The Gift of Cancer

Written by Jan Ping, Emmy-award winning makeup artist and cancer survivor

Looking back, I can confidently say that my experience with cancer was one of the biggest blessings of my life. Yes, I said it. It is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received and I would not trade what it has taught me for anything.
I have worked as a professional makeup artist in the entertainment industry for almost 30 years. During that time, I have been surrounded by all types of beauty. Being diagnosed with stage II breast cancer 10 years ago completely changed my perspective on beauty. My story is like so many others as I lived a healthy lifestyle and had no family history of cancer. I just did not understand how I could possibly have cancer.

When I was first diagnosed, I felt completely blindsided. I immediately thought of my daughter, who was 10 at the time, and of the rest of my family. Soon after, my mind went to the side effects. All I really knew was that chemotherapy made your hair fall out and I was not entirely sure I could pull off the bald look. After I finally got over my denial, I decided that I needed to turn this potentially-devastating experience into one that could help other people. I did not completely accept this as a blessing at the time, but all I needed was a little confirmation. However, I see things differently now. My eyes focus mainly on the good stuff, and it is surprisingly abundant. Sometimes, things in life just happen. The gift of cancer helped me see where I needed to go, how I needed to think, and what I wanted to change. It was amazing.
Now, do not misunderstand me. The treatment process was one of the toughest things I have ever survived and I never want to undergo a process like that again. But, the lessons I learned along the way about the true meaning of beauty have forced me to take a look at not only myself, but at the very industry of which I was a part. Needless to say, I proceeded with my treatment, shaved head and all, and the transformation process, physically, mentally, and emotionally began.
As I was going through this transformation, a lot of interesting things came up. At first I felt afraid, mostly because I was not sure what the outcome was going to be. As I was experiencing these changes, both to my physical and spiritual bodies, it was accompanied by new insight. It was like two sides of a coin. I would struggle briefly with the changes and then I would see a little glimpse of something magical. This magic would stick out its head, peek around the corner, and then disappear as quickly as it came. Every experience would have another side to it and as time went on, these experiences would happen more frequently. I began to ask for clarity.
Then I saw it. True beauty is so much more than just aesthetics. I was working in an industry that emphasized physical appearance and had spent my entire career making people feel beautiful on the outside. Struggling through the experience of cancer and coming out on the other side left me feeling both enlightened and informed. I discovered that true beauty is all about self-love. It was so much deeper than all my training. Foundation, eyeliner, and lip gloss all perpetuated a need to feel beautiful on the outside, when in reality, beauty is built from the inside-out.

Maintaing a Positive Self-Image During Chemotherapy
I was forced to specifically hone in on this building process while undergoing treatment. This idea of feeling beautiful on the inside, in order to feel beautiful on the outside, was essential for me to survive cancer. Through my experience, I discovered a lot of helpful tips for both the mind and body, especially when undergoing chemotherapy. Every person who finds themselves fighting cancer, male or female, will experience a set of challenges completely unique to them. But there are a few things that everyone can do to maintain a sense of control over how they look and feel while undergoing treatment.
Have a positive outlook. Optimism and a smile carry great power. I truly believe that there is a connection between the mind and body that cannot be ignored. Try to surround yourself with people who support your positive attitude. Feeling down is inevitable, but having a solid support system surrounding you is more helpful than you might expect.
Treat your largest organ with kindness. During and after treatment, you may experience skin dryness, sometimes to the extreme. Rashes, sunburns, and even tearing of the cuticles can cause incredible discomfort and sometimes pain. Our skin can be very sensitive during this time, so we must take precautions. Moisturize often, hydrate constantly, and use sunscreen. I recommend gentle, natural products that are free of unnecessary chemicals and added scents.

Always try to exercise. When you consider exercising, do it. Not only will exercise help your physical body, but it helps your mental body as well. The endorphins released through physical activity can help you keep a positive outlook. Listen to your body and do what feels right for you.
Cleanliness is key. You want to keep everything very clean, including makeup, the tools you use to apply it, and even where you store it. Wash your hands before you begin applying it, replace old products, and take extra care in everything you do.
Have fun! Now may be the first and only time in your life where you actually have an excuse to try something new. Wear hats, fun jewelry, and more or less makeup. Do whatever makes you feel the most beautiful. Take this time to experiment and see how it makes you feel. But most importantly, do what feels good!

Always remember to be gentle and nurturing to your body and spirit. If there was ever a time to practice self-appreciation, this is it. Start your day with a positive affirmation by acknowledging something that you love about yourself. Look in the mirror, find beauty, and voice it out loud with a smile! A smile and positive self-talk is the best makeup tip I can give.

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