‘I’m breastless, kidless and in the menopause at 36’

Lottie Rennie tells Philippa Blakeley about the trauma of being diagnosed with cancer – and her long journey to recovery.

Lottie Rennie and her husband, Tim, sat on the sofa in a dreary, sun-starved side room at the hospital – no windows, plain walls, nothing.

The only thing to look at was the empty box of tissues which sat on the table.

For Lottie, this was only the start of her long and often isolating journey navigating the foreign world of being a cancer patient.

Four weeks earlier in September 2017, Lottie had been going about her life as a 33-year-old, nothing out of the ordinary.

It was a Sunday when she first felt a shooting pain in her left breast. After feeling around, felt what everyone dreads.  A lump.  

After going to the doctors, Lottie was sent for core biopsies in both the right and left breast.

“This was first part which affected me the most, I wasn’t expecting it at all. Because I went to a private hospital, they were done there and then,

“My husband, Tim, said that after I just didn’t speak the rest of the day,” said Lottie.

Throughout her whole journey, she did all the procedural appointments on her own.

“I don’t know why I did them alone, I felt impulsed too, I think for protection really,” said Lottie.

At this first appointment, she was sat in the waiting room with another lady who said “you won’t have it, you’re too young.”

But cancer does not discriminate. Not on age, nor anything else for that matter.

Lottie was to find this out for herself when on Friday, October 13, she got told she had a two-centimetre tumour in her left breast.

However, she was told by the consultant it would likely be a small surgery and most likely she would just need chemo tablets.

An MRI scan later and she was sent to a breast cancer clinic. “The nurse took us into the side room, there was just a sofa, just an empty box of tissues and a sofa. Sat in that room made us feel like it was bad news. We’d already decided it was Stage 4,

“That when I was told the tumour was actually 8.7cm. That evening I felt like I’d been given a death sentence,” said Lottie, from Leicestershire.

After doing lots of research, she discovered tumours from lobular cancer can often be very large which meant while 8.7cm was bigger than expected, it wasn’t necessarily the “death sentence” she initially thought.

It was at this point Lottie was told she would need six months of chemotherapy and could possibly lose her hair.

Rather than taking the risk of losing her hair further down the line, she got on the front foot and had it shaved off.

“I wanted to take control. I enjoyed trying different wigs and hair colours. My hair did continue to grow throughout, but I never regretted shaving it off,” she said.

Then came the day, December 5, 2017, the first day of chemotherapy.

“The first two rounds, I was really emotional. I was always the youngest in the room and people would be staring. They were probably thinking who had it out of me and my husband,” said Lottie.

Three months in and Lottie, went for a mid-chemo scan. Despite the oncologist being adamant the lump wouldn’t shrink; Lottie was convinced it felt different.

Results day came. The oncologist was almost crying. “It had shrunk, she didn’t know why, she didn’t know how,” said Lottie.

After a further three months of chemo, discussions then started about the next steps. The discovery of Lottie having the BRCA2 gene meant that she was much more susceptible to the cancer returning.

She was given various options, a wide local excision, a single mastectomy or a double mastectomy.

“I remember as clear as day, I just said to the oncologist ‘you’re taking them both off, both off at the same time’,” said Lottie.

On June 14, 2018, Lottie had both her breasts removed.

She then began a three-week course of radiotherapy, which went fairly smoothly.

For the first four to five months post-surgery, Lottie wouldn’t look or touch her scars and her husband, Tim, did all the aftercare.

“I was happy with my decision, I found it easy because I am very much all or nothing,

“If I’d just had the wide local excision, I would have always been questioning if it was gone, I couldn’t have lived with not having it done,” she said.

Her team at the hospital knew this, so one time they were draining her wounds, they said it had started bleeding and asked her to put her hand over it.

From that point onwards, she gradually began touching them more and more.

Then in February 2019, Lottie decided to have a full hysterectomy due to the risks of having the BRCA2 gene.

“So now I’m breastless, kid-less and in the menopause at 36,” she said.

As time went on, Lottie realised she had less control over her emotions than she initially thought.

“We call them Lottie meltdowns

“I have this overwhelming feeling of hurt. People presume I’ve got a family, now people wouldn’t even know I’d been ill,” she said.

Lottie’s problems all came to a head last June.

“I had a really bad one, I smashed something and gashed my arm. I needed six stitches, I had flesh hanging out,

“It made me realise, even though I felt suicidal, I didn’t actually want to die,” said Lottie.

Since this, Lottie has made a conscious effort to turn her life around by going to the gym and continuing her cold-water swimming, something which she had loved doing prior to her cancer journey.

“It made me realise it’s not all about the breasts, but I’ve got an ass too,” said Lottie.

In the last three years since her diagnosis, Lottie has even swum in the Arctic circle – something which most of us could only ever dream of doing.

“There is more to me than cancer and being breastless,” said Lottie, her strength shining through.

Meet the hijabi makeup artists taking over social media

Beauty is inspired by all walks of life, writes Isatou Ndure. Beauty is diversity. These hijabi makeup artists – some professional and some just incredibly talented makeup lovers – are going to have you tapping away on Instagram and TikTok. They all post tutorials with stunning results, product reviews and tips whilst expressing themselves creatively through makeup while wearing a hijab. 

Rafiqah Abdullah Akhdar, 20-year-old from Connecticut

What would you say is your beauty signature? 

“My signature would probably be my base. I’ve spent so much time trying to learn how to successfully achieve a good base routine and now I feel like I’ve successfully mastered my routine. I was always so afraid of foundation and nervous about the finish but now that I can successfully do my base I get so happy just to see my growth.”

How important has makeup been to you?

“Makeup has been my lifeline, especially during this pandemic. Makeup was always a way to express myself and my creativity but with the pandemic makeup became a whole new art form for me.”

Besides being a makeup artist, what other things do you do?

“I have a YouTube channel that I honestly haven’t been very active on recently but I’m trying to work on it more since it’s my true passion. I’m currently in my Junior year at UCONN Stamford. I’m getting my Bachelors of Arts in Communications. I also work as a fragrance advisor at Nordstrom.” 

You represent a side of beauty we don’t get to see much, do you think hijabi makeup artists are important in our society and why? 

“Hijabi makeup artists are important because everyone wants/needs representation, we all want to see someone who looks like us in positive positions especially when we’d like to be in the same one. When I was younger I always wanted to go on America’s Next Top Model and when I always talked about this dream as a child I would say I wanted to be the first hijabi to do so to show people were here and we can thrive in the industry. I wanted to be able to show other girls who looked like me that they could complete their dreams while still maintaining their faith. Obviously, that’s not the route I’d be talking about now. Hijabis are widely misjudged in the western world so seeing so many hijabis happily being themselves online is just so amazing.”

What is your favourite makeup trend/ look right now?

“I’ve been loving all of the new trends that have been coming out this past year but my top favourite is definitely the effect of Euphoria. Looks with graphic liner and rhinestones have been the funniest and best looks I’ve done. Euphoria really made a wave within the beauty community and I love every effect that it has.”

What are your holy grail makeup products that you’d recommend to all makeup starters? 

“My top three referrals are Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer, NARS Natural Radiant Foundation and the Lancôme Long time no shine translucent powder. Hydro Grip is the best primer I’ve ever tried. It feels tacky when you rub it in but that makes your foundation latch on even better. The NARS foundation has been my holy grail for about three years and I will always love it. It gives the perfect skin-like finish and you can build the coverage to full. The final holy grail product is definitely the most unexpected. I have never tried a powder like the Lancome Long time no shine powder. It sets the foundation amazingly but it never dries out my skin and it works well with every foundation I’ve tried it with so far. These items are a little pricey but trust me when I say they are WELL worth it!”

Shamsi, 21-year-old freelance makeup artist from Toronto

What would you say is your beauty signature? 

“I would say my signature would have to be my eyeshadow looks. I’m only saying that because that’s what a lot of people recognized me for recently. If it were up to me the sole focus would be my base; meaning my foundation routine. I think people would say my signature is eyeshadow mainly because I showcase colours and techniques for an application that many haven’t learned yet and that is what creates the interest. They’re able to see colour and wearable looks all paired together with the idea that even if you are a beginner, it is possible to achieve.”

How important has makeup been to you?

“Makeup has always been a large part of my life since I was about 12 years old. I remember wanting to start a YouTube page about makeup with one of my friends at the time because I was so in love with the versatility of it and all the possibilities it had to offer. When I learned I was capable of covering up my acne scars using makeup, it became an even bigger part of my life. I’ve always found the process of application therapeutic as well as the self-care aspect of removing the makeup afterwards and following it up with skincare. I may not have realised it at the time, but growing up makeup has played a huge role in nurturing my creative side.”

Besides being a makeup artist, what other things do you do?

“Freelance work isn’t my main career path. I am a Registered Social Service Worker (RSSW) and focus the majority of my time on that part of my life. I know I would love the idea of focusing on social media very soon, however, if we’re talking long term? My life’s work needs to be in the service of others. I’ve always found comfort in advocating for social issues and challenging societal norms in creating anti-oppressive spaces and in a way,  I channel that with my makeup and my TikTok personality.”

You represent a side of beauty we don’t get to see much, do you think hijabi makeup artists are important in our society and why?

“I think hijabi makeup artists, BLACK hijabi makeup artists, have completely challenged the beauty and fashion industry. Speaking specifically about black hijabi women in the field of influencers, seeing as how that’s the intersectionality we’re discussing. Women like Aysha Harun, Shahd Batal, Chinutay, Enimsay, and so many more have challenged the standard of beauty in recent years and have made it feel possible for others like me, to imagine a society where someone who looks like me can be accepted. And if they don’t accept it? Too bad because we’re not going anywhere.”

What is your favourite makeup trend/ look right now?

“My favourite beauty trend right now has to be the minimal, soft, natural look. The blush replacing bronzer, as well as for opting for a dark brown liner over black has created such a soft and subtle look that is achievable by all skin types and skin tones.”

What are your holy grail makeup products that you’d recommend to all makeup starters? 

“My holy grail products would have to include; 

  • The Neutrogena Hydro Boost sunscreen (because sun protection is vital to a smooth base)
  • Benefit 24-hour brow setter
  • NYX butter glosses
  • Real Techniques face sponge

These products can be used by anyone and everyone and are great for getting into makeup and are more affordable than other products.”

Sumaya Yusuf, 21-year-old from Minnesota

What would you say is your beauty signature?

“I would say my beauty signature look would definitely be the base. So primer, foundation, concealer, powder, and contour, a corny phrase I like to say is, “if your base don’t look right, your face don’t look right.”

How important has makeup been to you?

“Makeup has been important in my life because it allows me to express myself. I like to look at it like art, you’re constantly creating masterpieces and other times failing and learning new things. It’s something fun to do.”

Besides being a makeup artist, what other things do you do?

“Besides doing makeup I’m a full-time college student and I also work part-time. Makeup is just a stress reliever I like to do when I’m not too busy.”

You represent a side of beauty we don’t get to see much, do you think hijabi makeup artists are important in our society and why?

“I think it’s important because I’m representing a side of beauty that only focuses on the face. By that, I mean lots of hijabis can’t express themselves with their hair publicly so if they see another girl who loves to create art on their face it shines a light on that. It definitely did for me because I grew up watching some of my favourite YouTubers, like Aysha Harun.”

What is your favourite makeup trend/ look right now?

My favourite trend on TikTok would definitely be recreating looks from Pinterest. I’ve done a couple on my page and it’s exciting because you get to take a shot at something simply by looking at it. You don’t know what the products were used you’re just starting with a blank canvas.”

What are your holy grail makeup products that you’d recommend to all makeup starters?

“My holy grail makeup product would be the jet-black liquid eyeliner from e.l.f. I’m not joking when I say I’ve been using it for five years on every single look I’ve done. It’s something that I struggled with at first but then kept practising and now I can finally say I’ve mastered the art of eyeliner.”

Jeffrey Lewis: ‘Each album feels like some miraculous thing that I might not ever be able to repeat’

New York singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis discusses loneliness, luck and his love of comic books with Samuel Hornsby.

It’s the end of January but Jeffrey Lewis still has his Christmas tree up. On the wall hangs a homemade collage of ‘The Terminator’ with the head of ‘Lou Reed’. The off-kilter appearance of the interior matches the appearance of its occupant, who some might judge as a bit of an oddball. Such things do not bother him though.

As he potters about his cramped New York apartment on video call, there is a sense of self awareness about his eccentricities which he has often embraced and elaborated on in his art.

“Just because something isn’t in the charting Top 100 doesn’t mean that it’s a failure or that it has no great quality or spirit,” Jeffrey says.

“I don’t think there could be a world in which artist like Kevin Coyne, Daniel Johnston and Jeffrey Lewis are at the top of the charts. We don’t make music that makes sense for most people. It isn’t what they’re looking for. When you’re making stuff yourself you just do what feels exciting to you. I don’t make a song or a comic book with the intention of having a sales target or popularity.”

The music of Jeffrey Lewis has often been labelled anti-folk. The artist himself describes his style as “New York City rock ‘n’ roll with a lot of attention to the lyrics” and draws songwriting influences from the likes of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman, Bob Dylan and, in particular, Daniel Johnston.

“Hearing the work of Daniel Johnston showed me a way to make music in the vein that I was making comic books. Daniel showed a way that just your own personality, humour and emotions could translate into making great songs. That was really a revelation to me.

“I graduated from school and suddenly I was out in the real world without much of a social scene. I was just living a very typical starving artist life. I was home most of the time and working jobs, but I had no money,” he says.

“At that point making comic books wasn’t enough to fill all my loneliness and boredom so I started writing songs. Then I found myself going to open-mic nights and performing them. My musical career came out of a big personal void and the pain of being alone. Humans are tribal creatures and if we’re severed from a social scene you almost feel this physical pain from the isolation. All of that emotion went into the music which were like lullabies that I would sing to myself, along with a bit of humour.”

Though Jeffrey found a cathartic release through music his first love was comic books, a passion he has had since childhood and has persisted ever since.

“It’s funny. I was just stumbling on a batch of old comics from when I was a little kid from six or seven years old. Just look at those comics I remembered how much they meant to me and how many of them I read. It was just my whole world. Music was just not part of my life as a kid. It was just comic books enveloping 100% of my brain.

“Comic books are something I feel I was born to do. It’s also something I feel I’m still on the path of learning how to do. I’m aware each one I make is just a further step towards the better comic that I’ll make next time after that.”

Though Jeffrey puts a great deal of time and effort into both of his two primary creative outlets, his approach to making and evaluating them is a contrast. On the one hand, he views drawing as a challenge and a craft that requires constant improvement, whereas coming up with good lyrics and melodies is something he puts more down to luck than his own intentional decisions.

“An album feels like a product of luck and a comic book feels like a product of skill. It’s very hard to feel proud of your luck. I feel lucky about the songs I write, not proud. I don’t know if you can say you’re going to be more inspired next time,” he says.

“Each album feels like some miraculous thing that I might not ever be able to repeat. Just because I wrote 10 songs that I feel excited about for one album, doesn’t mean I’ll write 10 more great songs for the next album. It’s almost the opposite. It’s more like ‘man, I can’t believe I came up with this album’ and then I think that I’ll never be able to come up with one again.”

Both Jeffrey’s comic books and music have a very hands-on and homemade approach. He provides all of the writing and artwork for the comics and album art as well as writing and performing the songs. His latest lo-fi release ‘2020 Tapes (Shelterat-Homerecordings & Pandemos)’ was recorded at his home during the New York lockdown. Although, as he explains, this is not just a stylistic choice but also a necessity.

“I don’t have the technical know-how or even the recording gear to make anything high quality.

“The song is the important bit and if I can just record the song in whatever way is available, which can be in the studio or at home,” Jeffrey says.

“However, I don’t apply that mindset when I make my own album artwork. Though it is a do-it-yourself project because I am literally doing it by myself, that does not equate to being a lesser product than it would be if I were to hire somebody else. I feel like nobody is going to do a better job of the illustrations and the packaging design than I can because I think I’m quite good at it. It’s kind of DIY from the opposite perspective than the music.”

A usual staple of a Jeffrey Lewis live performance, whether in the flesh or screened digitally, are documentary style history songs accompanied by his own illustrations, combining his two artistic ventures. This unique audio-visual display is one that had early roots in his musical career but has been expanded over time.

He says: “Around 1998 I started to be offered to play little shows around New York City. When you’re only playing one gig every five weeks you really have a chance to make every performance a special thing. Each show was a new chance to experiment.”

One idea to come out of that period of experimentation was illustrated songs. After a few years he ventured into non-fictional topics for them for the 25th anniversary of Rough Trade Records and soon after created one depicting the history of ‘The Fall’ when he opened for the band. Eventually though he ambitions for the format grew.

“I thought ‘what would be the most gigantic historical topic with a huge story that has nothing to do with music?’ The crazy idea I came up with was to try and tell the history of communism. I’ve been adding installations in that particular series ever since.”

His illustrated songs are emblematic of his enthusiasm for both comic books and music as well as his unique creative vision which has allowed him to persist as a cult figure for over two decades. Sure, as he admits, an artist like himself will likely never hit the charts but his passion and originality will make sure he will always stand out and be remembered.