Real Life

Brave Kiwi cancer survivor reveals why she is so proud of her cancer scars

Battling a deadly disease has given Auckland beauty Tamsyn a special 'superpower'

By Florence Hartigan
For Kiwi model Tamsyn Cornwall, the beach is her happy place. "I'm a self-proclaimed mermaid!" laughs the 32-year-old, who spent much of her childhood in togs while growing up in Fiji But these days, wearing a bikini has taken on a deeper meaning for the Aucklander, whose stomach carries a constellation of scars, each one helping to tell the tale of her incredible victory over a disease that almost claimed her life.
For Tamsyn, showing them off is a reminder of all she has overcome – and of a whole new level of self-acceptance.
In early 2020, the aspiring actress, who has studied at Australia's prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts, as well as our own South Seas Film School, was diagnosed with stage 3B bowel cancer.
"I was heartbroken," she tells Woman's Day. "You just can't ever imagine those words being said to you. It doesn't seem real."
When Tamsyn still had her stoma pouch
To save her life, surgeons removed Tamsyn's colon, leaving her with a stoma, an opening in her abdomen through which waste could be diverted into an external pouch or stoma bag.
Tamsyn – who has won almost 17,000 Instagram followers with her inspirational posts – decided early on to share openly about her journey online, posting pics in a low-cut bikini that showed off her stoma bag.
"I was nervous, but I received such an amazing reaction," smiles the former Fashion Week runway model. "People reached out asking me questions, or saying, 'My mum has that!' or, 'I have that too!'
One person told me they'd only ever seen the negative side of their diagnosis until they came across my Instagram posts. It's amazing that out of something so dark has come this really beautiful thing."
Tamsyn, who has become a community ambassador for Bowel Cancer NZ, says being open and honest on social media also made it easier to have frank conversations in real life, which has proved useful in potentially awkward dating situations.
"I remember one moment where I was on a date and I noticed my stoma pouch had started to leak, so I had to immediately have a shower!" she giggles. "But I explained to him calmly, 'Look, this is what's going on…' In the end, it was more an annoyance than anything and my date was very chill about it all."
Initially, Tamsyn thought that she would have her stoma for the rest of her life, but in late 2021, she underwent J-pouch surgery, creating an internal pouch using loops of the small intestine in place of a colon, allowing her to eliminate waste in the usual way. But the additional scarring from the surgery brought new emotions to light.
Having her stoma pouch removed in 2021 gave Tamsyn more freedom
"When I first took off the dressings from my stoma scars, I felt quite triggered," Tamsyn shares. "It would be hard for me to place my hands on my tummy. Because I could physically touch the scars, it was a reminder of everything that had happened."
However, she tells, "It's been so healing because doing that brought a lot of those feelings to the surface. I would cry and that's a way of processing what's happened to me."
Initially, going to the beach was a struggle. "Even though my stoma pouch was way more visible if I was wearing my togs, I felt more nervous with my scars on show. I remember going to the beach for the first time wearing my bikini and bursting into tears. It was a mixed sense of worrying about people judging me and, almost immediately after, feeling like, 'Who cares? I'm alive!'
"The initial first outing is always a bit scary, but when you've done that, it gets easier. Now when I wear a bikini, I feel empowered. I see my scars as beautiful proof I still exist."
The budding songwriter adds, "I'm still healing from my experiences and processing what I've been through. But my mum instilled in me that, each morning, we have a choice to be happy. I practise feeling grateful and I feel better because I'm in that state of gratitude.
"Having cancer has given me a superpower because I feel less afraid of being myself. Of course, some days I'm not happy with how I look, but I've gotten to a place of acceptance. I'm so proud of myself, my body – and my scars!"
  • undefined: Florence Hartigan

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