CHECK 'EM MAGAZINE

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MAGAZINE

REAL LIFE STORIES · HEALTH & CARE · WELLBEING · Q&A

CHECK ‘EM PUT YOUR BREAST FOOT FORWARD

first edition

APRIL 2022

TATTOOING AFTER SURGERY

THE MISCONCEPTION OF MEN AND BREAST CANCER

WELLNESS AS A WAY OF LIFE

McKenna & Shoni

£2.50


CONTENTS WELCOME TO CHECK ‘EM MAGAZINE

CHECK ’EM REGULARS 5 9 10 16 21 31 35

EDITOR’S LETTER CHECK YOUR TATAS FEELING THE HEAT WELLNESS AS A WAY OF LIFE BEST MASTECTOMY BRAS 5 MINUTES WITH SOPHIA CHECK EM BOOK CLUB

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CHECK ’EM FEATURES 6 12 18 22 26 29 32

FOCUS ON THE FIGHT MEN GET BREAST CANCER TOO LOVEROSE LINGERIE Q&A TITTY PIX - RECLAIM YOUR BODY KNOCKING OUT CANCER TWICE LOSING A LOVED ONE FREEING THE NIPPLE

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Art by Sophia Smith



EDITOR’S LETTER

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ello Check ‘Em readers! Welcome to the first ever edition of the magazine, I hope you enjoy your stay. From being little I have always loved writing and I knew one day I would pursue it as a career. I imagined one day I’d write a book, day dreaming in the shower about ideas for catchy novel titles. I’d look at shampoo bottles for inspiration or shower gels. I’m daft, I don’t know what type of book title I’d come out with from a coconut long lasting scent or cherry silky straight hair shampoo. Maybe I could write an old period drama Pride and Prejudice style novel, or a Bridget Jones book! Instead I had a long hard thought about what I would want to read, and scrapped the novel idea completely. During my time day dreaming of future career paths I was diagnosed with a faulty BRCA2 gene. For anyone that doesn’t know, there are two genes, known as BRCA 1 and 2 and named after BReast and CAncer because they dramatically increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer during her lifetime. The BRCA genes repair DNA and if there is a fault in one of the two copies that each of us carries, then cells cannot repair the DNA and a cancer results. Men and women can be carriers and while the risk of cancer is higher for women, both can pass the faulty gene on to their children. This all became much more of a reality for me in 2017. I was sent a referral to clinical genetics in Leeds, lots of bloods were taken, and a letter 8 weeks later: BRCA2 mutation. A part of me believed I could escape it, but when life gives you lemons, you learn to juggle! This is why I made the decision this year to have a preventative double mastectomy. It’s not to say that risk-reducing surgery is the right decision for everyone- it’s not a decision to be made lightly, and every woman has the right and the power to decide what is right for her. It’s also not to say that I have outgrown my worries- I still become overwhelmed by the thought of my ovarian cancer risk, a journey that I have barely begun. This is why I have created a magazine about breast awareness so that other people too can learn, and relate to the stories inside. I didn’t think at 22 I’d be writing about boobs. You must be thinking ‘what sort of life experience has she gained at two decades on this planet to write about breast awareness?’. Maybe not a lot, but I am forever gaining more experience, and using this magazine to educate myself too! I have had the privilege of talking some amazing and special people you can read more about. From a Blackburn areola tattooist to one of the first men in the UK to have a double mastectomy. Inside, you’ll be able to read the emotional yet uplifting journeys of the wonderful people who are also willing to share their stories to raise awareness. A big thank you to everyone who has shared their journey. Also a big thank you to Karen Shaw who gave me the vital experience to learn about how magazines work, and Steve Harrison for the design lessons! Remember readers, keep your breast foot forward!

Sophia Smith, Editor

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FOCUS ON THE FIGHT, NOT THE FRIGHT I SOPHIA SMITH meets with a breast cancer warrior, KELLY HANDLEY. She’s a woman who doesn’t take no for an answer and pushes through every hurdle to come out on the other side stronger than ever…

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f you met Kelly Handley, giggly and chirpy, you would not know this remarkable woman the day before had been sat in hospital having a round of chemotherapy. Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. The hairdresser from Blackburn noticed one morning her chest felt different compared to normal, one part of her breast felt gristly, but Kelly assumed she was hormonal and left her breast alone for several weeks. Checking once again weeks later, Kelly knew something still wasn’t right. Kelly told Check ‘Em; “I made an appointment with my doctor, and at the appointment I was referred straight to the breast clinic and it just snowballed from there.” The 41-year-old had an ultrasound and the doctors told her she had dense breast tissue, however, after asking Kelly to


CHECK ’EM

Kelly swimming with friends

Credit: Kelly Handley

come back to an appointment for further testing through mammograms, she had a feeling the news wasn’t good. “I knew from there, I had a gut feeling and prepared myself for the news which came a week later. I was only 39, I didn’t think it would happen to me. You hear of it, but you never think it will be you” she explained. Doctors initially thought the lump was just over two cm, however after MRI scans they phoned Kelly to tell her the tumour was bigger than a huge six cm. “From there, they needed to shrink it. I had six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. I tried a cold cap, I was young and didn’t want to lose my hair. I had two attempts at the cold cap and it was just unbearable, it made the whole chemotherapy process worse. I lost all my hair.” Kelly said. Losing your hair is one of the

most visible side effects of breast cancer, and because of that, it can be one of the most emotionally upsetting. People deal with it in different ways: some use wigs to keep up appearances, some use more colourful covers, some wears hats for warmth and some don’t cover it at all. Kelly remembers ringing her Dad crying, telling him she needed a wig because she was losing her hair. “Someone had recommended me a really nice wig, it was £500. There were some factory made wigs, but my dad got me the wig I liked because it looked almost exactly how my hair did before.”

it in the back of a taxi, I got home and wondered where it had gone!” Kelly has been with her partner, Ryan, for four years and she hadn’t met him too long before her breast cancer diagnosis. “I remember being sat in the car and I said look, I understand if you want out of this situation, I would never think less of him, but he didn’t sign up for this because the road ahead might not be that pretty. He said, don’t be stupid!” Kelly gleamed. “He has never made me feel anything less than who I am, he’s been great, he’s never made me feel paranoid, I couldn’t ask for anyone better by my side.” After six rounds of chemotherapy, the tumour had shrunk but nowhere near what the doctors had hoped for. Kelly met with her surgeon and was offered a couple of options, the likely outcome being a mastectomy. Kelly recalls Putting the wig on everyday was saying she didn’t care what they not practical for Kelly, and once did, just don’t make her lose her she got her confidence back, she breasts and have more chemoroamed free, bald! “I remember therapy! “They turned and said having three strands of hair left to me, well that is exactly what on my head, I was so precious needs to happen!” sighed Kelly. about them and my partner told “They tried a lumpectomy first, me to just shave it off! He found but it didn’t work because the it hilarious, he compared me to cancer cells were still present. the Homer Simpson with his hair Days later I was back in, having a strands!” Kelly laughs. “If I went mastectomy on my right breast. I for a night out or someone’s birth- had radiotherapy too, I thought it day I’d put the wig back on. I got would be as easy as getting on the a little tipsy one night and forgot sunbed but wow was I wrong!”

