How My Internet Friend Kicked Breast Cancer’s Ass

A story of courage and bright colors

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My friend Lisa's post-cancer aura portrait, photographed by HALO Auragraphic in Los Angeles, CA. 

I met Lisa on Instagram this past summer. I’m not sure who followed who first, but one day I posted this dumb photo of me holding a Capri Sun on the beach, my hair blowing in the wind. I looked like a country music star in a ‘90s music video gone wrong. In the caption I made a joke about being a model for Capri Sun and haters “hating”. Lisa commented, “haters going hate…I did a photo shoot once for Sriracha popcorn…haters hated!” Then she tagged me in a photo of herself holding a giant red bag of the original Sriracha HOT Chili Sauce popcorn, her caption read “when I was an American Apparel model with Sriracha popcorn.”

I immediately liked Lisa. By the way folks, this is how internet girls become friends in 2017. It’s as easy as lying about being snack model!!!

After our initial exchange, I began actively following Lisa’s posts. I say “actively” because the truth is, there are people I follow on Instagram who I don’t engage with and they don’t really engage with me either. We’re both just in it for that number-of- followers count. After seeing Lisa’s Sriracha popcorn post and laughing my ass off for a full minute, I started browsing through her Instagram.

What I gathered from her posts, besides the fact that she was a total comedian with gorgeous hair, was that Lisa had been battling breast cancer. Her bio was simply “I have no nipples” (showcasing her “who gives a fuck” sense of humor) and included a link to her blog detailing her fight against the disease.

Her blog was no less sprinkled with humor than her Instagram. On the blog, she revealed she liked pretending to be a rapper and has two cats named Marcellus Wallace & New Orleans Louisiana. Her tagline is “When life hands you lemons, eat sprinkled donuts”.

Her last blog post on July 1, 2016 featured a YouTube video of Lisa and her wife of three years, Melissa, discussing the process of harvesting Lisa’s eggs so they can have a chance at future children. The video was filmed by a website that provides resources and information for LGBT couples trying to build families. As I sat and watched Lisa and Melissa discuss their determination to build a family, I could feel tears beginning to form in the backs of my eyes. Tears of hope.

I need to admit something. I’ve always been terrified of the word “cancer.” Even as I sit here and type, I cringe whenever I have to key the letters that spell c-a- n-c- e-r. I start to feel not only emotional but physical distress. I think the distress stems from last November when I learned my dad had been diagnosed with stage 3 liposarcoma, an extremely rare cancer with 2.5 cases occurring per million population annually. The range of emotions I’ve experienced over the past nine months is difficult to articulate and I’m not going to dwell on it here.

Halfway through Lisa’s video, I was struck by something she said that for the first time in, well I guess ever, made me feel like cancer was smaller than us as human individuals.

Here’s what Lisa said: “I think that’s one thing when you start to only accept the identity of a cancer patient or having cancer…it’s not ‘I have cancer, I am a cancer patient’…it’s more ‘I’m Lisa, I have this that and the other, oh and I have cancer, I’m doing what I gotta do, but I’m also living life.”

Lisa’s story, her power-hold over cancer, and her raw sense of humor have started to give me hope. Hope for what, I can’t really articulate. I just know I’ve felt hope for the first time in a long time.

Before I tell you about Lisa’s post-cancer aura portrait that blew my mind, I want to provide a quick overview of what aura photography is and the interesting process behind it. A few weeks ago, I went with my friend Megan to get my auras photographed by HALO Auragraphic at Sacred Light in Los Angeles, CA. I had seen a few people I follow on Instagram post their aura portraits and it just looked really cool.

The aura, in scientific terms, is a unique electromagnetic field surrounding every living creature. Spiritualists and healers associate these fields with a person’s vital energies or their “auras.” Aura photography is a technology that’s been around since 1891 when Russian scientist Nicola Tesla created the first aura photograph. In 1970, Guy Coggins, an innovator in the field of biofeedback electromagnetic imaging, pioneered the AuraCam 6000 which captures the electromagnetic fields surrounding an individual in the form of radiant colors transcribed onto polaroid film.

For my aura portrait, I was seated in a dome-shaped pod and instructed by the photographer to place my hands on two silver sensors that read the body’s electromagnetic energy and transmit that information through a double exposure via the camera onto film. A few minutes later, I was presented with a polaroid photo of myself in my brand-new white Levi’s t-shirt (that I had already stained with coffee) surrounded by predominantly green, yellow, and blue hues. The photographer gave me a small card that listed the unique characteristics associated with each energy color.

My auras represented characteristics like high energy, childlike curiosity, creativity, a love for plants and animals, loyalty, spirituality, and leadership tendencies. Megan’s portrait was almost predominantly red with a hint of yellow peeping through. The color red signifies strength, self-confidence, unwavering work ethic, raw courage, and sensuality. Very Megan. I posted a photo of my portrait alongside Megan’s to Instagram later that night and Lisa commented that our portraits exhibited universal balance (with my auras being on the cool end of the color spectrum and Megan’s auras falling on the warm end). And it’s true, Megan and I are practically yin and yang. Lisa added that she was going to have her auras photographed ASAP and I commented that she absolutely should. Less than a week later, I received a notification on Instagram that I had been tagged in one of Lisa’s photos.

It turns out, Lisa went to HALO Auragraphic’s next aura photography session hosted at Junior High, a creative community space in Los Angeles. Lisa had two portraits done. One of her portraits was a topless photo revealing the scars in place of where she had once had nipples, a result of the bilateral mastectomy she underwent in December 2015.

The second portrait is of Lisa wearing a white blouse, her dark curls surrounding her glowing face and just grazing the tops of her shoulders. Her auras in both portraits were very similar with a few minor exceptions. The patch of magenta in her topless photo struck me in particular.

As I stood in my parents’ kitchen that Saturday afternoon reading Lisa’s Instagram caption, the backs of my eyes started to ache as the floodgate holding back pent-up tears unlocked. The magenta shining through in Lisa’s topless photo was truly special because for somebody to have the courage to bare their soul like that, they have to be a bold, “this is who I am and this is what I’ve overcome” non-conformist like Lisa.

I’m so thankful a little social media app like Instagram allowed me to become friends with such a unique, empowering, free-spirited, hilarious individual and I hope that Lisa’s story will give someone reading this article as much hope as it’s given me.

Originally published at

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The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Lisa Young serves as a volunteer mentor with Take On College, a nonprofit providing free support to first-generation and low-income students who aspire to attend college./Courtesy Lisa Young
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