“It’s hard for me to believe that I went through what I did last year. I changed from a girl into a woman in such a short space of time. Being a woman now has a whole new meaning and feeling for me after coming out the other side of breast cancer– and it’s quite a spectacular one. I knew, after watching my mom battle so many health struggles over the years, that we, as women, are so strong – but I never knew how strong until I actually went through it myself.”
Rebecca Russell, or you can call her ‘Beck,’ just celebrated her one year anniversary of an unexpected breast cancer diagnosis she received at 31 years old. Originally from London and now living in Venice, California, Beck worked as a fashion editor of C Magazine for three years, after styling for Burberry across the pond. Right now, she’s on a healing journey, trying to figure out what’s next.
Beck’s approach to healing after a year of treatment is uplifting, refreshingly honest and impressively stylish. In recent weeks, we have all experienced a blurring of our own answers to that question – ‘What’s next?’ – but Beck reassures that the beauty that comes after struggle is really quite stunning.
“I just celebrated my one year cancer anniversary, and the timing has been... crazy. On top of my high anxiety around COVID-19 and my parents in London not taking it seriously, my radiologist called to tell me that the imaging on the first mammogram I had taken since surgery and chemo was not clear enough. She couldn’t get a good reading, so she wanted to redo it. I was uncomfortable from an endometrial biopsy, cramping from an IUD placement, worried I had cancer again, and, all the while, my parents were saying they were still going to the post offices and shops around town. That week was a bit of a mess.”
“I was lucky enough to get the mammogram appointment, which came back clear, and I was able to pull myself through. I realized I needed to put everything in perspective. In a way, it has been nice to not be so focused on myself these past few weeks. Last year was all about me. Not just for me, but for everybody in my life.”
“I received an outpouring of love from all over the world. Even strangers reached out. It’s nice to have a moment to reach back out to them and focus on others. After a year of my own grief and trauma, I’ve come out the other side to find that it’s quite beautiful; there is something stunning about the light after the dark. I think that everybody else living through COVID-19 will experience this, too. Humanity sticks together and, through moments like this, we realize that all we really have is one another.”
While that outpouring of love is vital during a diagnosis, the only people that can really relate are those who have gone through it. So, as Beck received guidance from other women, she almost immediately started passing it back to others. The unfathomable statistic that one in eight women get breast cancer is seen in a transfixing light when you take notice of the ways that these women, including Beck, support one another through it.
REBECCA WEARS THE PLUNGE IN BLACK AND THE HIGHWAIST IN BLACK
“I want every woman to know she can get through [breast cancer.] It’s ugly, but when you come out the other side, you will feel pretty amazing. You will surprise yourself with strength, courage and resilience. Honestly, I was surprised I had it in me. I was terrified of chemotherapy, but I cruised through it, and others will, too.”
“I found it cathartic to speak to recently diagnosed women reaching out to me on Instagram, because the unknown is paralyzing and I was there once. I find it easy to be open, and empowering to share my knowledge. One piece of advice I’ve given quite a lot of young women is, ‘Don’t make plans for the next year, because you are probably going to want to cancel them.’”
“I experienced such an outpouring of support last year, but there were times that I really needed to be on my own, days I didn’t want to leave the house, and moments where I was genuinely happy to spend time with myself. It’s different for everyone, but it’s important to be comfortable saying ‘no.’”
REBECCA WEARS THE PLUNGE IN GRASS AND THE BIKINI IN GRASS
In addition to clearing your calendar and protecting personal time, Beck encourages young women who have been diagnosed to find outlets of beauty, creativity and comfort: tidying the house, having fresh flowers, lighting candles, and finding security in your environment. While the beauty you surround yourself with can be uplifting, Beck has found that personal beauty is just as essential to maintaining sanity and a sense of self.
“Personal beauty was an important focus for me during treatment. I wanted to maintain my appearance because I wanted to maintain as much normalcy as possible – not just for me, but for my husband and everyone around me. Cancer robs so much of you, but I refused to let it take my hair or my huge caterpillar eyebrows that have always been such a part of me. It wasn’t cheap or easy, but I went to great lengths to keep them both.”
Grooming your hair and eyebrows during normal times may feel mundane, but when those things are at risk of being lost, you begin to realize how much personality your eyebrows hold, how much younger your face looks when framed by healthy hair, and how intimately your sensuality is linked to the vitality of your physical form.
“Sensuality for me is about connection. Whether that’s connection through touch, taste, feeling, et cetera – but connection is pretty much what it’s all about. I feel sensual when I’m comfortable, connected and confident in my own skin. It’s taken me a long time to get back to any of those feelings.”
“I had been very confident in my own skin ever since I was a child. Experimenting with clothing has always been a highlight and focus for me, so being comfortable with my body image is paramount. Chemo changed that relationship. The steroids really puffed me up: water retention and increased appetite. It’s very unflattering.”
“If you could see my wardrobe, well trust me, it oozes a lack of relaxation. I love funky textures and cuts. Generally impractical and weird attire that most people would never wear. But my connection to clothes changed during chemo because I couldn’t fit into a lot of what I owned. So, my goal was just to be comfortable. I couldn’t fit into my pair of RE/DONE jeans that I wear practically every day, which was disheartening, so I bought a few pairs of stocking bottoms and got comfortable.”
After relaxing into comfort over the past year, a return to fashion marks a return to parts of Beck that have been on pause. It’s not just a matter of clothes fitting again, however, but a reclamation of confidence briefly stolen by cancer.
REBECCA WEARS THE PLUNGE IN GRASS AND THE BIKINI IN GRASS
“Two weeks before I was diagnosed, I bought a Preen by Thornton long lace gown from a clearance sale. It was one of those $3000 dresses I had looked at for months, thinking I would never be able to afford it, then it went down to $150 and I couldn't believe my luck. My friend was getting married in London last summer and I was going to wear it to the wedding. We obviously couldn’t go in the end.”
“I remember being in bed during chemo and looking at the dress thinking, ‘When am I ever going to be able to wear this? Am I going to have breasts to fill it in? Am I going to have hair? Am I going to have confidence? Am I going to actually want to wear the dress that I lusted after for almost a year?’”
“Fashion has always played a big role in my life, so, in a way, having that dress hanging in the wardrobe – looking at me, luring me in – was a bit of inspiration. Two weeks ago, we went to our friends’ wedding in Key West. I got to wear it and it felt so amazing.”
REBECCA WEARS THE PLUNGE IN TAUPE AND THE BIKINI IN TAUPE
“Life is definitely a richer hue now. I see so much more beauty in nature, in the small moments that are gifted to us, in the things I used to take for granted. I keep surprising myself as I continue to bounce back.”
“I won’t be who I was before all of this, and I know that. It has taken me some time to accept that. But I’m proud of who I am and what I look like in my skin. During these unfortunate illnesses, the transformation your body and mind undergoes can be extremely constructive and rather stunning – if you let it. You must practice a lot of patience, though, because those feelings don’t come overnight. It took me a long time to feel like this.”