Caitlin Kiernan was working as Life & Style magazine’s beauty director when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 at the age of 42.
Despite rounds of chemotherapy, she said her illness went mostly unnoticed, thanks to the cosmetics tips she received from industry experts she had on her speed dial.
“All the information I was getting wasn’t out there,” Kiernan told us when chatting about her newly released book, “Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women with Cancer.”
“Medical books are really sterile and kind of depressing and don’t really address the cosmetics end of cancer,” she explained. Plus, as anyone who has Googled a symptom before knows, “The web is just a scary place. All the information is very dramatic and it’s not vetted.”
It was a couple years into her treatment that Kiernan (who worked throughout the process) got the idea to write the book. Spurred by compliments from colleagues who didn’t know she was ill, combined with her newfound knowledge and experience, the Bronx resident wanted to share the tips that helped her maintain her sense of self “and take control over the disease a little bit.”
In “Pretty Sick” Kiernan presents an extensive resource for cancer patients, addressing everything from hair loss and wig selection to the less-expected aspects of treatment, like its impact on the sense of smell. Makeup and skin care recommendations are included, as well as insight into surgery and life after treatment.
“There are so many things that you know to expect, but then there’s a lot of things that you don’t know,” Kiernan said.
“Nobody really talks about how your sense of smell changes and how that’s going to play into your getting-ready routine. No one talks about how your body wash can create scent memories that remind you forever of your chemotherapy sessions.”
These topics haven’t been covered before for complex reasons, Kiernan said. But now, she noted, advances in cancer treatment have allowed patients to lead more active lives. “It used to be that women would sit home and hibernate during cancer recovery because the medicine they were on was really harsh. Now we’ve been able to manage that a little better,” Kiernan said.
“[Creating] this book was really less about looking pretty as it was empowering cancer patients to take control so that they could take care of themselves and feel good about their lives,” Kiernan said. “I mean, you’re fighting like hell to live, so enjoy your life! Be comfortable in your own skin.”