A woman’s beauty routine is everything. It’s what helps you feel good both inside, and out. When you look good, you feel good. Pevonia believes that beauty cannot just be measured by one particular aspect; beauty is more than just a pretty face. It is spiritual, mental, emotional…beauty is a well-rounded characteristic we all possess because we were each uniquely, wonderfully made.
Your beauty routine helps define you. What you wear, how you style your hair, how your skin feels, make you feel like…you. …but what if the world as you knew it, changed in an instant? What if the routine that helped you feel your most Beauty-Full-Self was forced to change due to a life-threatening illness? That’s exactly what happened to Caitlin Kiernan, and it happens to 1 in 8 Women that will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of a lifetime.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I had the opportunity to speak with Caitlin Kiernan, beauty editor, and author of the new book ‘The Pretty Sick’ to learn more about how she dealt with trying to feel Beauty-Full, even with the challenges of fighting Breast Cancer. Kiernan’s new book, ‘The Pretty Sick’ is a guide to help women being treated for cancer, and those in remission, feel beautiful with tips and tricks she acquired in her battle with Breast Cancer.
You wrote this book with a mission to ‘Pay it Forward’ to others facing Breast Cancer with your Beauty Guide to Women with Cancer. Were there any deciding factors or moments where you felt compelled to write?
Yes. A year after my diagnosis, I remember that I was at a party, and I was still in treatment. I had 5 surgeries (including my mastectomy) with a 2 ½ almost 3-year medical journey. I was out at a cocktail party for a friend, but I wasn’t going out a lot. My friends were all saying: “I haven’t seen you!” and “You look amazing! Whats the latest?” …and well, I thought to myself…The latest is that I’m dying.
It was at that moment that Kiernan thought about writing the book. All of the tips (big and small) she received from beauty experts helped her on her journey to feeling beautiful (inside & out) even with her diagnosis. Feeling compelled to help others, Kiernan decided to write a book.
I was so in it that I didn’t have a perspective of it. All of these tips from all of these experts helped me navigate. They all incrementally helped me look my best. I thought: I have to put this into a book because they’re so easy for me to do. I wasn’t hearing [these tips] from the medical professionals because that wasn’t what they were focusing on. This was so easy and helpful. So transformative.
It’s my way of passing on these blessings. The little things can make a difference between when your day sucks or is amazing. I had been able to fair a lot of the chemo, surgeries, pretty well because of these tips.
I can’t give you back your hair, but I can make sure your nails are okay, and your skin is okay. Your hair doesn’t seem so overwhelming because you are able to manage other things. Losing your hair is devastating. But when all other things start piling on: mouth sores, nails start lifting, your skin gets dermic, dry, or chemo acne. All of those things piled on makes it seem so overwhelming to get out of bed in the morning. 20 million things happening just with your body. If you can manage 9 out of 10 of those, to help keep living your life, then it’s not so terrible, it’s manageable.
What were your first thoughts when you received your diagnosis?
It’s crazy, it’s almost like, and I don’t know if this is true for everybody…I went into a state of shock. I didn’t believe or process the diagnosis until I started experiencing side effects from surgery or chemotherapy. It wasn’t until I started dealing with my body that it started becoming real to me. I had been healthy, I wasn’t a smoker, I was always in sports, I was active. I just didn’t have it in my family, there was no history.
And then I started eating a lot. I ate my feelings. I ate pizza and candy. That’s not like me, I felt sorry for myself. I just was like, I can’t even believe this.
If you could give only one piece of beauty advice for those currently undergoing treatment, what would it be?
I have two.
- Don’t do anything permanent. [Some people] lose their eyebrows and start tattooing. Don’t give up or get emotionally exhausted by it. There’s an end date to all of this. It takes longer than you want it to, but you’ll get over it. Bad decisions come in moments of fear, panic, or sadness. Know that it’s temporary, don’t do anything rash.
- Get the book, because that will last longer and help you more!
Your book takes a deep dive into lots of beauty tips for women with cancer…if you had to give me just one, what would it be?
