Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is often followed by a rush of emotions, predominantly sadness. It’s a huge loss you’re potentially faced with, especially if you’re planning to have both your breasts removed.
Aniela McGuinness, a 32-year-old actress from Florida, found herself in that position just last year. She learned that she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene after her mother passed away from ovarian cancer, and as such, opted to get a preventative double mastectomy. While that’s difficult enough to deal with, McGuinness received even more devastating news just three days before scheduling the procedure. Her MRI results came back positive for breast cancer. You can watch her uncensored reaction to the doctor’s phone call on her YouTube page.
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Suddenly, she was up against a lot more than just the emotional and psychological trauma of losing her breasts. While the cancer cells were small, she had to undergo five months of chemotherapy after her double mastectomy. The news was a major blow, but McGuinness refused to let it kill her bold, funny, joyful spirit. Instead, she decided to create an amazing photo series to document the whole experience, from pre-surgery, through chemo, and finally ending with reconstructive surgery.
McGuinness elaborates on her website, My Breast Choice, “Before removing my breasts I wanted photographic evidence of what they looked like, but I didn’t want mug shots of attempted murders. I wanted a photo that captured how I felt. So I decided to do a photo series that would express the emotion in each stage of the process.”
She collaborated with several talented makeup and hair artists, along with Blast ‘Em Photography to create the series. The first shot was meant to empower her and all women who are about to set out on this scary, intense journey.
McGuinness explains that her “goal was to capture the ‘We CAN Do It’ spirit going into the biggest battle of my life.”
The next photo was taken right after the double mastectomy, before she went into chemo. The look was Bride of Frankenstein, because as McGuinness describes it, post-surgery, “you feel cut up, you feel pieced together.” It’s beautiful, painful, awkward and yes, a little scary. The awesome hair and makeup effects were done by the talented Brynn Berg.
The third shot in the series was taken right after she finished her rounds of chemo in April of this year. At this point, she had no hair anywhere on her body, and her breast expanders where inflated to the max, so she felt rather fake and plastic, like a mannequin. “My eyebrows had to be airbrushed on and false eyelashes attached to just skin,” said McGuinness. This creation looks pretty weird, which totally captures how she said she was feeling at the time. Tiffany Alfonso did the awesome look here.
And finally, the fourth photo captures McGuinness after she had reconstructive surgery, and four months after she completed chemo. She’s now cancer free, but opted not to have her nipples reconstructed because, frankly, she really enjoys not having them. However, she does love playing with prosthetics, hence this photo with the removable nipples.
You can clearly see her performer roots behind each incredible photo. She wanted to show women there can be a lightness to before and after breast cancer. These shots, plus all the photos she has up on her Instagram are proof positive of that.
If you appreciate this great message she’s sending out into the world, consider donating to her GoFundMe page, so she can finish her documentary on her journey with cancer entitled, “I Don’t Have Cancer.”