“I WONDERED WHERE MY WIG HAD GONE!”

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CHECK ’EM Unfortunately as a result of radiotherapy, Kelly ended up with a infection in her mastectomy area which burst, leaving her with an open wound. “I had to have another operation to fix it, I had colostomy bags too, it was hard to try live a normal life with bags hanging from my wound but I sure was creative with my outfits!” she said. elly had to stop her chemotherapy treatment for several months so that her wound would heal, this January, she picked up where she left off. “Luckily the chemotherapy I’m on now doesn’t affect my hair. It can make it thin a little, but now I have really thick curly hair, I love my chemo curls and I hope they stay!” she smiled. “Lots of people say every woman should shave her hair once in her life because it’s really empowering, but sometimes, it isn’t. It’s not the worst thing, it was just part of my journey and a part of me at that time, there’s worse things.” Still waiting for reconstruction on her breast, Kelly has been researching different types of procedures. “I’m still on the flat side, they won’t do anything until I have finished my chemotherapy. I won’t get my hopes up too much, I’ll just be happy to get a new boob!” But, Kelly is not the first person in her family to be diagnosed with cancer, her mum had kidney cancer, and her father had skin

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cancer. “When I told my mum, she put a brave face on for me. I have no doubt there were tears along the way, I remember her saying to me she wished she could go through this for me.” In her free time Kelly enjoys yoga, and learning about self-healing and self-care. She makes sure that she gets up every morning, showers and has a walk, and never gives up! Things that Kelly once thought was really important are the opposite now. “I just own it! I’m more confident in my own skin with short curly hair and no boobs than I ever have been! I talk about it when I’m out, I think the more we talk about it the better. The more I talk about it the stronger I feel, because I’m a hairdresser I talk to people all the time, it makes me feel like if I talk about it and someone goes home and feels their breasts then I’ve done my job if people can keep checking!” she explains. “It’s a journey you do have to go on, there’s no option to get off this bus, the more positive you can make this experience the easier it will be. It will be hard for people around you, you feel like you’re in a washing machine going round and round but break everything down one step at a time whether it’s appointments or treatments, because you’ve got no other option!” It’s hard for every person who doesn’t have breast cancer, to

Kelly'shair loss due to chemotherapy

understand what it’s like to have it. But imagine, just like most life-changing experiences, we want to go back to the people we were before whatever struggle it was, enveloped us and “stole” our identity to someone completely new. We want to have the same characteristics, same routines, be unlimited. But Kellys story shows us that we can have both. Nothing can “steal” away our identities, because our heart and soul remains the same no matter what happens physically. We can adjust life to fit with what nasty lemons come our way, but we don’t have to make it break down our bones. She attests her saving grace to always remaining positive, even if she has lost her favourite wig in the back of a taxi!

“I’LL JUST BE HAPPY TO GET MY NEW BOOB!” 8

Kelly with school friends, Natasha and Jennie


CHECK ’EM

WHY SHOULD YOU CHECK? Although breast cancer is rare in younger people, it can still happen, as all genders have breast tissue, which develops at a young age. Around 12,000 people die from breast cancer every year in the UK, but if the disease is found early, it is very treatable. We’re all aware that we should be checking our breasts for lumps every month – and if we find something unusual, see a GP as soon as possible. But there are other symptoms we should be looking out for in our boobs, too.

There is no one way to check yourself, but here are some helpful tips about what to check for:

It can seem scary, but getting to know our bodies regularly is the best way to keep on top of any changes and get them checked out if necessary.

a lump or swelling in either of your armpits

In the UK, only women will be invited to routine breast screening from the age of 47-50 years old, which takes place every 3 years. For that reason, checking your boobs yourself is especially important for those who are not screened. Nearly 80% of young women diagnosed with breast cancer find their breast abnormality themselves. You can check your boobs and pecs anywhere! Whether it’s laying down, in the shower, when looking in the mirror or when getting changed, knowing what is normal for you if the key to noticing any changes to your body.

a rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around the nipple

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a new lump an area of thickened tissue or skin a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts a discharge of fluid from either nipples

a change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling, a rash or redness

a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast Breast pain is not usually a sign of cancer, but if you’re experiencing constant pain in the breast or armpit, it’s best to get that checked out, too.

Your

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by SOPHIA SMITH

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hen I asked for a smoking hot body, the menopause is not what I had in

mind… Menopausal symptoms are a common side effect of some of the treatments for breast cancer. They can have a significant impact on the lives of women and yet often people think they should grin and bear it. We look at the reality of living with menopausal symptoms. The dreaded menopause is not as plain sailing as you think. It is a natural part of women’s lives, so why is it not talked about? For years it has been regarded as a taboo subject, but it’s time to speak up, half of the population go through it! Many women have coped alone with the symptoms of the menopause, some experiencing debilitating symptoms, with little or no support. The big M usually starts in your 40’s, though for some women going through treatment, it can even be in their 20’s or 30’s! Hot flushes, irregular periods, fatigue, and moodiness are all the symptoms you’ll find when doing a general search on the internet on menopause. What people don’t realise,

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is the different types and severity of these symptoms that come alongside this new change of life. You are not losing your marbles…I promise. Perimenopause is the time running before the menopause, as your ovaries gradually stop working rather than a sudden halt. No two women will experience the menopause in the exact same way because every experience is different! People are gobsmacked about this ridiculous transition, yet who is talking about it? It can play havoc with your brain faculties. Memory loss, brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. As if the hot flushes and sweats weren’t enough to deal with alone! There are many things you can do to help ease your symptoms. It’s easy to hide under

the duvet with a bar of chocolate and a Netflix show, but sometimes that needs to be replaced with some good old fresh air. Walking can help ease cramps, anxiety, and low moods, even picking up a sport can provide mindfulness. Why not take a trip to Blackpool and jump in the freezing sea? Cold water is hugely beneficial for symptoms like overheating and helping calm anxiety and depression. Yoga and Pilates help with mindfulness too. Of course, painkillers and a hot water bottle sound much more comforting but moving about will help. Maintaining your active life with help you to get through the hormonal cycles, so get on with that menopause marathon! The stress of hormonal changes produce a chemical called cortisol, if this is activated regularly it can


