactly what Beadle and others with her condition want.
Beadle is part of an organization called #Cancerland, a charity started by fellow cancer patient Champagne Joy. Although #Cancerland aims to support all women with breast cancer, the group’s main focus is on stage 4, or metastatic breast cancer — a fatal form that, despite the billions of dollars raised for education and research of the disease, remains incurable. It’s estimated that over 40,000 women die every year due to breast cancer (about 108 per day).
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The common perception of cancer has long been one of hospital gowns and shaved heads — a portrayal only reinforced by the representations seen on TV and in movies. But while cancer can rob a woman of some of the physical traits that she sees as part of her identity, these women want you to know that their identities are not dominated by the disease.
Yes, the 11 women profiled below have metastatic breast cancer, but they also have a love of beauty, a desire to educate, and a lust for life. Sure, cancer will never be completely removed from their narrative, but it’s only part of it.
If breast cancer’s death toll surprised you, you are not alone. Thanks to what #Cancerland’s founder Champagne Joy calls the “pink-washing” of breast cancer, many Americans believe that it is a completely curable disease. “There’s a lack of public awareness — people think that breast cancer is done,“ says Joy. “They think: We gave, there were pink ribbons, and we’re done. That’s a curable disease. It’s over.”
Joy has been battling cancer for six years. She was first diagnosed with a lower stage of breast cancer in 2010 and went through the typical treatment of the disease. She was in remission for two years before her cancer came back. At that point, she had metastatic breast cancer. “Metastatic breast cancer means that the breast cancer has spread beyond the breast,” explains Joy. “It could be in your organs, it could be in your bones, and it means that it is now a terminal illness. There is no cure due to lack of research in that arena.” That’s why Joy has made it her mission to make the public aware of the grave truth about terminal breast cancer: Just 2% of research dollars spent on breast cancer goes to finding a cure for metastatic patients.
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If you have the pleasure of meeting Joy, her joie de vivre is immediately apparent. She doesn’t allow the bleak nature of her cause to bring her down — her blue hair, vibrant-colored lids, and retro-matte lips have caused some to dismiss her, but for Joy her multicolored aesthetic is her power suit. “The whole president-of-Mars look is something I’ve done all my life,” she says. “The chemo nurses tell me: ‘We know [you’re] having a bad day if [you] show up with no makeup.’” For Joy, slicking on yellow liner (Sephora Collection’s Shadow & Liner is her favorite) and a liquid lipstick helps her summon strength. “If I put my face on, I feel like me. I’ve always tied my look to my sense of self,” she declares proudly. “When I was 16, I was thrown out of school because of my white mohawk…they threw me out of a doctor’s office because I looked ridiculous… That’s me.”
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer about 16 years ago,” says Beth Fairchild. “I thought I knew everything there was to know about it: It’s curable, women don’t die from breast cancer. I was really wrong.” In 2014, Fairchild went to the doctor complaining of intestinal issues and fatigue. After a series of tests, her doctor concluded that Fairchild would have to have a hysterectomy to have her ovaries removed. When she woke from her surgery, her doctors told her she had stage-4 breast cancer.
Prior to being diagnosed, Fairchild had never heard the word “metastatic” or even fathomed the concept of end-stage breast cancer. “I thought you get a new set of breasts, then you move on with your life,” she says. “Well, it’s just not that simple.”
Now, she has dedicated her life to education and supporting women in similar positions. Fairchild and her husband are both tattoo artists by trade. Together they run five tattoo studiosand produce tattoo conventions on the East Coast. But Fairchild isn’t known primarily for sweet ink art — she’s known for areola tattooing.
“A lot of times when women undergo a mastectomy and reconstruction, they’re left without areolas or nipples,” Fairchild explains. “When [areolas are reconstructed] by a physician or by nursing staff, it’s just not the quality of work you get in a tattoo shop by an artist.” That’s why Fairchild has taken it upon herself to give women who want it a chance to have their areolas tattooed.
Although Fairchild chose not to reconstruct after having her breasts removed, she’s moved by the emotional responses of the women she tattoos. “Most of them cry when I’m done, and that just fills me,” she says. “I tattooed a lady who went 25 years without having areolas,” Fairchild recalls. “She referred to her breasts as ‘Barbie breasts’ — they didn’t look like breasts to her. When I was able to give that back to her, it was so rewarding.”
