In 2002, after three battles with cancer, 26 surgeries, and endless rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, Carolyn Diamond was ready to do some living.
While she loved her job as a quality-assurance manager and assistant to the vice president of a national construction company, Diamond was burnt out by the combination of cancer and corporate life.
"I was physically beaten up, just physically and mentally," said Diamond. "When you have cancer back to back, and all those treatments and those surgeries back to back, I guess to keep that edge in the corporate world it takes a great deal."
Diamond had long enjoyed the artistry of makeup, a passion that she put to practice early on. Around the age of 10, Diamond and her sister, Barbara, would spend hours doing their mother's makeup on Saturday evenings. As their mother watched "Masterpiece Theater," they would paint her face, toenails and fingernails.
So after her third cancer diagnosis — breast cancer — in 2002, Diamond left the world of spreadsheets and number-crunching behind for skin-care treatments and eyebrow shaping as a medical aesthetician and makeup artist.
"I signed up to go to school, and that was it," said Diamond, 50, who lives in Lafayette Hill. "I was hooked."
Now, Diamond brings color to the faces of her many clients, from brides to "local celebrities," through foundation, lipstick and a hint of blush. In her short career, she has worked as a makeup artist for the film "Catch Your Mind" and won a myFoxPhilly.com Hot List award for wedding makeup in 2007.
During a slow week, Diamond works with as many as 15 to 20 women.
"Makeup is one of the most powerful tools," she said. "Coco Chanel said if you want to feel fabulous, if you want to pick up your spirits, buy a new tube of lipstick. And it's very true."
Diamond's artistic talent stems from her family's long line of Hollywood artists and designers. Her father's family originated from New Zealand and settled in Los Angeles in the 1920s. Her grandfather, Albert Withers, worked for 28 years as a set designer for 20th Century Fox. Ted Withers, her great-uncle, was the head of the art department at studios like MGM and Universal Studios, and later became a famed pinup artist.
Diamond was born in Hollywood and grew up inherently knowing the basics of art: lighting, structure, color and balance. Her father, Robert Patrick Withers, was a painter, while her mother owned a picture-framing business, and worked as an illustrator and writer.
"It wasn't just that I saw him create beauty," Diamond said of her father. "I saw him create sadness and age and pain. And when you can understand things that aren't pretty, you're able to see the things that are."
Since her first cancer diagnosis in 1986, Diamond has combined her love of makeup with her role as a breast-cancer awareness advocate. She was later diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and again in 2002. As a survivor, when Diamond talks with other cancer patients and clients, she doesn't "sugarcoat anything."
"Once you can accept that something can really [be dreadful], it's like, you know what? There's so much living to do," she said.
And Diamond has done just that — giving speeches, participating in programs like Daffodil Days and Relay for Life, and even going before Congress as an ambassador for the American Cancer Society in the early 1990s.
She considers other advocates, like Sandy Cohen, who works through Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, as her inspiration.
"Would it have been great not to have gone through it? Absolutely," said Diamond. "But would I have been able to achieve or to understand or feel what I can today? I would have never been able to … if it hadn't been cancer knocking me down to the ground and saying, 'Stop and re-evaluate your life.' "
For Diamond, makeup brings life back to the weary faces of those battling cancer.
"It was amazing that no matter how sick I was, sitting there bald in the living room, and if I knew somebody was coming over, pinching my cheeks brought a little bit of color," she said. "Even if I walked past a mirror, I'd look and I could pinch the cheek, and just that little bit of color let you know that there was still life there."
Many of her clients feel the same way.
Every time that Karen Cutler, 56, met with Diamond for makeup or skin treatments, she left with a smile.
"I was completely losing my eyelashes altogether, and she helped shape what little bit of my brows I had left, helped me with the colors to make my eyes pop out a little better," said Cutler, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March.
"I've never left there without smiling and feeling like I used to feel when I left the hair salon and got my hair done."
It was Diamond's humor, boldness and expertise that made her fun to work with, according to Cutler.
"When you feel crappy, she lifts your spirits,"said Cutler. "It's her sense of humor. It's her gentleness. And then you add to that the fact that she knows exactly what a cancer victim feels."
And despite all she's been through, Diamond speaks with boundless energy and passion about her work, whether it's the art of eyebrows or the color combinations that make women glow.
"The reds are just a little redder," said Diamond, about life after cancer. "After going through it, the reds are a little redder." u