CHECK ’EM build up fat and become extremely hard to shift even with dieting and exercising. Dehydration can amplify stress, so make sure you drink,drink,drink your water! Replace coffee with herbal teas, green tea specifically balances oestrogen levels. Cut out any drinks that could increase your cortisol like alcohol, coffee, and tea. Even little changes like this can change a great deal to your day. Another factor that is not often spoken about, is how menopause affects your skin. You may notice it becomes dryer, more blemishes and even an extra facial hair or two! During the phases of menopause, your body is undergoing dramatic changes of hormone levels. The fluctuations are commonly to blame for breakouts, you can often feel nostalgic to your high school teenage acne! Try an elimination diet to see how your skin responds as it undergoes some of the biggest changes of your life during this period. But don’t forget, it’s alright to have some cheese and glass of wine every now and then to settle the menopause stress.

You might also find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night. If you haven’t already experienced enough sleep disruption in your sleep pattern if you have children, here’s some more!

Did you know that women who undergo chemotherapyinduced menopause can experience worse symptoms than women who go through the menopause naturally?

This menopausal gem can be a pain in the butt, your symptoms may include an interrupted sleep pattern, trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Poor sleep not only makes you cranky the next day, but it can also be linked to weight gain and stress. Not sleeping well is a recipe for menopausal exhaustion, mentally and physically. Menopause stinks! Having to crack open a window at 3am because you’re drenched in sweat is not ideal or taking a leaf-

let out everywhere you go to fan yourself every five minutes. You are not alone. Believe it or not, these hot flushes and night sweats can lead to odour changes. Also, an increase in anxiety leads to more sweating, and more odour. Your body’s internal heating system goes into overdrive during the menopause. Be aware, some women also experience a heightened sense of smell during this time, so if you’re conscious you’re whiffy, relax, because you’re probably smelling something nobody else can. The arrival of the peri-menopause and menopause means that fertility is coming to an end. Many women may experience sadness and for others they will cheer that they no longer need to spend money on tampons every month. Women’s menstrual cycles, perimenopause and menopause can feel like real barriers to living everyday life. Finding time for yourself is a menopause must, you don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO • Ask if there is a local menopause clinic that you can be referred to.

• Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D.

• Follow a healthy lifestyle — women who are more active tend to suffer less from menopause symptoms.

• Learn what your healthy weight is, and try to stay there.

• Best activity is aerobic, sustained, regular exercise such as swimming or running.

• Check you are well hydrated

• Quit smoking of using tobacco products, if you currently do.

• Ask for help from all sources involved with your care (breast care nurse, GP or cancer specialist).

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Credit: Giles Cooper

MEN GET BREAST CANCER TOO! THE SOCIAL STIGMA OF THE MEN WHO GET THE ‘WOMANLY’ DISEASE

People often assume that men don’t get breast cancer. This story proves this is not the case, CHECK ‘EM meets GILES COOPER, a breast cancer survivor and one of the youngest men in the country to have a double mastectomy. Here’s his story…


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ince many men may not know they can get breast cancer, they’re usually not on the lookout for changes in their breast tissue and may not realise they need to talk to their doctor about a lump, pain, swelling, or other symptoms. Unfortunately, men are often diagnosed with breast cancer at a more advanced stage. The main reason is they don’t have routine screening mammograms like women do to find breast cancer at an early stage when it is easier to treat. For Giles Cooper, a husband and father of two from Conderton, Tewkesbury, the odds were unusually high. Giles, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 after he found a lump on his right breast and he tells Check ‘Em magazine about its deadly effect on his family. “My father died of breast cancer, my uncle died of breast cancer, so I’m the third male in the family to get breast cancer.” he said. “My family background was very unusual as both my father and uncle had died from the disease at a similar time. I have a son, Freddie. The problem is we’ve had every possible breast cancer testing there is, they’ve never found a gene abnormality. I don’t have anything to bring to my kids to tell them they need to look out for a gene because it’s just not there.” 60-year-old Giles lost his father, Stephen, to breast cancer in 2004, and then his uncle, Christopher, in 2006. It is well known breast cancer can run in families, but for three males in the same family being diagnosed is extremely rare. “My children, Freddie and Lottie knew what had happened with my Dad, when I told them I had also been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 I did it from the perspective that it’s common in the family. I also told them because I was aware, I checked myself, I found a lump and I saved myself. I’ve told them both they must check themselves often.”

13 Giles Cooper and Walk the Walk


Giles, his wife Nicola, Lottie and Freddie

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iles had frequent check-ups after his father and uncles death, however in August 2014, he detected a small lump, which doctors confirmed was grade 2 invasive cancer. “I was very aware that I was high risk because of my family. I was in the shower one day feeling around, I felt a lump right behind my nipple, and if I’m honest I ignored it for three weeks. I kept feeling it, and took myself off to my GP. They didn’t say, it’s a bloke, it won’t be cancer, you’re wasting our time. They did say, the risk was low, but I went through the normal two week referral just like women do. I have to say, it was just a bit odd going into the breast clinic and being the only man in there!” he said. Giles knew that when he found the lump, he knew deep down what the result was before he even got his results back. He tells Check ‘Em about the massive decision he made to try to save his life: “They performed ultrasounds and took a sample. It was a shock, but it also wasn’t at the same time! I had a double mastectomy. My uncle had a single mastectomy, and the cancer came back in the other side of his chest. So, I wasn’t going to risk it. They sent

a sample of my tissue to a test, Oncotype DX, this is an American system. They come back and say what cancer risk you are in and tell you whether you need chemotherapy or not.” This test that can help the specialist team decide if the patient would benefit from having chemotherapy as part of the treatment plan, and how likely it is that the cancer will return in the future.

