Beauty and cancer. For many, this is not a combination that sits together naturally. But I've never really fit into a 'conventional' box; as a beauty therapist, as a cancer patient, as a young adult.
I was diagnosed with vaginal cancer at the beginning of 2017 – an extremely rare form of the disease and especially so in someone so young, I was only 28. I’ve been through chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy. It’s been an exhausting experience.
How do you feel good about yourself when you've had cancer? Before cancer crashed into my life, I'd buy a new lipstick, pamper myself with a face mask, paint my toes a new colour. These things brightened my day. Now, it’s not so easy.
During my cancer treatment, feel-good moments became few and far between. Mostly because I just didn’t care what I looked like, getting better was my priority. Despite beauty being my passion, I didn’t have the attention span to worry about my image. The turning point was when I lost my hair, there was something very liberating about it. Before my diagnosis, I wouldn’t have even gone to the supermarket without doing my makeup and now I look back and laugh at my former self.
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I’m a contradiction when it comes to beauty. I’ve never wanted to blend in with the crowd, but when something is forced upon you that changes your appearance, like cancer, you can feel self-conscious. However, as ugly as cancer is, there can be beauty within it too. Much to my surprise, most people didn’t care that I had no hair. They didn’t stare, they didn’t do a double take, they just went about their normal business. That was so refreshing. By people treating me as normal, I was able to find comfort in my new skin and those feelings of self-consciousness eased.
But if there’s any time you really need a pamper, surely, it’s when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer?
From my experience, people going through cancer are, on the whole, overlooked by the mainstream beauty industry. Beauty therapists just aren’t equipped to help those affected by cancer, who want a pick-me-up and a sense of normality. There’s been progress in the past few years, but it’s slow. Just the word cancer sends up red flags. Salons and spas aren’t willing to venture into what they see as the unknown. Beauty treatments can massively boost a sense of wellbeing for patients and with 1 in 2 of us affected by cancer in our lifetime, we need to foster an environment of inclusion and eradicate stigma surrounding the word ‘cancer’ in the beauty industry.
That’s why I’ve chosen to create a salon on wheels. A beauty bus that will come to cancer patients without invading their privacy and be sensitive to their needs. I’ve rediscovered my passion for beauty and want to channel that into making patients feel good about themselves. After all, I’ve been there.
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When you have cancer your life changes completely, but how you feel about yourself shouldn’t. Yes, my relationship with beauty has changed because of my cancer diagnosis, but not in a bad way. I see beauty with a new perspective now.
I am currently in the middle of fundraising for The Beauty Bus, if you would like to donate go to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/happysmilingcancergirl you can also find updates on my story on my blog The Happy Smiling Cancer Girl www.happysmilingcancergirl.com
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Amanda is supporting Stand Up To Cancer, a joint national fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 to accelerate ground breaking cancer research and save lives.