If their goal was to make me feel special, educated and provide relief, then mission accomplished. I'm really looking forward to my next session.
The Heels Were Made for Walking.....
As New York Fashion Week got underway , I began to wonder if any of the major fashion houses would include breast cancer survivors in any of their respective shows. Although Breast Cancer Awareness month is a few short weeks away in October, (which will offer a plethora of opportunities for survivors to rip a runway), I was really curious to see if I might catch a glimpse of a "sister in the struggle" doing her thing at the holy grail (except for Paris) of fashion excellence.
Almost immediately my search took a hard right turn, and instead of nodding my head in acknowledgement of a survivor sashaying in the bright lights of a fashion show, I was sitting across from a poised, confident, funny and very brave fashionista who's clearly on a mission, founder & head life coach, Beating Cancer in Heels, very own Marlena Ortiz.
Beautiful, compact and with an abundance of NYC attitude (Like Gin, Hennessy or Tequilla served straight with no chaser) breast cancer survivor Marlena Ortiz is fiercely determined to bring the importance of cancer awareness, early detection and support to women under 40. Oh, and I must add that Marlena and her peers plan on looking damn good while doing it! Beating Cancer in Heels is a 501(c) (3) non profit organization that empowers young women who have been diagnosed with cancer. Through virtual life coaching, workshops and social activities, Beating Cancer in Heels has been providing much needed support to a consortium of individuals diagnosed with cancer under the age of 40.
As a woman who was diagnosed as a child and then again as an adult (under 50) I have pretty good understanding that although we have commonalities, there are some big differences and concerns between children, teenagers, young adults, mature adults and the elderly when managing a cancer diagnosis. For example parent's and caretakers of a child who is undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or some form of cancer regime may be concerned about a host of developmental problems that could arise down the road. For young and mature adults concerns may include fertility, inability to breast feed, loss of income and sexuality. For the elderly, concerns about a cancer diagnosis on top of managing another chronic disease, along with mobility issues and age bias when determining inclusion in clinical trails, could be just the tip of the iceberg.
On the warm sunny in September, I'd set up camp at a small and cozy cafe at the recommendation of Marlena in north Brooklyn. As I sat quietly consumed by my own thoughts, the realization set in that I'd done very little research and this chat with Marlena was going to be truly organic, going strictly off of the cuff. My worries quickly dissipated as my gaze swung up, to observe a burst of smooth energy stroll quickly into the cafe. Wearing a pearly white smile and exuding the epitome of cool, earthy, confidence I instantly knew that this would be more than just an interview. It would be one survivor chatting with another about their hopes, motivations, experiences and what's on the horizon.
My initial interests were pretty simple, how did Marlena end up in the position that inspired her spirit of advocacy which created an idea, and then a movement. The answer was both simple and traumatic. In 2009, at just 25 years old, Marlena was diagnosed with breast cancer. Young, vibrant and in the prime of her life, she discovered after self examination, and a sixth sense that nudged her along to seek medical care, she was in a fight for her life. Things moved pretty quickly and after being told she would have to go thru a regime that included chemotherapy and hormone suppressing drugs, Marlena sought out support for dealing with the transition. Finding little that she could relate to (remember this was in the early days of social media), Marlena decided to take things into her own hands and with that motivation Beating Cancer In Heels was born.
With a background rooted in fashion, and wanting to bridge the gap between those diagnosed, those receiving treatment and survivors, Beating Cancer in Heels provides a safe and supportive platform for young women to address issues, become educated and feel empowered. Whether it's enjoying a relaxed fellowship with peers at a Girls Night Out, getting glam tips and bags full of swag during Beauty Tutorials or speaking with a Life Coach, Beating Cancer in Heels is dedicated to provide mindful support to young women. A savvy and well spoken advocate, Marlena and Beating Cancer in Heels has been featured in The NY Daily News, Nine West's collaboration with Fashion Targets Breast Cancer and numerous radio & TV appearances including The Wendy Williams Show.
Marlena already has her sights set on 2017 and will be tackling the task of another fundraiser, with the goal to continue to provide creative, fun, introspective, and educational opportunities for young women navigating the cancer experience.
For more information on how you can support or participate in upcoming events, please check out www.beatingcancerinheels.org. In addition make sure to check out their cool and inspiring Instagram and Facebook pages.
A conversation with veteran tattoo artist Friday Jones.
There are times in life when sacrifices have to be made in order to accomplish a goal. The task can sometimes be simple, easy, with the end results pleasing. On the opposite side, choices can be complicated, gut wrenching, with little wriggle room, that have you second guessing whether the sacrifice was worth it. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer often find themselves in the unenviable position of removing their breasts in order to save their lives. I know, because I'm one of them. Everyday thousands of women have mastectomies, which some may consider the ultimate sacrifice of sexuality. I don't personally don't believe that, but some do, and it can be a uphill battle trying to recapture what was once second nature. A women's sense of sexual identity, self confidence and body image are just a small look into the huge litany of self sacrifice made in the war against breast cancer.