“YOU’RE COMPARING AN APPLE WITH A BANANA!” Giles said: “I was low risk, therefore I didn’t need it. I didn’t have chemotherapy, although, that was against my wishes, because I wanted it. I wanted it, because the cancer incidents are so rife in our family, I’d rather go through a few weeks of hell and be okay. I think the system is flawed because the judgements were based on female data. My argument was, is that it compares your tissue against other female samples. They haven’t got a male database. You’re comparing an apple with a banana, not apple and apple.” The mastectomy procedure left

Giles without nipples and a large scar that runs across his chest from one side to the other. Giles explained: “I don’t have nipples, if people want to look at me walking around a swimming pool and laugh that’s up to them. I’ve never been vain. I was never offered it, I think if someone rang me tomorrow and said you can come and have it done I would go. I think the first couple of years it did affect my confidence on a beach, you’re convinced everyone’s looking at you. When you reach my age you don’t really bother about it anymore.” The father of two continues to help raise awareness with publicity work such as blogs, appearing on breakfast TV and featuring his journey in newspapers articles to really to try get the message out there, that men can get breast cancer. When he’s not raising awareness, Giles is a building surveyor. “I had about six weeks off work when I was diagnosed, I run my own business so I was keen to get back and busy!” When trying to raise awareness, Giles felt a strong backlash, and knows first-hand how challenging it is to face breast cancer as a man without the support of other men. “There’s two reasons why men don’t go to the doctors when they


CHECK ’EM find something”. Giles stressed. “Number one, men have to be dying before they go to the doctors! Two, everyone seems to think breast cancer is a women’s disease. It’s the classic line, men are out of the equation. That’s why charity events, everyone always wears pink.” “I really struggled to get the support from breast cancer charities, they said to me that they raise more money if they don’t mention men. By simply only mentioning women, it raises more money. I do understand it, it is predominantly a woman’s disease. We tend to find that we push the male side for publicity, everybody wants to talk about it, then it drops off the radar. Anything we can keep bringing into the public arena is brilliant.” he explained. Thankfully, in 2017, the charity, Walk The Walk recognised that male breast cancer was not receiving the attention it needed. 80 males die per year. This realisation prompted the birth of the ‘Men Get Breast Cancer Too’ campaign. Giles, who now works with UK breast cancer charity Walk the Walk, hopes that his story will help spread awareness that men get breast cancer too. “The logo for Walk the walk has always been a bra, that’s their strapline, quite literally, but when us men came on the scene, they introduced the blue bra for us!” Giles pushed males to be more honest about their health, acknowledging that his father and

Giles and family

Giles and his daughter, Lottie

uncle’s generation put medical concerns under the rug. “The message to any men out there, just check yourself. It’s just as easy as it is for a woman. If you find a lump you shouldn’t need to be embarrassed about it. You have to squeeze the skin around the breast. You have to be a little bit brutal and squeeze between two fingers, it doesn’t hurt. If you have body awareness, once you get used to it and the minute you spot something different you can react.” Giles advised. ottie Cooper, Giles’ daughter, spoke to Check ‘Em about her experience watching her father deal with breast cancer. The 26 year old said: “I was young at the time so I didn’t understand

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how serious the situation was. I remember being upset especially when I was able to go see him in hospital and watching him going down to theatre. I definitely have more of an understanding now about breast cancer. I worry that if I have a son especially because it is on the male side, but even a daughter would be high risk just like myself!” Lottie is inspired by her dad to raise awareness that men get breast cancer too. “The lack of awareness of male breast cancer soon became very evident to Dad and after his story was featured in a full page article in The Daily Telegraph, he was able to work with Breast Cancer Now to start a campaign of awareness. The word was staring to get out, but the perception was still that it was a women’s disease.” Many men might not think of themselves as having breasts. But everyone has breast tissue. That means everyone can get breast cancer! With pink ribbons everywhere, you may feel left out when it comes to dealing with breast cancer. Whatever your background you can’t ignore your risk. Visit walkthewalk.org/ health/men-get-breast-cancer-too for more information.

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WELLNESS

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Get ready to take the plunge this summer with Check ‘Ems affordable swimwear! A diagnosis of breast cancer throws most people into a spotlight they don’t welcome. Once they tell people about their diagnosis, people say, “you’re strong, you’re a fighter, you’ll be okay.” The expectation of being a fighter and winning the battle diminishes the emotions a person can experience during the initial diagnosis and treatment. Going through treatment is difficult. Many people don’t see the struggle with nausea, extreme fatigue, and feeling like your bones and joints are disintegrating. People don’t understand what it’s like to have chunks of hair fall from your scalp or lose one or both breasts. Losing your hair and having a mastectomy are major life events and are traumatic for many women. Hair and breasts are associated with femininity; therefore, their loss can cause depression. During treatment and follow up, you may be advised to keep fit and healthy. It’s very easy to let these good intentions slip once everyday life starts to get in the way.Having some kind of exercise routine can help give us back a certain sense of control. When exercising, you may be more worried about whether someone will notice your specia ist clothing or prosthesis if you’ve had a mastectomy. The key is to feel comfortable and secure at all times, without having to worry about whether your top will slip or your prosthesis will move about or be visible. Specialist mastectomy sports bras are available and with the correct fitting, you should be able to take part in group exercise without feeling self-conscious. Your breast care nurse or lymphoedema specialist may advise you to wear a compression sleeve during exercise if you have lymphedema. These needn’t look too medical as there are now some sleeves on the market that are patterned and can look like a fashion accessory. Swimming is a great form of exercise, but you may be put off by the thought of having to wear a swimming costume following a mastectomy. Although some styles of swimsuits are suitable after a mastectomy and can be bought from various high street stores, you may prefer to invest in a swimsuit with pockets to hold a prosthesis securely and discretely. It’s also possible to purchase a special swim prosthesis that is chlorine resistant and can look more natural under a swimsuit.

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Credit: Unsplash

LIFE


Navy Floral Print Tankini Top £10.00 Matalan.co.uk

US Athletic Black Swim Shorts £12.00 Matalan.co.uk

Grey Cargo Swim Shorts £10.00 Matalan.co.uk

Black Shapewear Bikini Top £8 Matalan.co.uk

Abstract Print Puff Sleeve Swim Top £10.00 Matalan.co.uk

Navy Floral Print Fold Over Bikini Briefs £6.00 Matalan.co.uk

atalan Credit: M

Fruit Print Swimsuit £16.00 Matalan.co.uk


Credit: Caroline Alexander

THE LINGERIE LINE BRINGING SEXY BACK CHECK ‘EM sat down to chat with CAROLINE ALEXANDER, founder of Love Rose Lingerie for a chat on what inspired her to create her company…