Ayanna Kalasunas and her now-husband had just gotten engaged a month before she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She began a new life with her husband — one that included being a woman with advanced breast cancer. But Kalasunas doesn’t let that stop her from enjoying her life. “One of my really close friends once said that you have to meet yourself where you are sometimes,” says Kalasunas. “Not every day is perfect, not every day is beautiful… Cancer has already done a ton of things to my life that suck, but I’m not going to allow it to make me unhappy.”
Instead, Kalasunas likes to focus on things that bring her joy, like spending time with family, cooking, and sharing her story. She also finds solace in creating skin-care and makeup products from scratch. “I like figuring out how to make natural makeup or new body butters,” she explains.
Unlike some of the other women featured here, Kalasunas has a pretty spartan beauty routine. For her, beauty has nothing to do with physical traits. “It’s something people can feel the minute you walk into a room,” she says. “I think of beauty as something that radiates from your heart out into the world, not so much about makeup, or eyelashes, or fun blue lipstick.”
When Brittney Beadle was 18 years old, she found a lump in her breast. When she went to the hospital to get it checked out, her doctors immediately sent her home. “Well, you’re 18,” they said. “You’re too young to get breast cancer.” Three months later the lump had grown and her nipple inverted, and Beadle knew something was wrong. The next day, she went back to the hospital and her doctors conducted a biopsy. The day after that, she was called back in and told: “You have breast cancer.”
“I think because I’m so young, people always feel sorry for me,” she says. “But you don’t [have to]. Yeah, I have bad days and one day I will pass away from this, but right now I’m doing well. I’m happy still.”
Two weeks ago, Beadle did her makeup for the first time after watching a makeup artist on YouTube. The curious young woman is determined to learn as much as she can and count every day as a blessing. Rather than dwelling on her diagnosis, Beadle tries to look to the future. “Some people say not to do that because they think I don’t have a future, but I’m 19 and I want to have a future,” she says. “I’m going to college right now to become a better writer, and I want to write a book about what it’s like being diagnosed with metastatic cancer when you’re 18.”
“I did everything you’re supposed to do,” says Linda Lancaster-Carey. She had yearly checkups and tests to screen for breast cancer. Ten years ago, her tests came back positive for stage-3 breast cancer. Three-and-a-half years ago, she was diagnosed as metastatic.
“When I had chemotherapy for the first time, my eyebrows didn’t really grow back,” says Lancaster-Carey. “When I look in the mirror, I don’t look at the rest of my face, I just see my eyebrows. It’s nice to have eyebrows.” Unfortunately, hair loss is a common symptom of cancer treatment. While some women choose to embrace it, others turn to makeup to help them feel like themselves again.
“I felt like I needed to wear more makeup,” she says. “I wasn’t self-conscious about it at all, because that’s just sort of part of the package, but I liked to draw my eyebrows on.” Now, Lancaster-Carey wears vivid lipstick when she wants to feel strong. “It makes me feel powerful in a really weird way,” she says. “I don’t know why a color of lipstick would make me feel that way, but it does and I’ll take it.”
Serena Rinaldi Lambiase
In 1977, Serena Rinaldi Lambiase thought it would be funny to audition to be a Playboy bunny. Little did she know she’d land the job and work as a waitress in the now-defunct Manhattan Playboy Club on East 59th for two years. The same bravado that made Rinaldi Lambiase enter the thousand-person call in the first place has carried her throughout her ongoing 10-year struggle with breast cancer.
In the beginning, Rinaldi Lambiase tried to battle cancer on her own, but it wasn’t until she joined #Cancerland that she realized the importance of camaraderie. “You can say things to each other that you can’t really say to other people and they’ll understand,” she says.
For Rinaldi Lambiase, one of the hardest things that comes with cancer has been losing many of the things that were a part of her feminine identity. “It’s hard to feel like a woman sometimes,” she says. “I used to have beautiful, [long] hair and now it’s short.” Although Rinaldi Lambiase used to wear very minimal makeup, she’s found that dusting on a bit of color in the mornings brings a sense of normalcy to her life. “I’ve gotten better at finding ways to [feel] more attractive,” she says. “You get through it.”
“My family is really open about what cancer is. Sometimes when my daughter is watching TV, she’ll hear about cancer and she’ll say, 'Look! They have cancer, too!’ I am so proud of her in those moments,” says Jessie Karabian. “It’s important for me to be able to talk candidly about cancer and not have to sugarcoat things.” That’s why Karabian has made it her mission to speak openly about the reality of her disease and how it has changed her.
“I look completely different. The chemotherapy and steroids have made me gain weight; I have scars all over my body. It’s been a difficult transformation to look at myself. But I still try to [feel] beautiful,” she says.
