'I Honor What They Do' (Exclusive): Celebrity Makeup Artist and Cancer Survivor Thanks Nurses Who Saved His Life

Tim Quinn, the former creative director of Armani Beauty, hosted his 10th annual Nurse Appreciation event at Massachusetts General Hospital on May 13 When Tim Quinn started having sharp, shooting pains down his leg in 2007, he brushed it off as sciatica

Published Time: 14.05.2024 - 23:31:14 Modified Time: 14.05.2024 - 23:31:14

Tim Quinn, the former creative director of Armani Beauty, hosted his 10th annual Nurse Appreciation event at Massachusetts General Hospital on May 13

When Tim Quinn started having sharp, shooting pains down his leg in 2007, he brushed it off as sciatica.

He was a runner when he wasn’t flying thousands of miles around the world working as a makeup artist for Armani Beauty (where he'd go on to become the VP), and, well, he’d simply “never been sick” before. 

It wasn’t until Quinn collapsed in the shower of his Paris hotel during fashion week that he knew something was seriously wrong. 

"When I got scheduled for surgery, I'd been back in the States for a month, and the pain was so bad, all I could do was lay on the floor," Quinn, now 57, recalls. "I couldn't stand up for more than 10 or 15 seconds at a time because I was in so much pain, and I couldn't sit down because of the same thing."

After a round of surgery to remove what doctors believed was a tumor in his sacrum, Quinn woke up in a hospital room to find out that they hadn’t been able to remove the tumor after all. And, doctors didn't even know what it was. They sent him back home, where he just got “sicker and sicker,” he says. 

Quinn, who is originally from Connecticut, was living in Florida at the time. “I had my brother drive me to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston," he says. There he met Dr Richard Lee,Clinical Co-Director at the Claire and JohnBertucciCenter for Genitourinary Cancers. Lee ordered a different biopsy, Quinn recalls.

"Dr. Lee called me at home — this is on a Friday — and he's like, 'You know what? I am 99 percent sure it's testicular cancer manifesting in your sacrum. And we don't use the term loosely — but we can cure this.'"

Quinn checked into Mass General on Monday with “lamps, blankets, my own bed, everything you could think of, because I didn't want to be in a hospital, but I trusted in Dr. Lee and the staff there.”

Quinn would be at Mass General for nine weeks during his treatment for testicular cancer. He recalls it being a “weird, interesting time” as he watched a revolving door of roommates die, but he remained focused on the positive, and he kept his sense of humor in tact.

“I would just take my little infusion thing and roll myself down the hallway and go sit in the sunny part and talk to people, do makeovers, consultations, whatever. I was very, very lucky because so many beauty brands and so many people just kept sending me stuff to give to nurses because I liked to have a little stash. I recognized that they all wanted to talk about beauty,” he says. “And I'd have this drawer full of stuff. And it was really fun. If you're going to have cancer, it was the way to do it.”

All in all, Quinn's treatment took about a year, he says, between the chemotherapy, radiation and multiple surgeries. The diagnosis turned his life upside-down, but it made him truly appreciate his career as a face and makeup artist.

“That's where my talent really lies," he says. "I kind of diffuse situations that don't need to be as gr -

im as they are because at any given point, it is out of our hands anyway. And one of the touch points is in what we do in giving care and love and touching — and we call it beauty — but to me it is really less about putting lipstick on."

Adds Quinn: "It really just is that people have a very hard time recognizing themselves when they're going through something bad, whatever it might be, cancer especially. You hear that word and it's like everything else fades out the background. You don't listen. And the moment you have in the mirror when you're alone is when you can kind of reset yourself.”

To combat the physical effects of cancer treatment, Quinn would often lock himself in the bathroom to put on self-tanner while he was at Mass General.

“It was the only thing I could control! How I thought I looked. And I remember the first time they were banging on the door, they thought there was something wrong, like I passed out. I'm like, 'Oh my God, just leave me alone. I need to let it dry!'" he says now, laughing.

Quinn started brainstorming how to transform the beauty chats he had during his treatments into something bigger. He wanted to make beauty "more impactful," for the people who "had the biggest impact" on him— a mission he's continued with his business Halo42, a brand focused on the power of beauty and wellness.

“Nurses are who you interface with the most," he says. "I realized, 'How amazing are these people coming to your room every day and acting like everything is perfectly normal when you look like death?’”

So 10 years ago he started a beauty event just for nurses. "The beauty moments with the nurses — sometimes everybody just needs to be recognized and told they're beautiful. And beautiful, I almost don't like the word because we always think of it as this outer thing, but it's not really. Any of that can change at any moment," explains Quinn. "If you're beautiful inside and you can make people feel that, they shine different and then they're kinder and they're brighter and they're happier."

Quinn's red-carpet style and backstage-at-an award-show-inspired makeovers are in full swing at Mass General once again as he hosted his 10th annual Nurse Appreciation event on May 13.

It's come a long way since he was giving makeovers in a small conference room to a handful of nurses around a boardroom table.

And he's proud of how much the event has grown.

"I started expanding, reaching out to other brands to donate stuff, and it kind of just kept becoming this much bigger thing," he says.

"There's this energy that happens every time, where it's like you see this light come forward. You just want to hug the nurses and talk to them and listen. And there's never enough time, and it becomes less about the makeup. It's this connection that happens. They're genuinely excited that we're there, and I'm so thrilled to see them because I honor what they do."

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