We are so proud of our curve model Elly! Check out her interview with the Self Magazine team on documenting her battle with ovarian cancer - read the full interview below and don't forget to check out when this plus size goddess is hitting London town!
At first glance, model Elly Mayday's photo looks like a pretty standard Instagram image. The Canadian model, 28, is clutching her lower abdomen, her hands in the shape of a heart—it's a pose many moms-to-be assume when taking a maternity photo. But Mayday's photo is different. Beneath Mayday's hands, a stapled incision traces its way from her belly button down her lower abdomen. It's from one of the five operations she's undergone—including a hysterectomy—in her battle against ovarian cancer.
"Not enough people were talking about ovarian cancer, so I just decided to use my personality and use my freedom and willingness to talk about something that’s necessary and to raise awareness," Mayday tells SELF.
The photo was taken after Mayday’s fifth operation for ovarian cancer. "Most moms-to-be post photos like this, in admiration of the little bundle on its way. I'm posting this for what's inside too...but in a different sense," she wrote in the caption.
Mayday, who's based in New York City, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013, just a year after she began her modeling career. After her diagnosis, she made it her mission to raise awareness about the disease by documenting every step of her battle. On Instagram, she regularly shares honest pictures of her scars, her hospital visits, and her treatment—she even bared her scars in a 2015 Lane Bryant ad. Her reason: To educate and encourage others.
"I went undiagnosed for about three years," Mayday says. "It's really difficult to know that someone’s suffering out there who maybe if they see a photo or understand my story or hear the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer they can get diagnosed a little bit earlier."
Each year, about 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to the CDC. The disease typically affects women ages 63 and up, but experts have previously told SELF that certain types of ovarian cancer can occur at an early age. Early-stage ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose, and it can rarely cause symptoms, the Mayo Clinic reports. The symptoms of advanced-stage ovarian cancer are more evident, but can often be mistaken for other conditions, like constipation or irritable bowel syndrome.
Before her diagnosis, Mayday and her doctors struggled to make sense of the symptoms that plagued her, such as lower back pain, frequency of urination, bloating, and feeling full without having eaten much. "I was in so much pain, I went to the emergency room a few times, and went for CT scans and MRIs—no one was really following up or pursuing it as much as I needed them to," she says. In retrospect, her symptoms were all signs of the disease. Her cancer had progressed to stage III by the time her doctors found it. She was officially diagnosed with low-grade serous carcinoma in June 2013, and by then the cancer had spread "all over," she says. "Ovarian cancer spreads like a person whipping a paint brush around a room. I was not given a good prognosis."
Mayday underwent three months of chemotherapy, followed by a full hysterectomy. After her uterus was removed, her body went into menopause at age 25. She also underwent a 10-hour-long debulking surgery to remove cancerous tumors. Through it all, she continued working, sharing her journey on Instagram as she underwent treatment and built her modeling career.
"When it first began, I was just a plus-size model who just started working in the industry, and a year later I’m diagnosed with ovarian cancer," she says. "I’ve done photos without wigs, and being bald, and showing my hysterectomy scars, and I think it’s really freeing. I want women to take that home and say, 'Damn, if she could feel good about herself, why shouldn't I?'"
Mayday's stomach-cradling Instagram photo is from March 12, and it shows her latest scar from another debulking surgery. She had the surgery after doctors discovered that her cancer had reappeared. To Mayday, it was the perfect way to show her journey while showing love to her body, too.
"I think a lot of women use that symbol for the love that they have within and that their baby's on the way," Mayday says. "I did a little bit of a spin on it being that I’m not able to have children and not able to otherwise do that photo. I just thought it would be something that would hopefully help other people find comfort in a situation that sometimes life throws our way."