Body Positivity and Cancer
- Canadian model Ash Foo was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2019.
- Foo went through a long period of struggling with her body image after treatment left so many physical changes to her body, but now she sees things differently. She is embracing her scar and proud to share her cancer story with the world like she has done, most recently, for a project with photographer Taylor Tupy.
- Ovarian cancer is called the cancer that whispers because its symptoms can be very vague. People should remain vigilant and aware of any new or unusual symptoms and report to their physicians for appropriate evaluation.
- When it comes to managing the side effects of ovarian cancer treatment – or any cancer treatment – keeping your emotional health in check is very important. So, whether that means seeing a therapist, visiting support groups or simply learning to accept your situation, it’s crucial to do what you can to feel your best.
The 24-year-old rising star proudly wears the nearly 10-inch-long scar from her ovarian cancer treatment like a tattoo. But her journey to achieving body positivity wasn’t an easy one.Read More
Now, Foo’s scars have become a part of her identity – the “intricate details” that give a zebra its stripes or a forest its trees.
“Becoming conscious of the form I am truly meant to reside in this moment of life, I’ve never felt more myself,” she shared in an Instagram post. “And I wake up everyday appreciative and honoured to live beautifully as the young woman I show up as, to the world.”
Foo is proud of what she overcame and feels at home in her body. In a recent Instagram post, she shared a new project she did with photographer and filmmaker Taylor Tupy that touches upon the subject of overcoming her physical and psychological scars from cancer.
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“This canvas, also known as my ‘body’, has been painted vividly by a cultivation of adversity or occasionally, just plain clumsiness,” she wrote under black and white photos of her naked body. “But these extremely beautiful and intricate vessels known as our ‘bodies’ can (almost magically) heal themselves over time. And when you look at mine, I’ll show you where I’ve healed. I’ll show you that each one of these marks or scars comes with knowledge and ability. That each brush stroke had a direction and a purpose.
“And with that, @taylortupy and I collaborated to create some art about this one particular human body experience.”
In Tupy’s post to share his work, he also included a poem written by Foo.
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“‘I didn’t know who I was anymore. I think I had to do the work to grow into myself again; to love myself and to recognize who I was,'” he wrote in his caption crediting the words to Foo. “My dear friend Ash Foo on her battle with cancer, and the physical/psychological scars it left her with. I feel so grateful to be the one trusted with capturing these.”
Understanding Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is when the ovaries – which produce the sex hormone, estrogen, as well as eggs – become cancerous. Women have two ovaries, one on either side of the uterus.
The fallopian tube, which brings the egg from the ovary to the uterus for fertilization, is actually where many ovarian cancers begin. First, a few cancerous cells develop on the fallopian tubes, then these cells stick to the ovaries as the fallopian tubes brush over the ovary. From there, the cancerous cells grow to form a tumor.
Your risk for ovarian cancer may be increased if you have gone through menopause, have a gene mutation like BRCA1 or BRCA2, are obese or overweight, had your first pregnancy after age 35 or never carried a pregnancy to full-term, have a family history of cancer or used hormone replacement therapy. You should talk with your doctor about your potential risk for the disease.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is known as the cancer that whispers because symptoms are vague and sometimes similar to regular menstrual cycle fluctuations. Dr. Beth Karlan, a gynecologic oncologist with UCLA Health, says that ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognize with its subtle symptoms.
“Ovarian cancer does not have any specific symptoms,” Karlan said in an earlier interview with SurvivorNet. “It’s often referred to as the cancer that whispers in that it has symptoms that are really very vague… and nothing that may bring your attention directly to the ovaries.”
But Dr. Karlan still wants women to keep an eye out for a variety of possible symptoms.
“The symptoms include things like feeling full earlier than you usually would when your appetite is strong… Feeling bloated,” she added. “Some changes in your bowel habits. Some pain in the pelvis. These are symptoms women may have every month. These are not very specific. But what we’ve found from multiple studies, it’s this constellation of symptoms.”
Dr. Stephanie Wethington, director of the gynecologic oncology survivorship program at Johns Hopkins Medicine, previously told SurvivorNet that prevention for ovarian cancer is an important area of focus.
“We must remember that prevention is key and advocate for all women to discuss their family history and individual risk factors with their doctors and ask whether there are risk-reducing options available to them,” Dr. Wethington wrote.
Our advice to readers: See your doctor if you feel like something is off. Given that ovarian cancer can have no symptoms or a myriad of symptoms that you might easily brush off as nothing, it’s important to always seek medical attention when your gut is telling you something might be wrong. That doesn’t mean we should assume the worst every time we feel bloated or have a change in appetite, but it does mean that we should always try to listen to the signs our body is giving us.
Body Image and Cancer
Struggling with body image after treatment for cancer is, unfortunately, not unusual. Like in the case of Ash Foo, surgery that leaves a scar might be a necessary course of action. But it’s important to remember that many of the physical changes caused by treatment are only temporary. Even scars fade over time.
Marisa Gholson, a physicians assistant at Compass Oncology in Portland, Oregon, says many women even begin to embrace their scars.
“Some ladies will call them a badge of honor, that they have gone through that surgery,” Gholson said. She also noted, however, that scars — like many of the other side effects that come with ovarian cancer treatment — will become significantly less prominent over time.
Treatment for ovarian cancer may also include the removal of a woman’s reproductive organs, which can also affect body image. When it comes to managing the side effects of ovarian cancer treatment, keeping your emotional health in check is very important. So, whether that means seeing a therapist, visiting support groups or simply learning to accept your situation, it’s crucial to do what you can to feel your best.
For other cancer survivors like Ann Caruso, achieving that emotional health did not come easy. But now she’s embraced her post-treatment body and learned more about what femininity means to her. Caruso had 12 surgeries to treat her breast cancer and told SurvivorNet that all of the change really affected the way she saw her body.
“You’re not the same carefree person that you once were, and it was very hard for me to look at myself every day,” Caruso said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “It was like I was a totally different person and didn’t fit into any of my clothes for so long.”
But the celebrity stylist has learned a whole lot about femininity and body image since beating breast cancer. She hopes to impart her knowledge upon others dealing with similar struggles.
“Femininity is a state of mind,” Caruso said. “And I think that’s something that we have to remind ourselves.”