It was months after she got diagnosed with cancer that she was hit with the shocking reality of it all.

Sitting in the hospital waiting room where she would get radiation, Carmelina Baccari looked around at all the sick people with different types of cancer. And for the first time, it hit her like a ton of bricks.

She was sick.

Just like all the other patients in the room.

Baccari was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in October of 2014. She’d felt a pulsating on her left arm, so she listened to her body and went to a doctor. The doctor found that cancer not just in Baccari’s breast, but also in her lymph nodes. She would go through surgery, chemotherapy, and the radiation, finishing treatment in July of 2015.

“It almost felt like I was floating. I was in shock, I was afraid, sad – almost like it was surreal,” she says.

In what now seems like a twist of fate, even before Baccari was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had long been interested in doing paramedical micropigmentation- specifically, recreating the look of a nipple for those who have lost their breasts due to cancer surgeries. Also known as areola restorative tattoos, the procedures are for people whose own nipples could not be saved during mastectomies.Baccari Baccari practices her areola restorative tattooing on a breast replica in her studio in March 2019. Photo by: Cassidy McKay

But it was Baccari’s own cancer journey that pushed her to finally take her career in that journey.

Baccari took her training for areola restorative tattooing through Swiss Tech. Internationals in May of 2018.

Eleni Kappos, one of Baccari’s close friends, says she has watched Baccari grow and change throughout her cancer journey and pursuing her new career.

“You can see how her passion to help others is channelled through her work in areola restoration,” Kappos says

Because of their own personal cancer experiences, Baccari and another friend Kacie Rainey decided to partner up to start an areola restorative business. Their goal: to help women feel comfortable with their changed bodies during their cancer journey

“It’s so powerful when a woman feels whole and beautiful again,” Rainey says. “That’s the sole purpose of the work we do to help others.”

Baccari has also developed a strong social media presence by sharing her own cancer journey, mainly on Instagram, where she has 14,000 followers. She wants to help others who are going through cancer, or have been recently diagnosed with cancer. She tells them what she does to stay healthy; and what she did to physically and mentally help her through cancer treatments, such as starting to do yoga.

“She has an amazing ability to communicate, connect and relate to so many people on such a deep level,” Rainey explains. “She truly helps encourage others and shares her bright light to those who need it most.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Baccari tells the people who reach out to her that being diagnosed with cancer is a gift, even though it’s extremely difficult to go through.

“It may seem crazy at the beginning, but it makes sense later,” Baccari says, noting that getting diagnosed with cancer made her more self-aware. 

“I think the hardest thing is facing the changes in the mirror, because you are literally stripped down,” Baccari adds, as she explains the physical changes she went through, such as the hair loss and the swelling caused by chemotherapy treatments.

Baccari admits that when she was going through treatment and her hair was falling out, she would overcompensate with makeup – which she has always been passionate about – because she did not want to look sick. However, she says she never wore a wig because she wanted to “embrace” her baldness.

She explains now how losing things that she thought made her beautiful – like her hair, eyelashes and eyebrows – made her more internally “still.” The changes made her appreciate herself in a new way, she says, and made her think about what really matters.

Something that matters to her today is helping others through their own cancer journeys, which, she says, is why she wants to keep growing her business. She says her dream is to help as many people as she can with her areola restorative tattooing and to keep growing her business, as it fulfills her to see other people benefiting from her work and her story

“I just want to give back, especially because I went though it first hand,” Baccari says.

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Cassidy McKay is a lead editor at The Calgary Journal. She has a special interest in social media marketing and sports journalism.

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