Everviolet Chats: Gina Lamanna, Founder of The Fondle Project

In our latest Everviolet Chats, we're featuring Gina Lamanna, Founder of The Fondle Project —a movement that focuses on the importance of knowing our bodies through regular self exams and body positivity. Gina opens up about her personal battle with breast cancer and the deep self-reflection that unfolded post-diagnosis. She highlights the transformative power of daily self-care rituals, emphasizing the simplicity of something as profound as "getting dressed." As a stylist, Gina discovered that even seemingly small acts can have a monumental impact on confidence and self-esteem. Recognizing the universal struggles women face, Gina founded The Fondle Project to create a space for empowerment and to challenge the notion that cancer defines our identity. To uncover more about Gina's incredible journey and the positive impact of The Fondle Project's mission and community, see our inspiring interview below.

Can you share your personal journey with breast cancer and what inspired you to create The Fondle Project?

After my breast cancer diagnosis, I underwent a profound self-reflection, reassessing my priorities and letting go of relationships that were detrimental to my well-being. The unwavering support of family and friends, including my ex-husband, played a crucial role in my healing.

In the initial stages of this journey, like many women, I grappled with a loss of confidence and self-esteem. At one point, I found myself single and isolated. However, as time passed, I sought solace and transformed my perspective on the diagnosis. Choosing to celebrate life, I decided to live my best life.

As a stylist, helping women feel sexy and confident is my profession, but I struggled with these feelings myself. With time, self-care and healing, I realized that cancer did not define me – I was strong and resilient. Daily self-care rituals, including getting dressed, became integral to my healing process, empowering me along the way.

Motivated by my experience, I founded The Fondle Project to spotlight and empower other women on this journey. I wanted to convey the message that scars and cancer do not define us; they are just a part of our story. My mission extends to educating women about their bodies, encouraging self-advocacy and instilling the confidence to ask questions to their doctors.

I emphasize that cancer is not confined to the last surgery or treatment; it's an ongoing journey, a 'new normal.' Survival and healing involve empowerment and a sense of being alive. The project underscores the importance of self-exams and establishing baselines, recognizing that cancer doesn't discriminate, affecting women at younger ages.

I aspire to make women on this journey feel seen, heard and alive, irrespective of where they are. The overarching message is one of hope – a reminder that there is hope for all of us.

You mentioned self-detection played a crucial role in your breast cancer diagnosis. Could you elaborate on the challenges you faced before your diagnosis?

At the age of 31, I found myself undergoing screenings every six months, including ultrasounds and mammograms, following my mother's diagnosis at the age of 67. For a decade, I performed self-exams monthly and my screenings were consistently normal, with occasional biopsies confirming simple cysts and benign lumps.

In the summer of 2016, despite normal screenings in July and October, 2016, I sensed something was off. I continued to feel something in my right breast. Trusting my intuition, I requested additional reassurance in November. Although my insurance wouldn't cover it, I opted for an MRI, which revealed suspicious findings. A subsequent MRI-guided biopsy which came back benign, following second and third opinions, which confirmed on December 31, 2016, that I had invasive ductal carcinoma.

My breast cancer journey commenced with my first surgery in January 2017, leading to a double mastectomy in March 2017 with reconstruction. Over 13 months, I underwent six surgeries. Three months post-implant transfer, I began feeling unwell. Despite some dismissals from doctors, I knew something was amiss. Once a vibrant, healthy woman, I experienced odd symptoms post-surgeries.

Realizing my body was rejecting the implants, I opted to remove them and undergo DIEP flap surgery in November 2019. This decision proved to be the best I made throughout this journey. The moral of my story is the importance of following intuition and being one's own advocate, which, in more ways than one, saved my life."

How do you believe fashion can play a role in the healing process for breast cancer survivors?

I think fashion can play a significant role in the healing process for breast cancer survivors by promoting empowerment, inclusivity and self-expression. Through well-designed clothing, survivors can regain confidence, express their identity and embrace their post-treatment bodies. Adaptive and inclusive fashion considers physical changes, offering comfort and convenience. Campaigns featuring diverse body types challenge beauty standards, positively impacting mental well-being. Stylish options like mastectomy fashion enhance the overall experience, while fashion brands can raise awareness, contribute to research and build a supportive community. Providing education and resources helps survivors navigate fashion choices during and after treatment, making fashion a significant contributor to the healing process.

What specific initiatives or projects has The Fondle Project undertaken to raise awareness around early detection and self-advocacy?

The Fondle Project has embarked on several impactful initiatives to promote awareness of early detection and self-advocacy. Following a successful launch in June with 7 fashion brands, the organization hosted its inaugural breast health event in October, which not only raised funds but also fostered a sense of community among participants.

At the breast health event, attendees experienced a morning centered around self-care. This included indulging in delicious and nourishing food, discovering the healing properties of specific foods, and engaging in facial massages designed to target breast and ovarian health. The event took a proactive approach by guiding women on proper self-examination techniques, empowering them to take charge of their health.

Moving forward, The Fondle Project is committed to hosting more events that offer education and facilitate discussions on breast health and self love. These events aim to provide valuable support and guidance for women on their journey, while also emphasizing the importance of breast health, early detection and self-advocacy.

