Underwater Transformation About Face Underwater Transformation About Face

Otila – Ovarian cancer survivor

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Please drag the arrows to see before & after underwater transformation

My name is Otila Senitima Massaro. I was born in West Palm Beach, FL and raised in Daytona Beach, FL.

I currently work in a print shop responsible for color printing. Includes replication of fine art & photography as well as exhibit boards for event/convention display & legal use.

I am a musician who plays Ukulele, Bass & Violin. I play ukulele/sing in the duo named The Ukus & bass for the hardcore band FORTITUDE.

Recently I was hired as a substitute/seasonal musician for Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort!

I was diagnosed with early stage Ovarian Cancer in October 2019. I had surgery to remove two tumors & a full hysterectomy, followed by port placement & chemo. I was halfway through chemotherapy (I did lose my hair) when the state of Florida went on Covid pandemic lockdown. Remission status from July 2020- March 2022.

Recurrence in April 2022, tumor grew into my colon & attached to my bladder. I had a colon re-section & bladder scraping, ileostomy bag (3 months), followed by chemo. Currently on a tumor blocker medication; surviving with no growths as of my last CT scan.

What inspired you and why did you want to be involved in the Underwater Transformation Project?

I was recommended or nominated by professional Mermaid; all around awesome person Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid.
I know her through the Polynesian dance community as she is also a Polynesian/Hula dancer who had performed with my Mother.
She asked me if I was interested & I was FLOORED that I was given the opportunity of something so special & unique.

What were your plans for the photo shoot? Any expectations and goals?

I typically am very conscientious about how I look in photos, I never look relaxed or natural when it’s an expected click.

I just wanted to see someone that showed that I felt comfortable & owning who & what I am. I wanted to represent my cultural heritage & also my musical interests.

How was the experience with an underwater portrait session?

I feel like once I got used to the timing with Erena, that I felt really empowered & glamourous. I love the water & the way it feels, so freeing.

I didn’t have much time to practice submerging & posing since it was cold & I didn’t have access to a heated pool.

It is definitely a learning curve to pose underwater & get the motions for the camera. I had to learn to trust myself.

It was great to have Marina there with me to give me pointers & how she submerges. It is truly an art & technical craft!

The sounds underwater were interesting, quiet, but I could hear bubbles, movement & the beeps & clicks from the camera.

How was your mood after you finished?

It was such a unique experience & I felt like a movie or rock star. I mean how many people get underwater portraits taken of them?

I grew up swimming in a pool daily, I lived adjacent to the hotel where my parents had a Polynesian show. Water was such a natural thing for me.

However, I had felt so betrayed by water when our house got flooded by Hurricane Ian in 2022, we were trapped for 24 hours with water all around the bed.

Being able to be underwater, the water encompassing me, feeling free & beautiful in the sunlight. I felt like I had washed away feelings of regret & sadness.

We can’t go back to the way things were, but a fresh start. A cleansing. Being a cancer survivor I deal with survivor’s guilt & the scars left behind.

I wear those scars with honor & hope that one day no woman will have to go through what I have ever again.

What does WATER mean to you?

For me in Polyensian culture water is what unifies all the island. Islands were born from the water. Moana, the ocean, is something my family has lived with for generations.

The water brought my mother across the South Pacific all the way to Florida. Where she lived by the Atlantic Ocean & raised me.

Water is essential for life, it flows & reflects upon us always.

Do you think this experience could help overcome your trauma? 

Yes, the immersion allowed me to focus on myself. It’s hard for me to relax, my mind races constantly.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It made me feel like a model with empowering moments, there was also a calm like it was OK to let go.

How did you sleep the night of the photo shoot?

It was a long day of travel & excitement. I was still rather excited from the experience, but I slept well.

Being in South Florida there was ample sunshine & soaking up the rays, so I felt like a model who just came back from a tropical getaway.

Due to my current living situation post Hurricane Ian, tumor medication & I do travel quite often (commute), I always feel fatigued.

However, being able to stretch my muscles & float was super relaxing.

How was Erena working with you?

Erena was a complete joy to work with! I was super nervous about how it was going to go, but Erena from the moment we were introduced was just so down to earth & welcoming.

We had a video chat after the initial online meeting & she made me feel very comfortable about the situation & open about ideas for the shoot.

My advice is that if you feel lost (like me) don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions, also don’t be afraid to offer up your ideas in advance. As I learned, certain items don’t quite perform well underwater.

As in – props are OK, but you have to think how buoyancy affects it. Also, to get a certain look you may have to pick the right fabric or creative ways to achieve. Makeup! I had no idea.

I was fortunate to have an experienced underwater model as my mentor, but I would highly suggest having several ideas in case one does not work as expected.

Also, be open to just be free and creative on the spot. Definitely practicing the breathing exercises in advance, maybe not too much caffeine prior to your shoot as well. 😉

Would you recommend underwater transformation to other survivors or anyone?

I would 100% recommend underwater transformation to other survivors. I believe however anyone who’s willing to try, would benefit in some way.

What’s your dream?

I’m working hard on moving forward from the trials of the last 5 years. My dream is to be a full time entertainer that is able to plan my own days.

I’ve missed out on so much because I was scared to take a chance or didn’t have the confidence in myself. After surviving cancer, I know that it is a 2nd chance at life.

In that respect, I have definitely changed my perspective on life. Trying to eliminate procrastination, that kept me away from my island roots for too many years.

I just got my foot into the doorway of a dream job & hopefully it will blossom even more.

Never give up. Never ever give up. You are not alone & if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. There is someone out there who can help you.

There are lots of support groups who can help in many different ways – financially, support in treatment, support in recovery at all stages.

Someone can talk to you about what to expect if you were just diagnosed, there is a survivor network of experience.

Otila’s personal IG

Rock The Aloha

The Ukus (Polynesian & Hawaiian Music Duo)


FORTITUDE (Hardcore Band)

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