Kara Skaflestad, August 2021
Kara Frazier's Story Behind Beauty
Kara Frazier is the Founder of Fighting Pretty, helping more women battling cancer feel strong and beautiful through their programs. Her journey with Fighting Pretty started with her own cancer journey. We chatted about that journey and how it shaped the woman she has become and her organization! Let's hear Kara's story from Kara herself!
My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 47 and battled cancer for over 30 years. In 2008, when I was 26, living in NYC, I signed up for my first cancer walk in honor of my Mema. She passed away days before the walk. It was absolutely devastating. A few months later, I was in the shower and decided to do a self-breast exam and sure enough – it was stage 3, Her2+, estrogen receptive breast cancer. I was scared, but my mom was shattered. She had just lost her mom to cancer, and now her 26 year old daughter was just diagnosed.
At this time, I was by far the youngest person I knew that had breast cancer.
During my treatment, my best friend’s mom, also a breast cancer survivor, sent me a pair of mini pink boxing gloves as a reminder to stay strong and keep fighting. I looked at those gloves every single day as I got dressed, put on my hot pink lipstick and tried to remember how strong and beautiful I was in spite of what I saw in the mirror.
A few years after my cancer treatments were over, I still looked at those gloves as my hair grew back, my scars faded and things started to feel a bit “normal” again. Then, a family friend was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and was having a very hard time. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew my “fight” was over and hers had just begun. I sent some bright lipstick, a scarf and my strength packaged up with my little mini pink gloves – the ultimate reminder to stay strong. Shortly thereafter, people kept reaching out to me asking how to help their friends battling cancer. And each time, I sent them a Pretty Package similar to the one I sent Jenn. So, I started Fighting Pretty, a non-profit organization to help all women battling all types of cancer feel strong and beautiful.
What led you to going Flat? For those reading "going flat" refers to women who decided not to have reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy.
At my diagnosis, I only had breast cancer in my left breast. My surgeon stated there was a 1% chance – every year – of getting breast cancer in my right breast. At the time, I was only 26. So that meant, by 36, I had a 10% chance, and 46, I’d have a 20% chance of cancer recurrence. I was determined to do whatever I could to never hear the words “you have cancer” again; so the decision was simple: I opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction. My plastic surgeon recommended the natural looking option – the Allergan textured implant. This was 12 years ago.
It took many years to come to terms with my new “fake boobs” (aka “foobs”) but had finally embraced my new body. Then in 2019, I received a call from my plastic surgeon saying my MRI went well – the implants are intact, BUT the implants are recalled and causing a rare form of lymphoma in women who have had them between 10-15 years.
I immediately started bawling. I thought for sure I had cancer again. I quickly got myself together and made the decision then and there, I was getting them removed. Back in 2009, I promised myself I would do everything in my power to never hear the words “you have cancer” again. Plus, I was afraid new implants could be recalled again! The facts made the decision simple: I would go flat.
Who were your support people?
When I heard about the recall on my implants, I was devastated and went to the dark place. I immediately thought I was going to die. I cried to my best friend Ashley and she stopped me dead in my tracks. She gave me the exact kind of tough love I needed in that moment. She said, “Kara, you are not dying. You do NOT have cancer. You have implants that need to come out. So we’re going to get those f*ckers out and you’re going to live to be 100. And that’s final.” I cried, I laughed and I scheduled my surgery.
Then there’s my Ben. Ben and I started dating in January 2019, and exactly a year later I had my breasts removed (again). He has been so incredibly supportive and even during my surgery, reached out to 100 of my closest friends and family across the country to send me “get well / Fighting Pretty” messages that knocked me off my feet. I came home from surgery with a wall full of imagery and support reminding me that I am strong, I am beautiful and I am loved by many.
Since then, Ben was actually diagnosed with Melanoma in May – and what a scare. He had surgery and got a huge chunk of cancer taken out of his body. The two of us have bound together like never before. He is my rock. He is my everything. We got engaged in December 2020 surrounded by my family, and got married in July! We could not be happier and I am so lucky I found him. My mom came to visit for the week after my surgery. But since the beginning, my mom and sister have been my support system since day 1. Back in 2008, when I was first diagnosed, they came to appointments, chemo treatments, surgeries, check-ups and all the small celebrations we had along the way. My sister is my “umbrella” and my mom is as tough as nails. They have been through it all and continue to lift me up every day.
Share with us the physical, but also the emotional and mental struggles when deciding to go flat.
Deciding to go flat was the easy part. But living regular life with no breast tissue, no reconstruction and a whole new body – again – is the hard part. My surgery was in January 2020, right before the pandemic, and in some ways there was a silver lining. I didn’t have to get dressed for work, or go anywhere for that matter. So I didn’t really have to confront this massive change in my body. However, that’s the negative too. It’s May 2021, and I still haven’t really embraced my new body, and it’s a struggle every day.
I get out of the shower and stare at this unfamiliar body looking back at me. When I look at this woman, she looks raw and sewn up. She looks like my grandmother who battled cancer for over 30 years, who was poked and prodded and never really recovered. However, when I really stare at myself, I also see the strong, resilient woman who is Fighting Pretty through it all.
I was diagnosed back in 2008, and so much has changed since then. I was the only person I knew diagnosed in my 20’s, but now, there are so many more programs and resources for women battling cancer of all ages. I do wish the information sharing for cancer patients wasn’t so segmented.
Back then, I don’t think “going flat” was ever talked about as an option, because even reconstruction was quite new. And honestly, at 26, I’m not sure I would have been confident enough to go flat.
Since going flat, have you met other women who have gone through this and did you find it helpful finding that support in the community?
Before I went flat, I met the most amazing woman ever – Rachel Peterson – who we actually honored at our Fighting Pretty gala in 2019, before COVID hit. She was the first young woman I knew that was flat, and she is the ultimate definition of what Fighting Pretty is all about.
Ironically, I’ve never been one to join support groups and share about what cancer issues I’m facing in a group setting, but knowing there are people around who have experienced what I am going through makes it all much easier to navigate.
In addition, as the face of Fighting Pretty, it keeps me motivated and empowered to find my inner strength and share that with the Fighting Pretty community. So speaking about my experiences helps me, and hopefully helps others too.
Kara, what makes you uniquely beautiful?
When I was a young girl in grade school, I lacked self-confidence, and it wasn’t until I lost my hair, my eyelashes and my breasts that I finally realized what made me beautiful – and it has nothing to do with what’s on the outside.
I started to look at myself in the mirror – not at my assets – but into my eyes and into my soul. Instead of focusing on my body, my hair and my physique, I looked at myself and though, “would I want to hang out with me? Would I want to be friends with me?”
And the answer is yes. I love myself, and want others to feel comfortable about saying that about themselves. For some reason, in society, we aren’t allowed to say we love ourselves, but the only person you have control over is you. So why not work to be the best version of you?
So my unique beauty are the things I love about myself:
I care for others.
I wear my heart on my sleeve.
I want to help others I listen and try to help find solutions.
I love having fun and laughing I enjoy meeting new people and making connections.
I thrive on inspiration.
Do you or someone you know have an amazing story that you want to share? Through all of our life struggles, we firmly believe that your beauty shines through it all. If you think you have an interesting story behind your brand of beauty, we're looking for real women, with real life stories, to share with our community. Fill out our survey to share it with us!SUBMIT YOUR STORY HERE