- I never knew the importance of swapping out your traditional skincare products. Really, anything that has a scent. Your sense of smell changes, but it also has the longest lasting effect on you. When that changes, all of your favorite products won’t smell the same to you anymore. They also can increase the chance of creating scent memories. The way that scent memory works, a certain smell, connects with other smells and creates mental references. It’s like a Polaroid picture. It increases the chance to happen, so you don’t want to use your favorite fragrance during treatment because you’ll get flashbacks to these negative memories. To me, the #1 thing I say is to swap out your favorite products and swap in unscented skin-loving ingredients.
- A lot of people don’t know that when fighting cancer, you can’t use antioxidants. Antioxidants are skincare heroes because we use them as they help fight free radicals. The point of chemotherapy is to kill all cells, good and bad. Using anti-oxidants can actually work negatively.
You can eat what you want. Eat the way you normally do, but you shouldn’t take supplements, you shouldn’t juice. Don’t use levels of anti-oxidants too high to control. As a former beauty editor and director, before cancer, I would slather on antioxidants all over my body in the morning. During treatment, I got really good oils for my face and body. I would layer them on, and give myself a massage. I used products that were just really good skin-loving ingredients.
Use products that are science-backed, evidence-based, and contain quality ingredients.
I always tell women it’s tough to figure out when you’re going through it. But this is the time to indulge in things that make you feel good, even if they cost a little bit more money.
I really loved the last chapter of your book where you talk about your journey to finding happiness. I can’t imagine how difficult trying to stay positive through something like that must be. Can you talk about a time where you really struggled to find happiness and how you got yourself through it?
I didn’t stay positive, I was always a typical New York City cynical woman. I feel like we’re all a little jaded.
The year before, I had back surgery. I was negative, depressed, and I remember when I got out of that, I felt relieved. However, 4 days before the anniversary of my back surgery, I was diagnosed with cancer. The first day I went in for breast surgery I remember feeling really bummed. I thought:
I can’t do this the way I did the last one. I’ve got to get my head right, or I won’t survive this one.
I started to retrain my brain. For every bad thought, I tried to find the silver lining. For example:
Okay, my hair is going to fall out so I’m going to get a wig. I’ve always wanted straight blonde hair. I’m going to get a great wig. My breasts are going to be removed, okay I’m going to go big. Instead of forcing happiness, I was going to find happiness.
I had to look for those things and force my brain to just do it. It shows the power of your attitude. It doesn’t have to be positive. It’s an attitude of defiance. I refuse to be negative, I was going to be defiant of my illness and I was going to rise above it.
I was going to be a phoenix.
I’m still cynical, but I’m always the first person to offer up “well, what’s the solution?” Situations aren’t black and white, there’s always some little bit of shining hope. You have to look for it, like the diamond in the rough. This was transformative in my life. I would’ve given up, had I not made this change.
You talk about having a lot of your ‘beauty experts’ on speed dial during your treatment. Is there one particular person whether it’s a family member, friend, or beauty expert that stands out to you during this time, and what advice did they give you that stuck?
Oh jeez. I will say I have a girl gang. A very tight group of girlfriends, each one had their own strength that helped me get through. Those are my people, a group of 8 girls. I had my book launch party, it was a really great 360 moment. Every woman needs a girl gang.
The friend that’s a cheerleader, the commiserator, the cook, and so on…you need a girl gang. We have the medical experts to take care of us. The emotional is the hardest part of life no matter what you’re going through.
Kiernan’s words struck a chord with me. I’m not fighting cancer, and I can’t imagine what that must be like for anyone that is. However, her power of attitude is to be admired. We may not always be able to be positive, but if we can refuse to let life get the best of us, and refuse to accept that we won’t get through something. If we can be the Phoenix, we can rise above anything. On behalf of Pevonia, we’d like to thank Caitlin for sharing her story.
About Caitlin Kiernan
Caitlin Kiernan is an award-winning journalist, beauty expert, and cancer survivor. A former fashion columnist and beauty director, she has appeared on E! News, Wendy Williams, and Fox News among other programs. Her freelance work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Women’s Health, Yahoo, Harper’s Bazaar, StyleWatch, Today, Refinery29, the New York Times, and other outlets.
Get the book! Available Now:
Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women with Cancer by Caitlin M. Kiernan