beauty

Meet Marina, the mother-of-two who changed the course of Lisa Wilkinson's life.

Marina McDonald has long been fearful of breast cancer.

That’s the very reason the mother-of-two is vigilant with getting yearly breast checks and mammograms – she’s educated, and is acutely aware how quickly a cancer diagnosis can rip her away from her family.

Her story begins on an otherwise nondescript day in 2013, when during a routine scan she noticed her GP hovering around a small spot on her left breast. Marina would soon be told she was dangerously sick with cancer, a kind so insidious that it slipped past the prior checks, yet so ferocious that it was an immediate threat to her life.

At 43 years old, Marina wasn’t ready to leave behind her husband, Surend, and young kids, Sydney, then three, and Noah, seven. She would do whatever it took to give herself the best chance of survival.

She would convince her hesitant doctor to give her a double-mastectomy.

LISTEN: Lisa Wilkinson explains Marina’s moving story to Mia Freedman on No Filter. (Post continues…)

“I just thought ‘let’s do whatever we have to do to give me longer with my kids’,” she tells me matter-of-factly, largely unperturbed at the thought of losing her breasts, which she says “really didn’t bother me that much”.

Knowing she would be undergoing an incomparably invasive surgery and looking for comfort, Marina googled images of women post operation. She was met with a scrolling wall of “clinical, faceless images”, ones that served a practical purpose, not an emotional one. While those blueish photographs taken in doctors surgeries and dotted through pages of medical journals were well and good, Marina wanted to see the person behind the operation. She wanted to know these women themselves. Their essence, their stories.

That’s when she stumbled upon the work of David Jay, a photographer from Wisconsin, who has dedicated his life to finding beauty in the most unlikely of places.  A portion of his work, entitled ‘The Scar Project‘, seeks to show how breast cancer survivors are beautiful pillars of strength.

“You can see in their eyes they’re happy with who they are” Marina thought at the time, knowing she could be one of them.

What she did next changed the course of her life forever.

Marina teamed up with Lisa Wilkinson and Canon to produce truly captivating, human images. Topless. Scars and all.

Lisa and Marina working together for Canon. (Image provided)

“If I can put it out there that this is what it is, this could actually help other women face up to it." Marina says, perfectly at ease with the prospect of 'baring all' for the camera. "It didn’t really bother me, I’ve always been comfortable with my own body and in my own skin. There weren’t any nerves attached to it, I just thought 'this is who I am'.”

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"I just thought 'this is who I am'.” Image via Canon/Lisa Wilkinson.

She and her young family were flown to Sydney for the photoshoot, and immersed within a space of creativity. There were a range of high-tech cameras lying around on bench-tops, and picking one up took Marina back to a cherished childhood memory.

"Photography was something my father and I did when I was a little girl," she reminisces now, laughing at the way she used to assure him "I'm going to be a photographer for National Geographic when I grow up." But for Marina at 43, in a room of accomplished professionals, being a photographer was a career dream that never quite came to fruition; she found herself behind a desk in an I.T. job instead of the artistic industry she once envisaged.

Marina shot with her daughter, Sydney. (Image: Canon/Lisa Wilkinson)
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On a break, and with one of the crew's cameras in tow, she wandered out to take candid shots of her children in the cubby house and pool. Impressed by her natural ability, the Canon team complimented her skill, and gifted her with a free camera to help her re-explore her childhood hobby.

That she did.

In the next few years Marina would develop a large following for her pieces, and a pastime would smoothly transition into a business. A very successful business.

The pair have since swapped roles - with Marina capturing Lisa. (Image provided)

Vertigo Vision, co-owned with her brother Garrett, has racked up a number of industry awards since its birth in 2015. Their collective work ranges from landscape imagery to architecture, to the very kind of candid family photos by the pool that earned Marina recognition two years prior.

Watch behind the scenes footage from Marina's photoshoot with Lisa Wilkinson below. Post continues after video...

Now 46, and in disbelief as to how her life has played out, Marina says those photos with Lisa Wilkinson catalysed something remarkable. While Noah tends to be camera-shy, she and little Sydney, now six, share the same passion and even collaborate together on mother-daughter projects. Her favourite? Sydney's birthday cards every year. Her darling girl picks the theme, and mum photoshops her into whimsical scenes a child can only visit in their dreams.

"It's something she and I share together." Marina shares, admitting "It probably is a little much for a birthday card."

Sydney's seventh birthday card, by mum Marina. (Image provided)

While living with a post-cancer diagnosis has been "quite hard" for Marina, who does "worry when it's going to come back", she says Wilkinson's photos have "helped me stay here in the present, rather than worrying about that too much.”

And for this courageous wife, mum, and now esteemed photographer, when her anxieties return and that "dark cloud lurks around", she looks back at those photos, and is reminded just how strong she is.

Noah and Sydney, as photographed by their mum. (Imaged provided)

You can find Marina's photography website here.