Tracy Montarti, Heidi Hess Buckley and 27 others
This week’s VMP Covergirl is……. Karen Scuilli !
It’s also Day 2 of SPONSOR WEEK so it only fits that we feature Karen as our Covergirl this week since her organization, Face2Face Healing, is our Charitable Partner for the Gallery Exhibition on Friday. It’s a long one, but oh so worth it.
This is a special VMP Covergirl for so many reasons. This woman is beautiful, tenacious, persistent, loving, empathetic, kind, and giving, and making a difference.
She had a career as an RN helping others, and then in 2012 she found out she had cancer in her salivary gland. As a single mom of a sweet 7 year old boy, she fought like hell to do everything she could to be here for him.
The changes to her appearance made her want to hide from the world and she realized that there really weren’t any resources to help people experiencing this type of identity changing circumstances.
So what does she do? She transformed her history of nursing and her experience as a patient into a much needed nonprofit organization called Face2Face Healing to help other people affected by cancer and other conditions that alter one’s appearance and identity.
She not only brings awareness, but she also goes to the hospital bedsides to help people through what is likely the worst thing they’ve experienced. She shows them that there’s light beyond the darkness and that they aren’t alone, and that their self worth is so much more than how they look.
I had met Karen a couple of times before, but when I started looking for a charitable partner for this event, I found out that one of our other Covergirls, Linda Long, had been recently appointed to F2FH’s board of directors. It made perfect sense to have F2FH be our charitable partner, and I am SO incredibly honored that she allowed and trusted me to photograph her at this special moment in her life and transformation.
For Karen’s photoshoot, we wanted to capture something beautiful, incorporate some butterflies to signify transformation, and then we brought her wonderful son Seth in for some portraits together. It’s an important moment for both of them, and I’m not going to lie, it was emotional for me.
Here’s what she says about this time in her life:
Did you have any older female role models when you were younger?
My first role model was my Grandma Quinn. She taught me to “pull up my bootstraps and trudge ahead.” This was very useful especially during my cancer journey. When I had a difficult day, I would hear her words of encouragement. She also taught me to lean into my faith and to laugh. She had the most infectious laugh that was contagious. She worked on a farm and did not have much materially, but you would never know it. She encouraged me to be a nurse and was very proud of me for achieving my goals.
My second role model is my mother who has taught me so many things, but most importantly she has taught me to love unconditionally. I am the youngest of 6, so I am very close to my mother. We speak everyday. I know that I am blessed to still have her in my life. During my cancer journey, my mom was there by my side helping me and Seth every step of the way. She has always sacrificed for all of her children. She has told me so many times that she named me correctly because I am very caring and compassionate. I get the compassion from my mother. She has never known a stranger. She too has an infectious laugh.
How did you mark turning 50? How did that feel to you?
I celebrated turning 50 with my son, Seth. We went to Stonewall Jackson Resort in West Virginia for the weekend. At age 47, I was diagnosed with Parotid Gland cancer which left me with facial disfigurement. I had finished treatment and was attempting to resume an active lifestyle. My son was 7 when I was diagnosed and I struggled to do things physically with him. This was my gift to Seth and we had so much fun doing activities on the lake such as kayaking and big bikes on the water, swimming in the pool, feeding the fish, riding bikes and also enjoying the indoor activities. We ate in their 3 restaurants and they wrote “Happy Birthday” on my plate and the staff helped Seth sing Happy Birthday to me. It has been one of my favorite memories with Seth.
Turning 50 was monumental since I had stage 4 cancer which was very aggressive requiring extensive surgery and treatment for over 2 years. So I am grateful to every day for being able to make it one more year with my son so I can continue to watch him chase his dreams.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I was so hard on myself when I was growing up. My biological father left me when I was 3 and I always felt that I was not good enough. This lead to me trying to fit in, dating boys and men that were not good enough for me. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self so many things.
Just because you love someone, does not mean they will love you back. Do not chase someone who does not deserve you. Do not let anyone take advantage of you.