So, as you may know I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction in August 2015 (I find it wonderfully ironic to posting this story so close to my anniversary). Currently I have tissue expanders and will complete the last stage of major reconstruction this year with a exchange from temporary expanders to breast implants. After that, I can decide to have nipples rebuilt or obtain a 3D tattoo that looks just like a nipple.
So of course being the inquisitive woman that I am, I wanted to find out what the real deal was with options in regards to nipple tattoos and covering up scars that come with surgery. I even went so far as to attend the United Ink Tattoo Show at the Resorts World Casino in April 2016, in search of answers. Still, I was looking to have a one on one conversation with an artist who understood the emotional, physical and financial challenges a woman faces when fighting breast cancer, and be willing to share some knowledge.
My quest led me to Friday Jones. (*sidebar I had to really rack my brain to remember how Friday came onto my radar, ugh this chemo brain, now I remember). Scrolling thru my Facebook feed one night I came across a video of a woman happily getting her dance on for Mothers Day. What caught my attention was the fact that the woman was topless, apparently very happy, breast jiggling to the beat, in celebration of her new tattoos. Mmm, I thought, who was responsible for such happiness and where can I find her? Someone named Friday Jones? Who's that?
Finally, after a little prodding the legendary (yeah, that's right & I was clueless) Friday Jones so graciously agreed to sit down with me and shed light on exactly who she is, what she does and where she's going.
Let me break down the highlights of our conversation:
- Friday comes from a military family, brother is a fighter pilot
- One of Friday's first jobs was putting postage stamp art onto T Shirts
- Has been tattooing for 25 years
- Has a resume so deep, but she is so regular & chill to talk to. Friday has put ink on some of entertainment's biggest stars including Angelina Jolie, Penelope Cruz and Lorraine Branco (just to name a few & her list is long)
- She is a board member of P.Ink/Personal Ink a charity matching women who've had mastectomies with tattoo artist (yup, she's and advocate too). Check them out at p-ink.org & look out for news on their upcoming P. Inkathon happening October 10, 2016
- Star of Oxygen Network's Tattoos After Dark
- Is a bio coastal artist. When in NYC she can be found working out of Shafer Plastic Surgery located at 10 East 53rd Street just steps away from St. Patrick's Cathedral (and working out of a doctors office bodes well for women who've had mastectomies getting 3D nipple Tattoo)
- Is about to start honing her craft in New Orleans! Yes, y'all better get ready💥
What struck me most about Friday is how self aware she is and her knowledge (she gave me a brief history on the cultural background of tattoos in this country) and her willingness to acknowledge the importance the role a 3D nipple tattoo plays in restoring the self confidence of a woman who has lost her natural breast.
Friday firmly believes that her mission to alleviate the hurt and emotional baggage that comes with breast surgery and bring out a new sense happiness, comes from her acute sense of humility. You see after many years spent as an apprentice at Inksmith & Rogers Studios in Jacksonville, FL, Friday learned a simple yet basic concept that would change her artistic approach. She learned that as a tattoo artist, it's not about what she wants to do to you, but more importantly it's about what the client's needs are, their vision, and bringing that picture to life. With that knowledge & attitude adjustment, Friday made her way to NYC, eventually opening up her vey own tattoo salon on Fifth Ave. During this time, Friday made a key connection with plastic surgeon Dr. Oren Lerman, who began referring clients to Friday, to achieve a more natural looking result than what his team could provide in the area of 3D breast tattooing. Thus began Friday's transition from just doing illustrative body art.
Friday (I just love that name, which was given to her while working on school breaks with artist Spider Webb, before 1997 in NYC when it was illegal to get a tattoo) gave me a rundown of what the process is, if your interested in getting a 3D Nipple tattoo, with Friday.
- First you need a consult. Friday and a licensed plastic surgeon would take a look at your scars to determined if your skin is ready for the tattoo. Nothing happens until your skin is healed.
- Determing readiness is on a case by case basis and can be anywere from six to eighteen months after final reconstructive surgery.
- The color of your inner lip determines what the pigment of the 3D Nipple tattoo.
- It's a pretty shallow incision & needs aftercare to fight the bodies natural response to "push out" the ink.
- Friday recommends washing gently with soap & cool water & patting dry.
- Applying thin coats of natural emoiliant moisterizer like cocoa or shea butter. Friday recommends avoiding products that contain petroleum a industrial bi product that does not absorb to encourage the skin to heal.
- No swimming or sitting in a hot tub (at least for a couple of days) after.
- Some insurance will reimburse/cover the cost of getting a 3D nipple tattoo as long as the procedure is done in a doctors office! So, no she will not come to your home & do this if your trying to get the insurance company to cover the cost! (Please check with your insurance carrier) Friday charges $500.00 for the 3D nipple tattoo.
- Managing your expectations of what you want to look like. It's a healthy attitude to expect that the results may be spectacular or as close as good can get (again it's a case by case basis)
Lastly, for a post operative consult (on the east coast) at Shafer Plastic Surgery in NYC check Friday's web site for bookings at: fridayjones.net