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Cosplay with cancer: The story of Mikomi Hokina

Cosplay sensation Mikomi Hokina first caught my eye several years ago. Blowing my mind with her spectacular rendition of Overwatch’s Widowmaker, it was as though the FPS game’s iconic Parisian sniper had walked straight out of Talon HQ and into our much less exciting world.

Imagine then the pit that opened in my stomach when Mikomi shared that she had cancer. As an avid fan of her work, my heart shattered. I feared the worst, worrying over a swarm of would-have-beens, should-have-beens, and what-could-have-beens. But knowing Mikomi and just how powerful she is, I should’ve known she would kick cancer’s sorry ass.

In early September Miko received the news that she is cancer-free, and here she is, chatting away to me on a Zoom call radiating light, life, and happiness. This is the story of Mikomi Hokina, the cosplayer who fought cancer and won.

Diagnosis

“About two hours before leaving for Thailand on a trip, I received the results saying I had cancer. It was not that great,” Mikomi says, with startling stoicism. “I think it was February 27 when I got the diagnosis and the results of the biopsy, and when I got back from Thailand the hospital appointments started. By March 28 I was doing my first chemotherapy session.”

The diagnosis was triple-negative breast cancer, which is a cancer that “reacts really well to chemo, so they knew that they could treat it.” The doctors went in hard to remove it, which Miko explains “is why the treatment was so short and aggressive. When you talk about cancer you’re thinking months or years, but I got diagnosed at the end of February and by the end of September I was cancer-free.”

While her treatment time was relatively short compared to others, it doesn’t mean the symptoms were any less bothersome – especially when your career is built around character impersonation and modelling. The common conception is that you have to be ‘pretty’ in order to cosplay, and match the proportions of the characters you seek to transform into. For many, their image of cancer treatment is the antithesis of what ‘pretty’ looks like. Did Mikomi have any concerns about what the diagnosis meant for her cosplay career?

“The first thing that hit me was that I was going to have to work twice as hard,” she states. “You’re sick, you’re going to be feeling tired, and with your appearance changing it takes so much longer to get ready. Also, when you’re getting ready, you look in the mirror and it’s a little perplexing. As a cosplayer you know all of the different tricks for makeup and so on, but without features like eyebrows and eyelashes on your face it looks similar, but different. I found myself looking in the mirror and being like ‘something’s up, something’s wrong.’

“When I look at my pictures people don’t see much of a change, they can’t tell when they’re just looking at a picture. They don’t know how to tell the difference between fake eyebrows and your real ones, which is great because the illusion is maintained, but I can see it, because it’s my face.”

She also recalls having to “put socks” in her wigs to “keep the head round” as they would flatten due to her lack of hair. While we both giggle as she tells me all the inventive workarounds she had to find as a result of her illness, there’s still a sense of sadness – after all, to borrow Miko’s words, “there’s still a long way to go to get back to how I looked before.”

“I may never look like before because I had a bilateral mastectomy and implants – so I look similar again, but different. My hair is also growing back grey instead of brown, so I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to what I was.”

She cites losing her eyebrows as the hardest part of daily life. “Before that, when you have no hair but you still have eyebrows, it kind of looks like a choice to just shave your head. When you lose your eyebrows, you’re the ‘cancer patient,’ and that’s hard to accept.”

Thankfully her brows are back and she no longer “looks like a balding old man” with stubborn hair at the back that “was staying on for some reason.” While she laughs, she admits “I took the razor and shaved it all, and it was really hard to do. It’s a process of acceptance, which is not easy. I still haven’t completely gone through it,” she confesses. “Cosplay has actually kept me feeling pretty in a sense, because when you cosplay your hair is back, you look like a different character; you’re just something else, and that keeps the illusion up a bit.”

With the good comes the bad, however. As Miko opened up about her diagnosis on social media, she was met with outpourings of support, while simultaneously being called a liar and a fraud.

A woman in a skin tight metallic purple suit with long black hair in a ponytail and tattoos looks down at the camera over her shoulder with a city background

Perhaps in my ignorance I asked Miko what it was like having her fans support her, and she replied with a shocked “asking about the supportive aspect was really unexpected because a lot of the time on social media it’s like ‘oh you’re pretty hot baby, give me your number’ and stuff like that. Of course there are a lot of people that are not brain-dead, but there are a lot of brain-dead people.

“When you do sexual content a lot of people don’t think with their brain anymore, and this is what I expected when the announcement went out; I saw myself posting a video of me saying ‘guys I have cancer’ and I’m about to cry and there’s people saying ‘oh you’re so beautiful and hot baby.’ Thankfully I avoided the majority of that.” She does clarify, however, that “a lot of people thought I was doing it for attention, as if that brings me anything. People told me I was faking it and that I shaved my head for internet clout.”

For every negative message she can recall a positive, though. “When I posted for the first time without my hair, people really surprised me in terms of support because they were so kind. It really made me realise that people are somewhat linked to cancer, be them close or far from it. When I posted, it wasn’t the model persona that posted it, it was the human behind the internet character, and talking about it made me feel better.”

To those who are struggling, she urges them to “keep holding on. Set yourself goals, small goals. That kept me going; it was like ‘yeah when I’m cancer-free, I’m going to do this and that.’ Life goes on you know, and it’s not like you’re not capable of doing anything. When you feel capable, do something and don’t stay in bed all the time. Take it one step at a time and keep your focus on something that’s good for your mental health.”

You can check out Miko’s cancer journey on her Instagram and Twitter. For those who are, or know someone who is suffering from cancer, you can donate to Cancer Research UK in the United Kingdom, the National Breast Cancer Foundation in the USA, and Breast Cancer Now in Europe.


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