For goodness sake, listen to your gut always.
Spend more time living a healthier lifestyle and invest in yourself.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: Mistakes are a natural part of learning and growing. Embrace them as opportunities to learn and improve.
Believe in yourself: Confidence in your abilities can take you far. Trust your instincts and believe that you can achieve your goals with hard work and dedication.
Learn continuously: The world is constantly changing. Stay curious and never stop learning. Whether it’s a new skill, technology, or perspective, continuous learning will enrich your life.
Take care of your health: Your physical and mental well-being are invaluable. Prioritize exercise, healthy eating, and regular check-ups. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you’re struggling emotionally.
Cultivate relationships: Build and maintain meaningful relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. These connections can provide support, happiness, and valuable life experiences.
Practice empathy and kindness: Put yourself in others’ shoes and treat people with kindness and respect. Empathy can lead to understanding, compassion, and better relationships with those around you.
Set goals but be flexible: Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, but understand that life can be unpredictable. Be open to adjusting your goals and plans as needed.
Manage your time effectively: Time is a precious resource. Learn to prioritize tasks, set realistic deadlines, and avoid procrastination. Balance work, play, and rest for a fulfilling life.
Financial literacy is important: Understand the basics of budgeting, saving, investing, and managing debt. Financial knowledge provides security and opens up opportunities for the future.
Don’t compare yourself to others: Your journey is unique. Comparing yourself to others can lead to unnecessary stress and insecurity. Focus on your own progress and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they might seem.
Do you feel like you’ve changed since you’ve turned 50?
As I have gotten older, I have learned that being 50 allows me the opportunity to see things differently than when I was in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I used to focus so much of my time on going to school to improve myself as well as spend too much time working. Now in my 50’s I have changed my perception to self-love, self-care and enjoying life and those around me so much more. When I was younger, I felt that I was attractive but have learned to love my whole self after having facial disfigurement. My beauty is defined by my inner and outer beauty now which continues to enhance each year I grow older.
What positives have come from being over 50?
There are so many positives to being over 50!
Self-Acceptance: By the time you reach 50, you often have a better understanding and acceptance of who you are. You may have learned to embrace your strengths and weaknesses, leading to increased self-confidence.
Wisdom: With age comes experience and wisdom. You have likely faced various challenges and learned valuable life lessons, making you better equipped to handle difficult situations and offer guidance to others.
Strong Relationships: By the age of 50, you’ve likely cultivated long-lasting relationships with family and friends. These relationships provide emotional support and enrich your life in meaningful ways.
Financial Stability: Many individuals have reached a certain level of financial stability and security by their 50s. This financial freedom can lead to reduced stress and the ability to enjoy life more fully.
Career Confidence: At 50, you may have achieved a level of expertise and confidence in your career. You might have established a stable position, gained respect in your field, or even started your own business.
Time for Yourself: As children grow up and become more independent, many parents find they have more time for themselves. This newfound freedom allows you to pursue hobbies, travel, or focus on personal interests.
Appreciation for Health: With age often comes a greater awareness of the importance of health. Many individuals in their 50s prioritize exercise, healthy eating, and regular medical check-ups, leading to a better quality of life.
Personal Growth: Turning 50 can be a time of reflection and personal growth. You might take up new hobbies, travel to new places, or pursue further education, enriching your life and broadening your horizons.
Embracing Change: By the age of 50, you’ve likely experienced various life changes. You may be more adept at handling change and adapting to new situations, fostering resilience and emotional strength.
Living in the Present: With a wealth of life experience behind you, you may have learned to appreciate the present moment more fully, finding joy in simple pleasures and meaningful experiences.
Do you have any goals or projects you’re working on?
