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Brittany – Breast Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis Thriver

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Brittany - Breast cancer and MS thriver

 Breast cancer and MS thriver

My name is Brittany Quiroz (A HOT MS) 34 years old, born in Boston MA- grew up in Kingston Massachusetts, moved to California when I was 14 to go to the Orange County High School of the Arts, then moved to NYC for college for performing arts, then back to LA for film and tv work.

Could you tell me the history of your breast cancer, Multiple Sclerosis and survival story?

In Jan 2020, I had my first mammogram. The results showed signs of concerning cysts. They opted for a double breast biopsy and everything came back good however because my breasts were so full of cysts they were still concerned. They asked about my family history of breast cancer which was horrible and offered me to participate in genetic testing. I voted YES of course and a few weeks later found out I had tested positive for CHEK2 with a 65% risk of developing breast cancer based on my genetic testing results. I live with multiple sclerosis and will need to be on treatment medication to manage my MS until there is a cure one day. Until then I have to take treatment to reduce risk of fastening progression. Along with a lot of the medications that treat MS are cancer risks. Many being breast cancer risks. With the genetic disposition plus taking treatment to manage MS, I didn’t want to have a greater risk of hearing the “C” word. So I opted for a preventative double mastectomy to be proactive and stay in control of my body.

What inspired you to be involved in the Underwater Transformation project?

I always say I’ll try anything twice! I love the artistry behind underwater photography. It’s unique, beautiful and artistic.

What were your plans for the photo shoot?

I think in my head I was imagining my body being able to do more. But I know that I am at heart and soul a very funny quirky and awkward person. Which isn’t a bad thing. I strive to be the class clown because I’m not the most graceful person out of the water let alone IN the water. I wanted to approach my shoot with Erena from a position of growth and strength. I hope this was translated in my images. Fingers crossed. 😉

How was the experience with an underwater portrait session?

I definitely underestimated how difficult moving under water would be. Living with MS means I fight fatigue on a daily basis so I used quite a bit of energy but I like to consider myself a pro and always give 110%, even if it means it will take me days to recover after. Anything for the case of art! Am I right? I love the quiet of being underwater. Silence. Nothing. It almost causes your thoughts to be silent as well. You just have to focus on the water and not running out of air of course.

How was your mood after you finished?

I felt invigorated and pumped that I tried something new that I had always admired. But rest assured, I laid down the whole car ride home and rested. 😉

How did you sleep the night of the photo shoot?

Let’s just say I slept HARD. But again living with MS is tricky because anything and everything I do to my body has an after effect. So with that I need to be very careful of what I subject my body to. It’s definitely not easy so I’ll be taking the next few days off to recover and gain strength back. I’m one tired fishy.

What do you feel looking at your final images?

When I look at the final images I see a lot of inner frustration which is something i deal with on a daily basis living with multiple sclerosis. It’s sort of like being at constant war with your body and I see that in my expression. Living with chronic illness can often feel like you are drowning in your own body, that your body is the one in the driver seat. Yes I approach my work from a very optimistic and positive lens but the reality is that what we deal with living with MS has so many layers. There’s a continual up hill climb I face daily to navigate around what move my body decides to take next. I wasn’t really aware I was trying to convey the frustration that comes with chronic illness. But I guess that was where my instinct led me as far as artistic expression. I hope this images can express the reality of the frustrations we live with. Yes, there is so many positive things multiple sclerosis has given me but the reality is, is that it’s a daily fight that I continue to battle against.

Why did you avoid selecting your breast cancer scar images as the final picks?

It’s funny really. So when I underwent my preventative double mastectomy and immediately went from real breasts to implants for reconstruction the difference was obvious but still similar as I was swapping from natural breast tissue to reconstructed breast tissue. I was very open about my reconstruction and often shared images of it. Since going flat while yes, i know that was the best choice for my body though I’m still apprehensive about how the world will respond to it. I just have a deeper appreciation for the personal intimate side of my body now than I did a few years ago. I think it’s really important to listen to that boundary your body and mind sets for yourself and always respect it. I just view that part of my body so deeply and intimately that I hold it closer to my heart to protect it.

What does water mean to you? 

I see water as ying and yang. Powerful and intimidating yet calming and steady.

What is your dream? What’s your future?

My dream is to reach more in need of hearing my message- which is that even the most difficult things in life can have value and be the moments in which we experience the most growth in life. My goal is to continue to spread awareness for those living with multiple sclerosis and use my speaking, writing and art to inspire change and sustainable growth. From speaking on large stages, to finishing my book and incorporating my paintings in my advocacy, my mission is to widen the lens of what disability looks like and to empower those to use their disasters as the catalyst for personal growth. My art and paintings are also tied into my advocacy as I donate 50% of all proceeds to those in need of unique and beautiful mobility aids to feel more confident about using them.

Do you think this experience could help overcome your trauma? 

I think anything has the power to help overcome trauma. It’s all in the way you look at things and where you choose to see the value. Again the silence of being submerged is cathartic and peaceful so I see tons of value in that. I think my body’s physical stamina and limitations may have placed me in a “well I gave it my best shot” stance. I’d LOVE to do another shoot but fear my body wouldn’t be up for it. (As I sit here trying to avoid an ear infection from clogged ears haha) Having MS just means my body is very fragile and sensitive. Plus I’m prone to severe ear infections so next time I would opt to keep my head above water. Haha. But nevertheless, I’m grateful for the chance to work with Erena and experience this. Sometimes I underestimate my physical limitations and try to “pretend” to be “normal” when in reality my body needs to be treated more gently. MS means you get really good at listening to your body and adjusting.

How was Erena working with you?

She was excellent at making me feel comfortable and beautiful (despite me feeling like a flailing underwater monster) haha. She has a very peaceful energy and calmness that was lovely to work with!

Would you recommend underwater transformation to other survivors or anyone?

I would because I think it’s a fabulous way to artistically express your message. It’s really a “thinking outside the box” way of communicating a story. Plus I think everyone should try new and exciting things in life.

Life is always going to throw you a curve ball and it’s really easy to get caught up in the negative. I truly believe that everything in life holds value. Even the not so perfect parts of life. You can find the takeaways and value in anything in life if you chose to widen your perception and open your mind a little bit more than you would usually. Being transparent about the difficult things we go through I believe not only helps up process obstacles more effectively but it also allows us to be relatable to someone else going through a similar circumstance. You never know whose perception you have the power to change by acknowledging the difficult parts of life. Vulnerability is a superpower. So revel in the hard parts of yourself and life. Brag about your messes and disasters. Be open. Be honest. Be transparent. Your honesty has the power to impact the lives of others. Never underestimate your ability to impact change.

Thank you, Brittany for trusting me to work on my prooject. I hope to see you again underwater~~

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