How This Model Continues to Thrive With Cancer

Chiara D’Agostino is not your typical fashion model. She's opinionated, radically honest about her emotions, and most impressively, unapologetically herself. After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at age 42, life as she knew it came to a halt. After getting a double mastectomy, and subsequently breast implants, she thought she had things under control. But once inside her body, her implants continually got infected and she was left with no option except to get rid of her implants for good.  Chiara's path to accepting - and loving - her body has become an inspiration to women around the world. 

Tell us a little bit about your struggle with breast cancer.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. I had just come back from getting my master’s degree in Florence, Italy. In August of 2014, at age 42, I got a mammogram and everything was fine. A month later though, the night before my birthday, I found a lump in my breast. The doctor told me that I had a really aggressive form of breast cancer. I found out that the reason my lump had gone unnoticed about a month before was because I have “dense breast tissue” which unfortunately hides tumors really well. (I now tell people to ask your doctor if you have dense breast tissue, which is hard to self-diagnose! If you do, then you should ask your doctor about getting mammograms via ultrasound).   I ended up choosing to get a double mastectomy after my diagnosis and lived cancer free for about one and a half years. Unfortunately, though, the cancer came back, and spread to my lymph nodes and other parts of my body, and I’m continuing to thrive with cancer.

Why did you choose to get a double mastectomy?

At the time, it was because I didn’t want to feel lopsided. I’m a visual person, I wanted my breasts to match and I thought that symmetry would make me more attractive to men. (I now can’t believe that that was part of my reasoning!)   I believed that getting implants would allow me to feel more like a woman because I’d have a “female shape.” Plus, a neighbor told me I’d have the best rack on the block! The idea intrigued me. But ultimately, I was angry at my decision to put my body through more surgery in order to fit into some idea of femininity that I had grown up with. The implant surgeries did me more harm than good. I ultimately chose to have my implants come out, which was a powerful decision for me.

Can you talk more about why you chose to remove your implants?

Basically, my implants continually took turns getting infected. Up until August of 2016 I was in the hospital with an infected implant. Finally, when I got yet another infection in December of 2016, I said f*ck this take them both out. Now, my chest is flat, and I have scar tissue where my breasts and implants used to be. I remember taking a photo of myself post-implants, and seeing how relieved and free I looked in that photo. It was absolutely the right decision to have my implants removed.

How did your life change after you had your implants removed?

Well for one, I can actually feel people when I’m hugging them! But the true blessing of going flat was connecting with the “flat community.” Once I found a community of others like myself I started to feel more beautiful.

How did you find this “flat community?”

About a month before my flat surgery I came across an article in the New York Times which featured gorgeous, powerful and artsy photos of flat women. When I saw those photos, I was like holy sh*t, you can be hot, strong, and flat! Before that article, photos of flat women I had seen scared me, they seemed solemn and unfeminine. The visuals of flat women really helped me come to terms with going flat. So much so that I decided to reach out to the featured women on Facebook and become friends with them. We actually ended up all meeting up!

So, in a sense, I ended up creating a community for myself.

How have you used your platform to share your journey?

I used to be an Italian teacher, but ever since my diagnosis, I haven’t been able to work. So, I try to use the platform that I do have to be radically honest about my journey and to make a difference by putting my story out there. I share the intimate details of what I’m going through, and the emotional ups and downs my journey brings, on my Instagram. For example, after getting my mastectomy, I didn’t know how invasive the procedure was going to be. I shared my story, bloody tubes and all, to serve as education for people who may be headed down that path at some point in their lives.   Beyond sharing my story on social media, I’ve also been featured in photoshoots and fashion shows to bring positive media attention to mastectomies and breast cancer. In 2016, I walked in a fashion show for Anaono, who designs lingerie for breast cancer patients. I walked again for her in 2017 for her debuting the first bra made for flat women, the Chiara bra. 

Photographed by Carey Kirkella for Anaono

Flat bra for Anaono 

I have a different body now, and it kind of sucks. I wouldn't have chosen it. But this is my body now and I’m still alive. I’ve gone through hell and am proud of my scars. What am I going to do, hide, and be ashamed? No, because I haven’t done anything wrong. So I’m going to continue to be unapologetically myself. I’m spiritual. I pray to god often, and ask Him why I’m still alive and how I can help others all the time. I believe that my purpose is to give a voice to people who don’t have one.

How do you practice self-love?

Well for one, I have no tits, I’m single, and in my 40s, so I better f*cking figure out how to accept myself!  [Laughs] But in all seriousness, self-love and self-acceptance is a lifelong journey. There's a saying that I have on my Facebook page from Sting’s song Englishman in New York that says, “be yourself no matter what they say.” Before, I used to internalize that message from the inside out, but now, also from the outside in. Growing up, people used to tell me to shut up and get out of the way a lot. I remember thinking to myself, are my insides ugly? I used to have a mantra that was about always being yourself no matter what. When I was younger, I was focused a lot more on accepting the “inside” of my body: my personality. But now that my physical body has changed, I think about that same mantra, now focusing on accepting my “outside” too.

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