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ne breast cancer survivor is adding glitz to breast cancer survivors’ wardrobes. Caroline has designed the UK’s first luxury lingerie collection, combining women’s complex post-surgery needs with luxury design, high quality fabrics, and matching garments. TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF? I was born in Ireland but I have lived in Scotland for about 30 years. Before going to university to study sculpture, I studied fashion design and worked in retail. In 2006, I founded and was fortunate enough to be the director of a contemporary gallery in Edinburgh for developing artists. Life, unfortunately, threw some curveballs at me. I am 53 years old and have two wonderful children Mia, who is 23, and Oli who is 20. HOW WAS LOVEROSE BORN? Lingerie has always been a favourite of mine. I used to be that person that wore matching sets beneath her tracksuit (my lingerie was, and always will be, solely for me!). I studied fashion, and it was a huge part of my life in deciding what I was going to wear every morning. I’ve always been like that, it was a no brainer. That was all before breast cancer, and it had the power to make me feel good about myself, to give me secret confidence, to be my armour, and to get me ready for my day. So, having lost my sister Rose to breast cancer in 2004 when she was just 53, and then going through it myself, I was taken aback by the lack of options available. I realised as a designer that I could do something about it, so I did some research and discovered that I wasn’t alone in my feelings, and LoveRose was born, named after Rose. Caroline and Sarah WHAT SPARKED THE IDEA? I refused to believe that the only option I had was what was available! As a result, LoveRose was created. I want to make other cancer survivors feel like they aren’t forgotten, and that we, too, can wear sultry, feminine lingerie. I remember post-mastectomy, I went out for dinner with my daughter Mia, I was wearing a beautiful top, but a big strap from my sports bra underneath was just lurking out. I felt rubbish about myself. For me and a lot of women, getting dressed, starting from our underwear, it gives us a secret power and boosts our confidences. I didn’t like what was available to me, the colours, the materials, the formed cups, I wanted something different.

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CHECK ’EM WHEN WERE YOU DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER? One day, my doctor said it’s time for a routine mammogram. They found a lump. I was really fit, I was a personal trainer, I ran a gallery, my kids were young, and my life was full. I felt great, I didn’t think I could have it. My cancer was muzzled around my breast. When you enter this realm, it’s such a personal choice. I’m happy in the sense my cancer is gone now, fingers crossed it will stay that way. My life hasn’t stopped. They tried to save as much of my breast as possible when I was originally diagnosed in 2012. I had seven operations to clear margins and 20 rounds of radiotherapy at the end of that dreadful year. I believed that would be the end of it, but it returned two years later in 2015, forcing me to have a double mastectomy. I was fortunate enough to have my reconstruction completed at the same time, and implants were my only option. WHAT TYPES OF LINGERIE DO YOU CREATE? I want to offer something that would go with everyone’s bodies. We’re developing new stuff all the time. We have a huge list of wants and needs, but we had to start somewhere and we decided to start at the luxury end. No matter who you are, you want a choice, or something different. As a post-surgery woman, I felt that we were neglected. At LoveRose we have taken a unique approach to post-surgery care. Our mix-and-match collection includes pocketed and non-pocketed solutions to fit a variety of surgical outcomes. We want women to feel great when they wear LoveRose, which is why all of our wire-free underwear is made with the softest recycled lace and mesh, plush elastic that’s sensitive to scarring, careful seam placement, and silk.

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HOW HAS BREAST CANCER AFFECTED YOUR SISTERS? Out of six girls, four of us have had breast cancer. I had three sisters with cancer, two have passed away, and my other sister had a mastectomy. My sister, Teresa, died last month as she had cancer everywhere sadly, the primary source was in her kidney. When my older sister Rose was diagnosed it was the first time we really had cancer in the family. It was such a shock to all of us, getting our heads around it was hard. The cancer was really dense and right behind the nipples, she had two mammograms and they missed it. Her cancer was sitting in her body for seven years, it was the size of a mandarin. She would come to Edinburgh to see me from Ireland, and I would help her find wigs after she lost her hair. She never had the opportunity to have her breasts reconstructed because she died too soon after. When my sister Mary got it, I went a bit crazy, I just went out all the time, it was my way of dealing with it. I stopped going for my mammograms, I was only in my early 30’s. ANY ADVICE FOR WOMEN OPTING FOR A MASTECTOMY? I would say to anybody, make sure you interview your surgeon well and make sure you are 100% happy. As women, we can be quite conscious of how we look. When people go in for appointments, make sure your surgeon understands what outcome you are expecting. Although, I know a lot of ladies who decided to go flat, and they decide their shape and size with pocketed bras! To read more about Caroline or buy the lingerie, you can visit LoveRose at www. loveroselingerie.com/

Credit: Caroline Alexander


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RECLAIM YOUR BODY THROUGH ART CHECK ‘EM TAKES A TRIP ALL THE WAY TO NEW YORK CITY FOR THIS SPECIAL FEATURE. MEET THE LADIES PROMOTING SELF LOVE AND BODY POSITIVITY...


CHECK ’EM

Fallon and McKenna

Credit: McKenna Poe/Shoni

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ittyPix, a thriving and growing business based on custom paintings of boobs done through images or live sessions with other people, was founded in December of 2018. Fallon Smallberg began TittyPix as a way of promoting self love and body positivity by creating customized paintings of breasts of all shapes and sizes. After noticing the rise in the boob patterned posters, shower curtains and mugs in 2018, it wasn’t until a friend gave Fallon a mug with breasts on it that she realised she could join the popular trend. “I said I could do that! I started some posters, because each poster was unique, sometimes people would say those boobs look like mine! Eventually someone just asked if I could paint theirs.” said Fallon. “I’ve painted over probably one thousand people! People often come to me in person, very paint me like one of your French girls, or they can send in a photo.” It is crucial to celebrate our

bodies and womanhood while also challenging censorship and sex-negativity on social media and elsewhere. “A lot of my motivation to do that came from my own experience with eating disorders and body dysmorphia, struggling with my own journey to a relationship with my own body.” Fallon told Check ‘Em. “I’ve worked with a lot of people in the queer community, trauma survivors and the breast cancer community. When I use the word body positivity, the point of my work is that it’s unrealistic that people need to love their body constantly. It’s the moments even when you don’t like your body, you shouldn’t tie it to your self-worth. Even if you are not feeling so hot, you know your body is worthy of love and attention!” Taking your t-shirt off in front of a stranger can be daunting, however Fallon’s training and natural ability to make feel comfortable helps the nerves. “I want to make sure people feel safe, heard and never judged. If someone comes

