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Viva Las Vegas was Portland, Oregon’s most famous stripper. After breast cancer left her with a mastectomy, she went through a period of soul searching—then got back on stage.

by Melissa Leon for Daily Beast

"Viva started stripping 13 years ago, after she moved to Portland from Minnesota (by way of Williams College), where she grew up a preacher’s daughter. Last year, she felt she was approaching the end of her career. Time was taking its toll on her body. Then, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her memoir, Magic Gardens, documents her journey from twenty-something stripper to activist and acolyte. It’s also the exploration of fantasy versus reality, apt subject matter for a stripper who found herself suddenly bald and missing a breast.

Magic Gardens shows Viva at about that same age, when she became a local spokesperson for the sex industry after agreeing to debate a woman who claimed stripping fed the porn industry and led to violence against women. The debate occurred face-to-face at the offices of Portland’s alt-weekly The Willamette Week, which ran a photo of Viva on the cover. Soon the television stations came calling for interviews. Her notoriety led to roles in numerous indie films, including Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park and The Auteur by James Westby.

But her career was derailed last year, when her boyfriend found a small lump in her breast. They broke up in the early stages of her cancer treatment, an event Viva says was worse than the cancer—she had a plan for healing and doctors who would help, but no plan for getting over her heartbreak. She stopped stripping and struggled with how she’d make a living during and after the three-month treatment—a mastectomy and chemotherapy.

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