Empowering Breast Cancer Patients Through Art and Community

To distract herself from the harsh side effects of cancer treatment, Marquina Iliev-Piselli — a 38-year-old digital marketer and Weill Cornell Medicine patient — started the Glam Chemo Project in 2015.

While she received cancer-fighting drugs at the Weill Cornell Breast Center, Marquina staged glamorous photo shoots, complete with gowns, jewelry and wigs.

The project, she later told People magazine, not only distracted her from chemotherapy's side effects; it lifted nearby patients' spirits as well and the photos helped her feel better, especially on tough days.

“I’d look at the pretty ones and think, ‘I’m not as hideous as I feel. I’m not as depressed as I feel. If I have to, if I need to, I can pull it together,’ ” she told People magazine.

It was this experience that encouraged Marquina — who is now in remission — to start the first-ever Breast Cancer Women’s Empowerment Project, a series of body paint and photography sessions held last autumn at the Weill Cornell Breast Center.

“My goal for the Women’s Empowerment Project at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Breast Center was to get a group of women battling breast cancer to come together and create an uplifting experience focused around body positivity and community,” she told the Huffington Post

“By doing so, my hope was that each person would find a new way of viewing herself, create a different relationship to her body, and perhaps make a new friend.”

The women found the experience empowering, and appreciated gathering with others who had similar experiences.

"I got more out of this project than I ever could have imagined because of the positivity in the room and the wonderful women," Marquina told Health Matters. "Seeing each individual come out of their shell in front of a camera and reflecting this powerful version of themselves was inspiring."

Learn more about the projects at the links below.