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CHECK ’EM in for a live portrait session, there’s typically a half hour of chatting beforehand. I recognise that coming into someone’s studio and taking your shirt off is not something you do everyday.” allon wishes to establish a platform that allows tata-owners to get access to healing environments and self-care activities. “The goal one day would be to incorporate Titty Pix and a private practise. I’ve lead body positivity and self-love workshops for my own audiences and corporate events. I think that the ultimate goal for me would be a therapeutic Titty Pi experience. I do incorporate a lot of my training within these workshops, it’s like art therapy geared towards the relationship with the body.” This sense of empowerment has spread to a variety of communities, including those affected by breast cancer. Fallon told Check ‘Em that she paints a lot of breast cancer survivors and previvors assisting them in developing a relationship with their new bodies or paying tribute to their previous ones. Fallon has also painted many pieces before, during and after different surgeries for people. “It’s very interesting to see how people relate to their bodies during their process. There’s a lot of really amazing people out there in the community around us, listen to people and one another. Whether it’s someone that’s been through it or going through it, or someone that says there’s a silver lining, it’s okay to feel any kind of way” she said. The Executive Assistant of Titty Pix is business and design student, McKenna C Poe. “Mckenna originally was an intern, she does so much. She’s a graphic designer, helps with marketing, a talented photographer. I found her two years ago through Instagram, I put up a post on my story saying I was looking for an intern and one of my followers knew her from

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“IT’S LIKE ART THERAPY GEARED TOWARDS THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BODY!” art school and referred her to me. We just connected and it really worked out, she’s a brilliant artist and awesome!” McKenna is passionate about being a part of TittyPix because she is an avid believer in self-love and how loving yourself and your body can change your life. TittyPix is dedicated to thoughtful giving and donates a portion of its profits to organisations that support founder Fallon Smalberg’s philosophy of the healing power of communities that stand for unity, kindness, and love. Organizations to which TittyPix

has previously donated include the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, The Trevor Project and Touchbbca. Whether it’s a new parent discovering their breast’s new badass role of nurturing their child, or a person dealing with the fear and complexities of breast cancer, the sessions provide a safe and therapeutic container to dissolve the blocks we all have that keep us from fully loving our bodies. If you’re interested in getting your very own TittyPic, hit up tittypix.me.


Credit: No Revisions

FIRST EVER PODCAST! SPECIAL GUESTS EVERY MONTH


Credit: Jeanette and her son, Connor

KNOCKING OUT CANCER T WICE!

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JEANETTE RYDE’S breast cancer journey began like many others, finding a lump. What seperates this story is that Jeanette was only 31 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer...

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reast cancer, like many cancers, is the gift that keeps on giving. While the intensity of the battle shifts once surgeries have been completed, and treatment is over, the battle scars both physical and psychological remain and are often ignored or underrated. Laying in bed having a nightly read, Jeanette felt something uncomfortable on her chest, so she turned over onto her stomach and propped herself up. She moved her arm round to the side of her breast just to check why she was feeling uncomfortable and felt a lump the size of a kidney bean underneath her skin. “I’m 54 now, and I’ve survived breast cancer twice,” Jeanette told Check ‘Em. “It wasn’t relatively heard of when I was younger, that someone my age would get breast cancer. It shocked a lot of people. I couldn’t believe it. There was not a lot of support or information out

there for people my age. I felt quite lonely.” Jeanette who lives in Colne, Lancashire, had only recently met her husband, Andrew, when she discovered the lump. Connor, her son, was just two years old. “All I could think about was what I was going to do with Connor; he was my number one priority. I was afraid I was going to die, but that was not the case.” Jeanette stated.

“I DON’T LET IT DEFINE ME” The first cancer Jeanette had was lobular carcinoma, which begins in the milk-producing glands. With no previous family member having breast cancer, Jeanette is the only


CHECK ’EM female to have had breast cancer. She explained, “I was the first, and only one, touching wood. I didn’t meet the criteria for genetic screening. I had the tumour removed and lymph nodes removed from under my arm. I also had radiotherapy and five years of Tamoxifen treatment. I was then given the green light.” With a big sigh of relief, Jeanette felt like she could move on with her life. “My breast looked no different, I had the mindset the medication was doing the job but it did knock my confidence in the beginning.” Offered counselling, she was hesitant, and didn’t know whether it was right for her. Weeks later and the decision to try talking to someone, her self-esteem bounced back and made a really big impact on her life again. “It was amazing, I had aromatherapy too to help me relax. At first, I thought I didn’t need any of it, but it made me a stronger person.” At the end of the five years of treatment in 2007, Jeanette carried on with her life, looking after Connor and working in critical care at Burnley General Hospital. “I wanted a child with my husband, but we didn’t know if we would be able to in case the treatment made me infertile. We did try though, for two years.” she explained. With no sign of pregnancy, Jeanette had blood tests and found out she was no longer ovulat-ing due to the treatment damaging her ovaries. “We had to take it on the chin, we were lucki-er than most, we had Connor. We weren’t getting any younger.” Jeanette became pregnant with her second son, Joshua, not long after this was mentioned; typical! But she had no idea that the sickness would attack again months later, months after Joshua was born. Jeanette prepared for the second round of breast cancer treatment. “The second time I knew it hadn’t been there that long because I became obsessed with checking my breasts every day, the first time it was just pure luck that I had checked. I could tell you what every single

Jeanette and her husband, Andrew

area of my breast what it felt like. When I felt the palpable lump in the shower, I could only feel one.” said Jeanette. This time, the cancer was ductal carcinoma, in cells that line the milk ducts. It was time for Jeanette to embark on a bigger, and scarier treatment process at age 40. She explained: “I had a bilateral mastectomy, and both of my breasts were removed. I just wanted everything re-moved, I didn’t even want the reconstruction because it was such a big surgery. I had just had Joshua through an emergency caesarean section, and six weeks after I had to have my womb and ovaries removed. I just wanted the cancer gone.” “I was just left with a blank chest, I was so relieved to get rid of the cancer it didn’t bother me at all at first. As time ticked on, I couldn’t live with it. My husband said it didn’t matter, but I didn’t have cleavage anymore. It concaved in, it wasn’t just flat.” she sighed. Jeanette would have gone to the ends of the planet to avoid having cancer, but admitting she was tired of wearing stuffed bras was the

first step toward her new breasts. Jeanette had her breasts rebuilt 18 months later, after nearly two years on the waiting list, with a tissue ex-pander on one breast and a latissimus dorsi muscle flap on the other. The surgeon advised Jeanette to have the muscle flap on only one breast as the muscle is taken from the back, she would struggle to lift herself up as she grew older.

“I SURVIVED BREAST CANCER TWICE!” “I didn’t feel like a woman, they were even suppressing my hormones too, it was so tough to deal with. I knew I had to get my breasts back. The flap is just perfect, it feels like a breast. I have a big scar across my back, but it’s in my bra line luckily. They would have to inject

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CHECK ’EM fluid to the tissue expander every week, but I wish I had just got them both as flaps.” Jeanette stat-ed. After seven years of treatment, Jeanette was discharged in 2015 and back on her feet. Doc-tors put down Jeanette’s two diagnoses as hormone-related cancer as they both happened not long after she had given birth, having children caused a hormone surge.

