There is immeasurable beauty in strength and no one knows that better than Meghan Koziel.
On Oct. 12, 2015, the Northeast Pennsylvania native and then-26-year-old was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. As Meghan began treatment, she started a blog, She Sparkles On, to document her cancer journey for family and friends and possibly help others undergoing the same process. A huge beauty enthusiast, Meghan used beauty as a form of self-care during the treatment process and shared her tips and thoughts on beauty, skin care and more on her blog. Meghan’s openness and explicit storytelling led her blog and her story to be shared on media outlets across the world.
Today, the Pocono Mountain West High School and Misericordia University graduate is 29 and cancer-free, living in Pittsburgh with her husband, John, and their newborn daughter, Kendra Jane. (Partially named for her oncologist, Jane Raymond.) Meghan still manages her blog and and advocates, educates and spreads awareness on breast cancer.
Meghan recently spoke with Hey, Beautiful on her experience, beauty and self-care through breast cancer and “sparkling on.”
I believe when you look good, you feel good. Tell me how you kept yourself feeling as good as you possibly could during treatment for breast cancer.
Cancer treatments affect every single inkling of you, both inside and out. While chemo, radiation or other medications are killing off the cells inside your body, a depressing side effect is that they can’t pick and choose what (cells) to kill — that affects your outward appearance. It sucks looking into the mirror and seeing a stranger staring back. For me, there was one thing I could hold onto that I had the choice of whether or not cancer could kill and that was my vibe or spirit — my sparkle. At the time I was diagnosed, I was spending hundreds of dollars a month on my hair, nails, lashes and makeup. (Keeping up with) the makeup and lashes and sparkle made me feel beautiful and like I was doing the killing — of my cancer. By keeping my mind positive, I had complete control.
Tell me about your experience with your hair. Did you decide to wear wigs?
I shaved my hair off before I started treatments because I did not want cancer to take one more thing away from me. I may look all smiles in my pictures but shaving my head was probably the hardest thing about the whole journey. When the stubble began falling out in patches, I straight-razored it all off and it was the best thing I could have ever done. I would put regular, cheap Dollar Store hair gel in my hand and mix in some loose glitter, then rub it on my head and used my sparkle to make me feel beautiful. I cruised around Amazon for some fun wigs because when else in my life would it be acceptable for me to wear pink or blue hair? I was very fortunate that a company my sister did work for, L’avant Garde Hair, actually took my long ponytails and turned them into a wig for me. Some women rock the head-wrap or hats. For those girls looking for options, reach out to your local branch of American Cancer Society. They have programs that provide free wigs to women with cancer.
Let’s talk about different hair loss — eyebrows and lashes. What were some of your must-have products throughout treatment?
Tarte Cosmetics Amazonian Clay Waterproof Brow Mousse was amazing when I was brow-less. I used a small brow brush and literally would draw my brows on every day and would never have to worry about having to redo them every couple of hours. You do not know how useful lashes are until you do not have any. I used fake lashes every day through treatment. My favorite lash glue is by Kiss and you must use the clear version. The dark tone would burn my eyes and that never happened with the clear version. For lashes, Ardell Wispies (in Black) look the most natural and you can find them in any drugstore. I found Broadway Eyes (in Black #202) at the Dollar Store. Crazy eyeshadow palettes with bright colors, liquid eyeliners, they can conceal the fact that you don’t have lashes. Get on YouTube or head to Sephora or Ulta and let the masters do their work.
Any more hero products as far as skin care and makeup?
You do have to be careful when choosing new (skin care) products once on chemo because your skin does change. I became so much more sensitive. I was OBSESSED all around with IT Cosmetics. Confidence in a Cream was heaven in a jar. I did find that during chemo, I needed a good primer for my makeup to last all day and I used NYX Photo-Loving Primer. And get yourself a real Beauty Blender. I used it for primer and foundation and it’s gentle on your skin and gives you that sort of airbrush finish. One thing that doesn’t go anywhere throughout treatment are those lips so work it, girl! I was always a clear lip gloss girl prior to cancer, but I got obsessed with a bright lip — Jeffree Star Cosmetics Velour Liquid Lipsticks. (Shades) “Mannequin,” “Unicorn Blood” and “Prom Night” were some favorites. Through treatments, your lips may get more dry than normal. I used Burt’s Bee’s Beeswax Lip Balm and put my color right on top of it.
Are there any beauty companies that give back to cancer research or help those on their cancer journeys that you love? Tell me about your beauty/skin/hair routine post-chemo.
Thrive Causemetics (started by a woman in honor of her friend who died of cancer) is a fantastic organization that uses all clean ingredients and every product is named for a real woman who not only survived but thrives (cancer, domestic violence, etc.). Rx Canna Care also makes donations and gets their products into the hands of those going through treatments because they are who need it most. After chemo, I definitely had to change my products just because my skin changed, hair changed, everything changed! I also read ingredients more often. I started taking biotin until I realized it had soy in it and soy is contraindicative when you have a hormone-driven cancer so I immediately stopped that. Things that have remained the same are my use of Pureology Hair Care (I always say my hair growth post-chemo has to do with using Pureology products), Rx Canna Care for skin care and pain management and Jeffree Star.
What did your cancer journey teach you about beauty, inside and out? Do you use this knowledge to continue your advocacy?
The greatest thing I’ve learned in all of this is if we can do small things to make ourselves feel and look a bit more like your “normal” self, along with a bit of well-deserved pampering, it really does help with our confidence and general well-being.This is for anybody, not just us lucky few who are going through cancer treatments. To “Sparkle On” means that even on your most challenging days, the days where you’re bald, have dark circles and skin hurts so badly you can hardly move, you will not feel pretty on the outside but you will always have that inner sparkle inside your heart that makes you shine. My greatest goal is to continue to advocate, share my story, encourage other women to share their story and to be the best mom I can be as I thrive to survive!
Lots of people think beauty and skin care are frivolous and vain, but I think we are our best and strongest selves when we feel good and look good. Explain how you relate beauty to strength.
I think with beauty comes strength. When you are ripped to your rawest form, you don’t feel beautiful—- I’d be shocked if you found a chemo patient who felt more beautiful bald and exhausted! But with makeup, you are able to enhance your attributes and still feel like you. You are able to add some color which then brightens your look and overall life! Makeup is like art — it’s like colored TV! Everyone enjoys color more than black and white!
You just welcomed a baby girl last month. What do you hope she learns about beauty, strength and being her best self?
My hope for Kendra is that she will be able to learn and grow with love in her heart and creativity in her spirit. From there, I will teach her about makeup and beauty and it will be up to her to use those tools to feel like her most beautiful self. We start babies from the youngest of age (well, I have, anyway) making them individuals through the accessories — through the bows or flower headbands, fur coats or boots. It’s cute, it’s harmless. When she looks back on her baby pictures, I hope she sees the love that I have for her to take the time and make her my little baby doll! The most important lessons are learned right now — teaching her inner beauty and lessons in strength. The outer beauty will come naturally.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT