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Woman Documents Her Cancer by Perfectly Recreating Famous Characters


Like many people who have just received a diagnosis, Beth Pendergrass decided to document her journey on Instagram. But she decided to do not as herself, exactly, but by recreating her favorite characters. The result: an honest look at Pendergrass’ cancer journey through the eyes of Derek Zoolander, Napoleon Dynamite, Miss Piggy and more.

Beginning in May 2018, Pendergrass has shared one post a week that features a photo of her character recreation, a quote from that character and an explanation of how that character relates to the challenges she’s dealing with that week.

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Her first post was inspired by Maria from “The Sound of Music.”

“My hills are alive with the sound of DCIS,” she wrote. DCIS stands for ductal carcinoma in situ, a type of breast cancer. “I believe there is so much truth in the statement, ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ So, I have decided to document my cancer journey through picture reenactments. I will beat this thing, and I will keep the laughter.”

For her third post, she used Derek Zoolander to dive into the difficult side effects of chemotherapy.

“I know that the people who love me don’t care about my looks,” Pendergrass wrote. “And, while I want them to remember the ‘prettier’ me through this, I also want them to know the new ‘not so pretty’ me is what strength and courage looks like, and when all of this is done, I won’t want to lose her.”

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Week 3: "I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking." Derek Zoolander I'm not going to lie–this week was rough. Chemo certainly takes its toll and it ain't pretty. I got the usual unpleasant side effects including those visual side effects. The person looking back at me in the mirror looks drawn and has the chemo rash on her puffy, sallow face. Once the hair goes, I have no doubt that every ounce of vanity I might have had will be gone. I know that the people who love me don't care about my looks. And, while I want them to remember the "prettier" me through this, I also want them to know the new "not so pretty" me is what strength and courage looks like, and when all of this is done, I won't want to lose her. #cancersucks #mbbga #attackingcancer #susangkomen

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David Bowie helped her reflect on 2018 and look forward to the future.

“I don’t know what 2019 has in store for me, but one thing is certain — I promise it won’t be boring,” she wrote.

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Week 33: "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring." David Bowie A year ago, I wrote on Facebook that 2017 was an adventure and I couldn't wait to see what 2018 had in store for me. It's true that 2017 was an adventure–selling a house, moving over 1,100 miles twice in one year, and starting two new jobs. But boy oh boy, 2018 did not disappoint. It goes to show you that you really don't know what the future holds. You can have plans and goals, but sometimes life throws you a curve ball. I don't look back at 2018 with anger or disappointment. I've had an amazing year. In fact, when stacked up against other years, 2018 has proven to be one of the most difficult but most rewarding years. I've said it before, and I will close out the year saying it again, "I am stronger than I ever thought I could be." 2018 taught me that. I don't know what 2019 has in store for me, but one thing is certain–I promise it won't be boring. There will most certainly be challenges and obstacles, but it is exciting to think of the new life lessons I will learn, the new friends I will make and the goals I will continue to achieve. Thank you all for your friendship, love and support in 2018. Cheers to 2019! #breastcancer #susangkomen #StandUpToCancer #breastcancersurvivor #bethstrong

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She channeled Richard Simmons to talk about the importance of taking time to find peace.

“I’m working on finding time to pull over to the side of the road, turn off the radio and find peace. Not peace with my situation — I’ve made peace with that — but the type if peace that quiets everything and everyone around me,” Pendergrass wrote. “This is the peace that will strengthen me and keep me going.”

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Week 39: "Take a moment every day to find peace. Pull over to the side of the road, turn off the radio, and find peace." Richard Simmons I am not good at taking time to find peace. I like to be on the go. I like to get things done. I don't sleep in. I like to get to work early and stay until the job is done. The job is never done. I don't like to stop. When I stop, the pain sets in, so I go as long as my body allows. Sometimes I lose the fight and my body tells me enough is enough, so I give my body time to rest. However, even when my body stops, my mind doesn't. There are too many distractions–I think about everything I should be doing. I get frustrated because my body is weak. I dwell on it. I think about work, family and friends. I can't turn it off, and I need to. So, I'm working on it. I'm working on finding time to pull over to the side of the road, turn off the radio and find peace. Not peace with my situation–I've made peace with that–but the type if peace that quiets everything and everyone around me. This is the peace that will strengthen me and keep me going. #susangkomen #StandUpToCancer #breastcancersurvivor #bethstrong

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Pendergrass told The Mighty the photo recreations began when she cut her hair prior to her first chemo treatment. After cutting her hair, her friend told her she looked like Maria from “The Sound of Music.” As a joke, she took a picture of herself, placed it next to a picture of Maria, and sent it to her friend. That’s when the idea hit her.

Knowing that other people with cancer recommended keeping a journal, Pendergrass decided she didn’t want to keep “just any journal” — she wanted a clever way to document her journey and turn it into something positive.

“I’ve always believed as they say that ‘attitude is everything’ and ‘laughter is the best medicine.’ My photo re-creations are my way of reminding myself to keep my head up and keep smiling,” Pendergrass said. “And, it only made sense that my first photo re-creation should be Maria.”

The process for creating each photo begins with Pendergrass searching for a celebrity or movie quote that best aligns with her experience for the week. She also takes requests from friends and followers. She finds items for her costumes at thrift shops, craft stores, her own clothes or from her husband’s closet. Most pictures are taken at her house, either as a selfie or with her husband as the photographer.

Pendergrass said she didn’t expect her pictures would become something that would inspire others going through cancer, but she hopes they can remind others to keep their heads up in tough times.

She said the pictures help her work through the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis and keep her focused on the positive.

“I will be able to look back on them and remember that I am a strong person — I am a survivor and a fighter,” she added.