“YOU ARE A PRODUCT OF YOUR EXPERIENCES”

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long time ago. I don’t let it define me. Most people that have known me for a long time, have no idea that I had cancer, I just don’t talk about it. At work, even people I work with now have no idea. Sometimes when I tell them, they said we never knew! I have ups and downs still. I became less stressed about minor things; it did change me. Now and again, I’ll slip back. I do feel like I am a different person positively. I can’t get upset if someone hasn’t put their shoes away, there are bigger things to get upset about

in life” chuckled Jeanette. “You are a product of your experiences, there’s a notable change in me as a person, every-thing I would once get upset over, it was never worth it!” Learn your breasts inside out, and do not delay getting them checked. Jeanette believed she was too young at 31, and it could never be breast cancer, but of course, it can. It can often seem like there’s no end in sight, but if you keep fighting, you too can win like Jeanette.

She explained: “Connor was 11 this time, because I had to go to the hospital for quite a bit. My friend Sam Lang-stroth had a son, Matt, who was Connor’s friend from school. He stayed with them for a couple of weeks, and they helped to distract him. I told him not to worry, and that it had happened before when he was a baby. It would have been really confusing for him, he might have been a bit scared and wondering what was going on.” Jeanette is now working in senior management at Blackburn Hospital in assistant-directed nursing and also as a fitness instructor. “I keep myself fit and healthy, I always have. I couldn’t do any more than the advice and medication given to me. When I’m in my clothes, you wouldn’t know any difference if I had a mastectomy or not. I had nipple reconstruction and every six months I get them tattooed on.” “I was already quite small breasted, and the surgeon made them a cup size bigger, I like them better than before!” Jeanette laughed. If anything, breast cancer has made Jeanette more focused than ever on the future. “When I think back to my first cancer in 1999, I’m a long way down the line, and then 2008, it’s a Joshua (left), Jeanette, Connor (right)


LOSING A LOVED ONE

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rief is like the ocean, it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes is is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. Embarking on the journey of grief is never easy, especially when the person you’ve lost is your mother. Losing a parent can feel like losing part of yourself. If they’ve always been there, helping and supporting you, it’s hard to imagine coping without them. Getting through such a bleak period, however, proved one thing: We are stronger than we think. Somewhere inside us is a resili-ence we never thought possible Kitty Vavasour, Leicester, spoke to Check Em’ about the loss of her mother to breast cancer at just 17. “When my mum was first diagnosed, I was only really young, around 5 years old. I don’t remember being told because I was far too young to understand what was really going on. I just remember my mum and dad checking mum’s breasts, and them talking about a lump. There are memories of being in and out of the hospital. One particular memory is when she was in the hospital bed dealing with really vicious chemotherapy.” Jo fought cancer for the next 12 years, dealing with treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a double mastectomy with reconstruction. However, years later, the cancer returned and Jo sadly passed away in 2018. Kitty, now 21, said “My mum was very inward with her cancer, she didn’t want a lot of people to know about it and we had to be a little secretive.

Jo and Kitty

Jo Credit: Kitty Vavasour

I think she had the mindset that if she didn’t address it, it would just go away. The sad thing is we all assumed she would fight it, she was so strong and brave but it wasn’t until the final two weeks, she lost herself and being able to function. It didn’t hit us until she was in the hospice. It’s not a gene in our family, so I’m not worried about getting cancer, but because I have seen it my whole life I’m extra cautious and it can happen to anybody.” Although there is no sign of a breast cancer gene in Kitty’s family, she ensures she is extra cautious to checking her own breasts. “It can happen to anybody, because I have seen it my whole life I’m really careful.” When Kitty isn’t studying Journalism in Liverpool, she’s back at her home in Leicester with her dad. “It must have been horrible for my dad, seeing someone you love going through this and also having three children to look after. My brother and sister are a lot older than me, it’s hard to say how they dealt with it because they were going through it at different ages and stages.” Kitty told Check Em’: “Everyday was a memory with my mum, it sounds cliché, but as I became to be a teenager she became my best friend. We would go horse riding together. That’s definitely our best memories, being on the farm and being on the horses together.” “The advice I would give is there is absolutely no right way to grieve, you can’t force yourself to feel something, you’ll feel good one day, and one day you’ll feel worse. There’s no straight line and let yourself ride it out. Time heals everything but it’s not a straight narrow road.”

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5

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RCA can often feel like a death sentence, which is why I made the decision straightaway to have a preventative double mastectomy.After reading stories online about how surgeons refused younger patients to be allowed preventative surgery, I worried I would have the same outcome. My appointment with the surgeon to discuss future plans was soon around the corner. I didn’t have high hopes knowing there’s a high chance I’d get the same answer, “but you’re young, you have years to decide.” I walked out of Airedale Hospital with my head held high, and the answers I wanted. I was ecstatic. You must be thinking, why are you so excited about having a mastectomy? For the last five years, this has been a decision living in the back of my mind, rent free. It never leaves, whether I’m eating my tea, with friends, falling asleep or working. After all, how lucky, sort of, am I to have the pre-warning that I am at an increased risk of getting cancer? This, of course, is an extremely difficult decision to make, but whenever I feel down I remind myself how fortunate I am to be given the opportunity to potentially save my own life. It’s not to say that risk-reducing surgery is the

right decision for everyone and it’s not a decision to be made lightly, every woman has the right and the power to decide what is right for her. It’s also not to say that I have outgrown any fears, I still become overwhelmed by the thought of a cancer risk, this is a long journey that I have barely begun.I gain more confidence, knowing I will slash my breast cancer risk down to about 5%. I had spent hours scouring the internet and searching for articles hoping to find somebody in the same position and finally, here I was, surrounded by the most inspiring and positive people in support groups. All of us have different backgrounds and a different story but the one thing we have in common? We all carry a mutated BRCA gene. I’ve spent the last five years in Facebook groups full of women who have either had breast cancer or have the faulty gene and have had the operations. It’s helped me realise how normal and common a mastectomy is. My mum, Lucy, passed away in 2014 because of breast cancer. I remember when she first came home after her double mastectomy, she would sit and cry about how she felt like her femininity had been stolen from her. Her hair was short from the chemotherapy, her ovaries had been removed and she had no breasts. I remember looking at her and thinking that she just looked like mum. Seven years ago, there was much more of a stigma to how mastectomies looked, but through growth in awareness, if she had been here today I know she would have loved her scars. Knowing mum, she would have been straight to the tattoo shop and had something crazy inked over them. I remember her friend dropping off black glitter nipple tassels to cheer her up over her mastectomy. If there’s a will- there’s a way and it’s shiny tassels. I hope mum never worried about passing down this gene, it’s just life. Modern technology means that I can have IVF to ensure I will never pass this gene onto my children. It wasnt common when I entered the world. I only pray that I’m the only sibling, as my brother will wait for his test. When I was a child, it’s like I could take everything around me that was going on, but I never really understood it. I’m at an age now where I’m asking the questions and researching, starting off with this magazine!