As Karabian talks about her diagnosis, she echoes her fellow #Cancerland members: “A lot of people say, 'You look good; I would never know [you have cancer],’” she says. “I can see why some people would take offense to that — because not all illnesses are seen — but for me, it kind of gives me a relief. That for right now, you can’t see my cancer; you’re just seeing me for me.”
Justine Oxman-Engels might just be the most positive woman I have ever met. As we chatted on set, I realized she was open to pretty much anything beauty-wise. We decided to go with neon color on her eyes — the cosmetics embodiment of Oxman-Engels’ personality, if you ask us. (She agrees.)
Oxman-Engels is incredibly chipper for a woman who has had to circumvent the national healthcare system just to get the treatments she needs to continue her fight against metastatic breast cancer. “I was going to have to lose everything in order to live,” she explains. “I don’t want to go around the system, but my friend was a doctor and my other friend was a lawyer, and they got together and said I needed to get a divorce.” Although Oxman-Engels and her husband are still very much in love, they had to separate in order for Oxman-Engels to obtain Medicaid and public health insurance. “[I would have] gone broke without it,” she says. “So we traded everything over to my husband."
"I’m happy it was me [who got breast cancer] and not my mom, my sisters, or my best friend,” says Erin Grant. “[A lot of people ask,] 'Why me?’ — I always thought: Why not me? I feel like if you look at it that way, you just fight to live, so why not?”
Grant’s attitude toward breast cancer has been more accepting than that of some of her fellow #Cancerland members, but losing her sense of femininity is still something she deals with on a daily basis. Not only does cancer take away things you can see, like breasts or hair, but Grant had to have a hysterectomy because her cancer was estrogen-receptive-positive, which means that the disease was feeding off her estrogen. “I lost the ability to have children and to have a biological family,” she says. “It took things that I identified myself with — my femininity, [my health]. But I like the new me.”
Grant walked away from our studio that day after having scooped up some tips from our hair and makeup artist. “When you don’t feel great, it’s difficult to make yourself look great…especially when you don’t know how to do it,” she says. “I took some tips today, so hopefully I’ll be able to spend a little bit more time feeling pretty and kinda getting back to me. If you can say that you feel good, I think you’re beautiful.”
This isn’t the first time Rebecca Scheinkman has battled cancer. “As a childhood leukemia survivor, I know what to expect from chemo,” she explains. “I have cancer located in my breast and unfortunately in my brain.” But Scheinkman’s diagnosis isn’t stopping her from fully living her life. She works a full-time job in brand licensing, goes out with friends often, and fights hard not to be defined as a “cancer girl.”
“At 33, when I started chemo again and I lost my hair for the second time it was probably the most traumatic time because I had already done it once before,” says Scheinkman. For a while, Scheinkman wore wigs daily, but recently, when her hair started to grow back, she was excited to finally be able to get it cut and styled again. “It’s great to have an intentional look — something that people walking down the street wouldn’t necessary think of as a cancerous look; [instead they think]: Hey, that’s a girl with a cute, trendy pixie!”
Although Scheinkman tries her best not to let cancer define her, she admits that she struggles with finding a balance between meeting her needs as a cancer patient and leading the life of a “normal person.” “People rush past me on the subway to get a seat that I really need, but I’m not going to [tell them to] get up because I need the seat,” she says. “I have to find the balance of being a normal person and expressing my needs as someone with metastatic breast cancer.”
“I lived with breast cancer most of my life,” says MaryAnne DiCanto. DiCanto’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1963, and lived with it for 32 years (14 of which she was metastatic).
“I was uber-vigilant and aware,” says DiCanto. “I had 16 years of mammograms that never showed anything.” It wasn’t until she was able to get a breast MRI (an assessment that was difficult for women to get at the time, according to DiCanto), that she discovered she had lobular breast cancer — a type of breast cancer that doesn’t show up on mammograms or scans.
DiCanto has immersed herself in the breast cancer community, citing its support and compassion as one of the main reasons she gets up in the morning. “The thought of losing my hair again still breaks my heart,” she says. “I look at myself in the mirror and I say, 'I don’t look like me.’” Luckily, DiCanto lives in a community where there’s a breast cancer coalition. “We have a salon and once a month, I go there and get my hair done and facials. I think having that available to us is really part of my healing,” she says. “Having a partner or a support system…really helps you feel like yourself again. I think when I feel myself, I feel prettier.”
By: Mi-Anne Chan