I have so many goals and projects that I am working on. My first project that is near and dear to my heart is to continue Face2Face Healing so I can help others dealing with cancer or conditions causing an altered self-image. Second, I want to write a book sharing my cancer journey as a nurse. Third, develop a more seamless process of healing for cancer patients consisting of 3 components including mind, body, and spirit. Believe it or not, this is not available to all cancer patients. My last goal is seeing my son finish his degree and working as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and eventually getting married and having children. I dream of doing a Ted Talk some day and traveling the world as a motivational speaker and finding that special someone to share my life with.
What is your best advice for other women who are coming up on turning 50? What do you ‘know’ now.
Turning 50 can be a significant milestone in a woman’s life, and it often comes with a mix of emotions and reflections on the past and the future. Here are some pieces of advice that might be helpful during this time:
Embrace Self-Care: Prioritize your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This might include regular exercise, a balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
Stay Active: Regular physical activity is crucial for maintaining good health, especially as you age. Find an exercise routine that you enjoy, whether it’s yoga, swimming, walking, or dancing, and stick with it.
Nurture Relationships: Cultivate and maintain meaningful relationships with friends and family. These connections are vital for emotional support, companionship, and overall happiness.
Continue Learning: Keep your mind engaged by learning new skills, taking up hobbies, or pursuing further education. This can keep your brain sharp and provide a sense of accomplishment.
Financial Planning: Take stock of your financial situation and plan for your future. Consider consulting a financial advisor to ensure you’re on track for retirement and other financial goals.
Follow Your Passions: Now might be a great time to explore activities or hobbies you’ve always been interested in. Pursue your passions, whether it’s art, music, travel, or any other interest.
Prioritize Mental Health: Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and there’s no shame in asking for support.
Celebrate Your Achievements: Reflect on your accomplishments and the wisdom you’ve gained over the years. Celebrate your successes and the lessons you’ve learned from challenges.
Practice Gratitude: Cultivate a mindset of gratitude. Focus on the positive aspects of your life, the people you love, and the experiences that have shaped you.
Stay Adventurous: Don’t be afraid to try new things or step out of your comfort zone. Life can be full of surprises and exciting opportunities, so remain open to them.
Remember, age is just a number, and life can be incredibly fulfilling and exciting at any stage. Embrace the journey, and don’t be afraid to create the life you want as you enter this new chapter.
How would you like people to describe you or see you? What do you most want people to remember about you?
When people see me, I want them to see a woman who is confident and beautiful inside and out. That I am more than my scars and my crooked smile not only reflects that I faced adversity, but have done so with courage and tenacity.
I do not want anyone to pity me. My entire journey with trials and tribulations has made me who I am. Above all, that I am a survivor.
Why are beautiful photos important to you right now?
As I have stated, I had cancer which altered my appearance. Looking at photos or videos of myself since the age of 47 has not always been easy. I wanted pictures of me now because I have transformed into this beautiful woman and I want others to see her. It is time that I finally show others what I see when I look in the mirror. I also wanted pictures of me and my son since I have not had any taken of us professionally since he was 10 when I started Face2Face Healing. I want to remember both of us to show how far we have both come in my cancer journey.
Have you ever been professionally photographed? How was that experience for you?
I had a professional photo shoot one other time when I won the Jefferson Award from Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2018.
To be honest, I do not like to have my picture or videos taken since 2012 because of my facial disfigurement. When I spoke to Tracy about this opportunity, I was excited because I have finally accepted how I look. I have chosen the butterfly as my logo for Face2Face Healing for a reason.
These past 2 years, I have been undergoing a transformation and I finally feel like I am me. I am more than my face and more than my scars. I am beautiful inside and out. Doing the 50over50 Project was an exceptional experience with Tracy and her staff. I felt safe and able to share my insecurities. This allowed Tracy to capture the real me. The one who is confident, fearless, funny, kind and happy with who she has become. During the session, there was laughter and even a few tears. The entire experience was magical.
To see Karen’s portrait and those of the other 49 incredible women in this project, grab your ticket to the exhibition here: https://www.villamontarti.com/50-over-50-2023-gallery…
To book your own empowering experience to celebrate you and who you are, you can find more information here: https://www.villamontarti.com/50-over-50