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CHECK ’EM

G N I E E R F

Credit: Maria Rigby

Maria ready for her nipple protest in London

CHECK ‘EM MEETS MARIA RIGBY, THE AREOLA TATTOO ARTIST MAKING A CHANGE...

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Split N Polish owner Maria Rigby has used her time during lockdown to train in the most up-to-date areola tattooing techniques which is life changing for people who have been affected by breast cancer. Tattooing techniques assist in recreating the area around a person’s breasts after cancer treatments such as mastectomies to make the area look more realistic. This is critical for cancer survivors in regaining a sense of normalcy. 43-year-old Maria has been working in the beauty industry for 27 years, she has been working in tattooing and permanent makeup for 23 years. Maria from Blackburn told Check ‘Em, “I work with a lot of women who have had breast cancer, I always knew that working in the beauty industry could help them. In lockdown, I put myself on training to learn how to tattoo areolas, and it was the best decision ever!” She does not ask for any payments for these tattoos as she explains she knows how special it is to that one person. “It’s the final part of their journey, I don’t charge for doing

it. If I was charging people I could do a lot more! I do this in my own time because I just want to help.” Maria recalls the first time after she completed her training she was able to tattoo on her first client. “I remember the morning as I was driving to work, because I get to know my clients and their background, and what this person had been through was really emotional. I remember being so nervous because I wanted everything to be just right and perfect for her. She cried, I cried, because it was quite overwhelming. It was so nice to be able to give somebody something like that, giving them some confidence back and making them feel feminine again.” Often people feel apprehensive because of the lack of areola tattooing publicised. Sometimes, people might not be ready for it, depending on where they are because their still getting reconstruction work or treatment. “My job is to come in at the end and complete everything that a person has gone through. People are excited, nervous, but it’s more emotional.” Explained Maria.


E L P P I N THE Facebook’s policy of blocking images that it deems to be “pornographic” has meant that attempts to promote the work of medical tattooists have been thwarted. Last September, Maria travelled down to London for a peaceful protest to help to raise awareness and prompt the social media giantto rethink its policy and allow medical artists to post freely. “We feel so strongly about it. When we post these images on social media, it’s a way of making people aware that these procedures can be done at the end of the surgery. I’m not on social media to sell the procedure or to make money from it. It’s a way of making people aware that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But because they are breasts and nipples, we just get our images or accounts take down. It’s so wrong because what we do is art.” expressed Maria.

“WHAT WE DO IS ART!” “You need to be able to see people’s work, it’s a really important treatment, they want to see if your work is good. It’s the first place people look online because they want to see if your work is right for them.” These kinds of tattoos can be vital to mental the wellbeing of people who have been afflicted by breast cancer, help-

Maria outside Split N Polish ing them to regain a sense of normality and come to terms with their treatment. To find out more, go to: https://splitnpolish. co.uk/

Maria’s areola tattooing on a client

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CHECK

‘EM

In such sad times, a story of hope might provide a ray of light. When ELLA COOK’S mum was diagnosed with cancer, she was crushed. But little did Ella know that the book she started to write whilst joining her mum at her chemotherapy treatments would go on to be published...

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lla grew up on the outskirts of London, where fairies resided at the foot of her Grand-mother’s garden, so it’s no surprise that she still seeks out the magic in ordinary life - and finds it fre quently. When she isn’t living in her imaginative world, she prepares bids and develops programmes for children’s services. She lives with her husband in rural Warwickshire, where he makes her gallons of tea in magical mugs that keep the cups warm for entire chapters. She lives with two little, demanding parrots that enjoy chasing her computer cursor across the screen. Her novel ‘Beyond Grey’ is about life and love after death. Ella wrote half of this novel, with the feet on the end of her mother’s bed in Hammersmith hospital. “I wrote a lot of this book for my mum, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was only in her 50s, I would sit and write it as she was getting her treatment. She wanted something to read, and I needed some-thing to do while sitting on oncology wards with her – and that’s how ‘Beyond Grey’ developed.”

“She’d read my latest pages, and we’d laugh and giggle – usually involving the rest of the ward and some of the staff – until the meds kicked in and she fell asleep. The anti-histamines that are given alongside chemotherapy knocked her out. So, after making drinks for whoever wanted them, I’d open up my laptop or notepad and start to write” Ella explained. Credit: Ella Cook mother, was youthful, fit, and Geraldine, Ella’s healthy. She began to have symptoms that were quite similar to those of ovarian cancer one day. Instead of dismissing her, the physi-cians sent her home with medicine. “I took her back, I felt like it just wasn’t right. She had a lot of inflammation in her abdomen.” Ella said. Suddenly, everything spiralled and the next day she was at the Royal Marsden hospital. Ella explained, “We didn’t even have time to think. By the time they figured out what was going on, t was stage 4. They had to move quickly.” Geraldine sadly died before Ella’s book was published. ‘Beyond Grey’ is there for every time of mourning, as well as Ella’s own loss experiences. This April, Ella went for blood tests to see if she had a mutated BRCA gene after her mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “I delayed the testing at first, I didn’t know how I was going to handle it psychologically, then Covid delayed just about everything on the planet. I was tested in early February and the results came back a few weeks ago. BRCA 2 positive. I’m still wrapping my head around it.” The Warwickshire based author is considering having a mastectomy and has already started eyeing up tattoos after the procedure. Ella told Check ‘Em; “I’m still waiting for an avalanche of referrals to start arriving. I had always known deep down that because mum had ovarian cancer it would be a risk to me and I would have to have a hysterectomy too. In my head, that’s my decision done and dusted. I’m a real bravissimo girl, so the thought of it can be quite nerve-wracking!” Purchase Beyond Grey here: https://www. amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Grey-Ella-Cook-ebook/dp/B08N6X9J98

35 Credit: Ella Cook


Credit: Alice Monvaillier


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