The Fondle Project also plans to raise funds for more awareness campaigns. We are actively seeking partnerships with various female brands that align with their mission. These collaborations will further amplify the message of early detection, self-advocacy, body positivity, self love and overall breast health awareness. Through these initiatives, The Fondle Project continues to make a meaningful impact in promoting women's health and fostering a supportive community.

Can you describe some of the key messages and goals of The Fondle Project's breast cancer awareness and empowerment campaigns?

The Fondle Project is dedicated to empowering women to become their own advocates, fostering the confidence to ask questions of their healthcare providers and inspiring proactive engagement with their well-being. This initiative seeks to destigmatize and normalize self-touch and self-exams, recognizing the power of these practices in fostering empowerment. Throughout the journey, the project aims to remind women of their inherent beauty, emphasizing that scars don't define them; rather, they are symbols of strength and resilience.

The campaign places a spotlight on the profound importance of understanding one's body through intuition and paying attention to any subtle changes. An integral aspect involves educating women on breast health, combining essential knowledge with the encouragement of self-awareness.

In a unique twist, The Fondle Project seamlessly weaves fashion into its campaigns. The expression of confidence through clothing is seen as a form of healing, encouraging women to embrace the transformative power of getting dressed as an empowering and positive experience.

Ultimately, The Fondle Project strives to offer hope to women on their journey, promoting self-love and body positivity. It encourages them to not only navigate their diagnosis but also to actively change their perspective. The project underscores the beauty found in the evolution and purpose of their experiences and, above all, celebrates the joy of life.

How does The Fondle Project encourage women to embrace regular self-exams and body positivity in the context of breast cancer awareness?

The Fondle Project encourages women to embrace regular self-exams and body positivity in the context of breast cancer awareness through education, empowerment and destigmatization. Strategies include providing step-by-step guides, sharing personal stories, promoting body positivity, using inclusive messaging, empowering through knowledge, engaging on social media, organizing events and using creative expressions to showcase diverse representations of women.

In your experience, what are the most important aspects of improving the outcomes for those affected by breast cancer?

In my experience, improving outcomes for those affected by breast cancer is a multifaceted journey. Early detection through regular screenings and awareness campaigns is key, allowing for timely intervention at a more treatable stage. Access to quality healthcare, encompassing specialized professionals and comprehensive care, plays a crucial role. Education and awareness empower individuals to understand the importance of breast health and seek timely medical attention. Continued research, addressing psychosocial aspects, promoting a healthy lifestyle, and fostering a positive community mindset are integral components. Together, these elements form a holistic approach to enhance the well-being and outcomes of individuals navigating the complexities of breast cancer.

The Fondle Project emphasizes shifting the narrative around breast cancer. How do you believe this can be achieved through education and conversation?

Shifting the narrative around breast cancer through education and conversation, as advocated by The Fondle Project, involves dispelling myths through accurate information on risk factors and treatment.

Changing the whole breast cancer talk with The Fondle Project is like breaking down walls and opening up real conversations. It's not just about facts – it's about sharing the real deal on breast cancer, debunking myths, and giving the lowdown on risks and treatments. We're creating a vibe where you can spill your thoughts and experiences without the judgment. I mean, survivors' stories are like our secret weapon, showing the world the strength and bounce-back power we've got. We're all about shouting out to everyone, no matter the age or body type, making it clear that breast cancer is just a part of us, not the whole story. With The Fondle Project, we're flipping the script on breast cancer, making it about support, understanding, and rocking the positive vibes. It's like a sisterhood of strength and real talk – that's what we're all about.

Fostering open and honest conversations creates a supportive environment, encouraging individuals to share experiences and break down societal stigmas. The power of personal stories, particularly those of survivors, can shape a positive narrative highlighting strength and resilience. Inclusive messaging that embraces diversity and promoting an empowering language in educational materials contribute to changing perceptions. The Fondle Project plays a vital role in cultivating a culture of understanding, support, and positivity surrounding breast cancer through its holistic approach to education and conversation.

How can individuals and organizations support The Fondle Project in its mission to educate, inspire and empower women in the context of breast cancer awareness and self-exams?

Supporting The Fondle Project in its mission to educate, inspire and empower women in the context of breast cancer awareness and self-exams can take various forms. Individuals and organizations can make financial contributions to aid in developing educational materials, organizing awareness campaigns and providing resources for women undergoing breast cancer screenings. Collaboration through partnerships, sponsorships and volunteerism allows for a collective effort in supporting events, campaigns and educational programs. Social media advocacy plays a vital role in amplifying The Fondle Project's message, reaching a broader audience through the sharing of educational content and participation in online campaigns. Fundraising events organized by individuals or incorporated into corporate social responsibility programs contribute to the project's financial resources. Businesses can offer resources such as printing services, venues or technology support, maximizing The Fondle Project's impact. Encouraging collaborative projects with organizations from various sectors further advances the mission of breast cancer education and empowerment.

What does our mantra “Beauty of Change” mean to you?

This mantra suggests finding positivity and appreciation in the process of change. Change, despite its challenges, brings about a certain beauty or transformation that can be valuable and enriching. It encourages embracing change rather than resisting it, focusing on the potential for growth and improvement that comes with new experiences and perspectives.