Mary + Charlotte Featured!
"...no one should tell me - or anyone else - that we can’t be or feel feminine based on physical attributes or appearance. I learned through losing many parts of my body that those body parts didn’t actually define me at all; my heart and strength define me. "
Charlotte: Nice, kind, and happy. Love doing art and using my camera.
Mary: Kind, strong, creative, determined, happy, optimistic. I am a proud mother, wife, advocate, volunteer, former news anchor/reporter, and aspiring professional photographer. I love reading, taking photos, dancing with Charlotte, organizing, and cycling!
What is your purpose? Charlotte: My friends and mom and dad.
Mary: My purpose in life is to be as kind and grateful a human being as I can be. I want to live a joyful, fun, honest and creative life together with Charlotte (age 6) and my husband, Ben. They are my world and my everything. Part of our family mission will always be to raise money for research and bring awareness for a cure for pediatric and adult tumors and cancer.
What is at the core of your being? Charlotte and I are both led by our hearts. Our hearts are our sources of kindness and strength. With great kindness comes great strength. Whenever I am considering a tough decision, I let my heart (and gut) guide me.
What does society say about what it means to be feminine? Society shows femininity many times as solely physical attributes - for instance: luminous hair, a stunning body, a glowing tan, etc.. A dictionary definition of feminine (adjective) says “Having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.”
How have societal messages about femininity changed in your lifetime? Society has gotten somewhat better over time with respect to what femininity is, but there is still a long way to go. For instance, I see more great messages that anyone can be strong, smart, brave and feminine, if they choose to be - and all at the same time - rather than being seen as feminine and delicate or weak. As a mother, I want Charlotte to see that to be feminine or female means being anything you want to be – for instance, strong, brave, and fierce mentally and physically. I also want Charlotte to see and believe what my parents always told me; that girls and women can do anything! My dad always told me that if I wanted to be a pilot like he was, in a male-dominated field, I absolutely could! When I was growing up, my dad was also an aerial photographer. I remember back then, every single photographer I knew was a man. Today, I have many exceptional photography teachers and mentors who are both women and men. Women have made great strides in many formerly male-dominated fields, but studies and percentages in many fields show it’s still far from an even split.
How do you define femininity? I see femininity as a state of mind, a feeling more than physical attributes. I don’t believe femininity should have anything to do with purely physical attributes. Anyone can feel and be feminine - regardless of physical attributes (hair, body, skin, size, gender, age)!
How is femininity part of your identity? Charlotte: I think girls can do anything!
Mary: I see femininity personally as a great source of pride in being a woman. We constantly tell Charlotte, "Girls and women can do anything." One of our favorite books is “Grace for President” by Kelly DiPucchio. In this book, elementary school student Grace learns there has never been a female President. She says, “No girls? Who’d ever heard of such a crazy thing?” Charlotte told me a few weeks ago she wants to be President and we said, "Absolutely!" One of our other favorite books and sources of inspiration is "Malala's Magic Pencil" by Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. We have read that book over and over dozens of times and talked about how courageous Malala is for speaking out and standing up for girls’ education. As she says, "Magic is everywhere in the world - in knowledge, beauty, love peace. The magic is in you , in your words, your voice."
Describe a time when you felt feminine and were not conforming to societal messages. I believe I defy societies’ definition of femininity most days. The idea of femininity is something I have thought deeply about, which is why I believe it should not be based on stereotypical physical attributes. I am a breast cancer survivor. I lost both of my real breasts and I also chose to have a prophylactic total hysterectomy because I have the BRCA2 gene mutation, which put me at high risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. I am grateful to know a wonderful community of other young women who have and are bravely going through similar trials. Every day I take an adjuvant therapy drug that tries to block any remaining estrogen in my body. I often feel like I am anything but the stereotypical physical definition of feminine. No one should tell me - or anyone else - that we can’t be or feel feminine based on physical attributes or appearance.
I learned through losing many parts of my body that those body parts didn’t actually define me at all; my heart and strength define me. I learned recently what Jon Kabat-Zinn meant for all these years, “Where ever you go, there you are.” I can lose all the estrogen in my body and wear many scars and still be the same (actually a stronger) person at heart than before. It’s taken a lot of quiet soul searching, rest, hard work and the amazing prayers and support of a huge community of family and friends, but I now realize the true meaning of life, which is to give of yourself and make the world a better place. You have to take care of and be true to yourself so you can make the world a better place.
Talk about a way in which you choose to influence the world around you for the better. We are most proud of the work that we do as a family to make the world a better place. Charlotte often tells us, “I want to make the world a better place!” and we work hard to do that. As Team Charlotte, we have raised more than $15,000 (and counting!) for pediatric brain tumor research through A Kids’ Brain Tumor Cure Foundation (now part of The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation) and The Pan-Mass Challenge through the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I am also incredibly proud that Charlotte and I are both part of the Cancer Action Network through the American Cancer Society and for two years now we have lobbied lawmakers in Albany, NY on specific bills related to cancer. I've also volunteered as an emcee for three years through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, an organization which I have deep gratitude and respect for.
Talk about a way that the "world" has influenced you for the better. Charlotte: I look up to older kids like my friend Elise. She is so nice!
Mary: My parents always taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. They also always taught me to be kind, hard working and have great faith. We hope to teach Charlotte the same. The group of parents who founded A Kids' Brain Tumor Cure Foundation has influenced us for the better. They changed and are changing the lives of many children like Charlotte who are pediatric brain tumor survivors. They knew something had to be done about the lack of pediatric brain tumor research and therapies - and they did something about it. Families associated with AKBTC have raised more than $16.5 million for research and funded more than three dozen new research projects.
Describe a time when you felt totally badass. Charlotte wrote a letter to the Governor in her play room one day! We recently walked into the “War Room” (The Governor's Reception Room at the New York State Capitol) and delivered a packet we created for Governor Andrew Cuomo, requesting a meeting. We want to discuss banning artificial dyes from food, or at the very least labelling products that have artificial dyes, such as Red Dye 40, with warnings. Charlotte can't tolerate Red Dye 40 well at all. It makes her upset that it is in such a wide variety of both adult and especially kids' foods (everything from candy to cereals), health products (such as kids' body wash, kids' make up, kids' face paints), and even some kids' medicines.
Who inspires you? Charlotte inspires me every day. She is passionate, kind, and enthusiastic. She is the real deal! She lives in the moment and loves BIG! Yesterday, Mother's Day, she must have told me a dozen times, "You are the best mom in the whole world," to which I replied, "You are the best girl in the whole wide world!"
One day post-op from my double mastectomy in 2015 we went to the hotel in NYC where we were staying. I saw Charlotte and I couldn't walk well. Charlotte was only 2.5 years old at the time and she took my hand and said, "I'll help you walk, Mama." She has the biggest heart of anyone I know.
Every week I take an adult jazz class after she takes tap and ballet. One evening she was watching the class and sitting there drawing. At the end of class, she walked up to every single woman in the class and gave them each a picture and note that said, "You are great!"
Super power? Charlotte: I want two super powers – to fly and to be the strongest kid in the world!
Mary: My super power is resilience. Every single day is a new day! How amazing is that?!
At the heart of a strong beautiful woman is: KINDNESS!!!