Beauty feature, Like magazine, September 2015. Click to enlarge. Read below.
A cancer diagnosis would be shattering for most women, but as Glanmire girl Ciara Brickley tells Carolyn Moore, a breast cancer diagnosis at age 33 inspired her to start a blog, and Food Fashion and the Fight was born.
Shit Happens. The title of Ciara Brickley’s very first post on her blog, Food Fashion and the Fight, alerts you immediately to the fact that this is not an outlet for a self-pitying, “why me?” outlook. Not that you could blame her if that was the case.
Last October, while living in the US, Ciara discovered a lump in her breast. Aged just 33, it was statistically unlikely to be cancer, and whether it’s denial or that typical female tendency to not want to make a fuss, like many younger women who adopt a “wait and see” approach, Ciara put it down to perhaps pulling a muscle in the gym. But as weeks passed and daily checks revealed the lump was going nowhere, Ciara began to realise she would have to have it checked out, and it was while she was home in Cork last Christmas that she was referred to the breast clinic at Bon Secours, and got the diagnosis that every woman fears.
“I was prepared for the worst,” she recalls. “I think that’s your mind’s way of making the reality of the situation easier to take. The staff at the Bons hospital were amazing though. Everyone was really kind and patient and took the time to explain my full treatment plan to me.
“After that I just went into action mode. I had four days to move my whole life and my dog back to Ireland! This was almost a blessing, as it meant I had no time at all to contemplate what was ahead of me.”
Back at her parent’s home in Glanmire, she launched straight into a gruelling treatment plan. Immediate surgery was followed by 16 sessions of chemotherapy – which she finished in July – and a course of radiotherapy. “I’m also having hormone therapy, which will continue for 10 years,” she adds, “and I’m extremely lucky to be part of a clinical trial that is ongoing. It means that I’m receiving further treatment that will not only benefit me but also many other women in the future.”
That same impetus, to help and support other women, was ultimately what prompted her to start her blog. While woman aged 50-64 are covered by the Breast Check screening programme, all women, regardless of age, need to be checking their breasts regularly. “My goal with my blog was to spread awareness in younger women,” she explains, “and to make them realise that you are responsible for your own body. Self checks are the key to early detection.”
Since starting her blog in May, however, she has discovered that support is a two way street. “Thankfully there are not many young women receiving treatment for breast cancer,” she states, “but that’s meant that at times, for me, it’s been quite lonely. My blog has allowed me to connect with other women in similar situations, to share our thoughts and experiences.”
But as the name of her blog suggests, it’s not all about the C word, and in addition to chronicling “the fight”, Ciara also blogs about her big passions – food, and fashion and beauty. A self-confessed beauty junkie, she was an avid reader of fashion and beauty blogs, and had been meaning to start her own for some time. Her diagnosis meant that, in a crowded arena, she was able to offer a unique perspective.
For most women – as we deal with the effects of sleepless nights, sun exposure or ageing – a sudden pimple, an unexplained dry patch, or the onset of crows feet constitute “beauty emergencies”. While it may seem painfully superficial to consider the beauty ramifications of life-saving cancer treatment, what can’t be denied is that, for many of us, fashion and beauty are intrinsic to our sense of self; essential tools in helping us decide how we want to present ourselves to the world. And Ciara is proof that when your world is rocked by cancer, it becomes more important than ever to hold onto the things that make you… well, you.
“I didn’t want my cancer diagnosis to take over my life,” she says. “I wanted to maintain as much normality as I could.” Far from losing interest in her twin passions, Ciara has made them allies in her fight against cancer, discovering new tricks, treatments and products that she’s added to her beauty arsenal. “My treatment left my skin really dry. I tried a number of products that promised complete hydration but there were two standouts for me – GlamGlow Thirsty Mud mask and The Body Shop Vitamin E overnight serum-in-oil.
“I am big believer in the hypothesis ‘look good, feel good’. Makeup has been like a true friend through this process, brightening my skin, giving me brows and eyelashes, adding colour to my cheeks…
“I had to make changes to my beauty regime. I realised that when you have a bald head your facial features are completely on show. More people have noticed my eye colour in the last few months than ever before! I now take time with my makeup to accentuate my eyes, eyebrows and lips.”
Along with the expected side effects of chemo, like the aforementioned hair loss, a major challenge for Ciara has been the onset of hot flushes. “Just as you have applied your make up and are happy with the results, a hot flush kicks in and it all slides down your face!” she laughs, also pointing out that “hair loss does not just mean the hair on your head! I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes, which presented its own challenges. I had permanent leaky eyes, which are not ideal for a perfect smoky eye!”
While it’s been a tough year for Ciara, she’s tackled it with “amazing support from my parents, brothers and extended family “, along with relentless positivity and the wry humour that peppers her blog with “I shouldn’t laugh, but…” style revelations. From that aptly titled first post that refers not just to her ‘c’est la vie attitude’, but also alludes to her bowel movements, the readers who have joined her on her journey have learned that when it comes to beauty, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But if you can accentuate that with a strong brow or a bright pop of lipstick… more power to you!
Ciara blogs at foodfashionandthefight.com. Follow her @foodfashfight.