Approximately 26,000 women 45 and younger were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020.
I was one of them.
. . .
Literally the day before my 46th birthday I got the call that I had Triple Negative Invasive Ductile Carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer, the profile and demographic for which I did not fit. Just a few weeks prior, this blog had done a feature on our friend Nanette, a breast cancer survivor who we paired with our stylist friend Elizabeth to give Nanette a new look in her new body, having made the choice to go “flat” following her victory over breast cancer.
To be honest, I was rather nonplussed during the shoot. Don’t get me wrong, I was delighted for Nanette, and knew this was an important message for AFL to be taking the lead on because this was our demographic. But on a personal level, I was so far removed from this issue and this community. Embarrassingly enough, it was little more than a box to check for me. Breast cancer wasn’t a part of my life and wasn’t gonna be. There is no family history of cancer of any type and didn’t have any risk factors. I was blissfully ignorant about it, beyond the fact that October is its awareness month, and that I had my yearly mammograms scheduled for that month each fall. Again – check the box.
. . .
There are a handful of days in one’s life that are turning points, milestones, course corrections, which alter the trajectory of your life. The death of a loved one, the loss of a career, divorce, the birth of a child, the news of a diagnosis. November 10, 2020, was one of those days for me. Because up until that point, I was completely unaware.
As my friend Sarrah Strimel with @damngoodyoga in NYC, a fellow BC Warrior put it: “I wasn’t aware of any of it. I wasn’t aware I could get breast cancer at (my age) with no family history. I wasn’t aware that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. I wasn’t aware of the chemical menopause, the fertility devastation, that there is more than one type of breast cancer, of metastatic disease, recurrence rates, and reconstruction options. I was only aware that every October there were countless walks/galas/pink ribbons/brand partnerships that raise money for breast cancer. That seemed like an amazing thing to do for ‘those women’ who got breast cancer and a cause that women like me (young, healthy, vibrant) would love to support in a white wine swishing, put on a pink lip, and do good kind of way.”
I AM ONE OF “THOSE WOMEN.” Healthy, young, vibrant, AND a breast cancer survivor.
Over the course of the last year, I’ve become all too aware of the devastating effect of breast cancer on the body, mind, and spirit.
I’m aware that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women 15-39 years old.
I’m aware that early detection is critical to success and survival rate.
I’m aware that even with no family history, no BRCA gene mutation, no lifestyle risk factors, and no reason whatsoever, that you too can have breast cancer.
I’m aware that I was the one in 8 who drew the short straw.
I’m aware that breast cancer shatters life as we know it.
And I’m aware of how incredibly and unbelievably lucky I am to have caught it early, to have had the best doctors and the most robust course of treatment, and to have received a “NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE” result. I’m also aware that not everyone with breast cancer gets that outcome. Or has access to that type of medical care.
It’s no secret that October is breast cancer awareness month. I had felt compelled to make my social media feed a whole month-long diatribe on breast cancer and post something about it every day. But then I decided I didn’t want to give effing breast cancer that sort of power and space in my life. It’s already taken enough. It took my hair, my breasts, my short-term memory, my joint health, my strength, my eyebrows and lashes, and my physical self-worth. It took 12 months already. I’m not giving it any more of my time.
And quite frankly it shouldn’t take me to remind all of you – whoever you are that is reading this – more than one simple time how important it is to be diligent about your health. Check yourself. Get your mammogram. There’s no excuse to put it off.
So, this is the last breast cancer post you get from me. Fittingly, the day after “Breast Cancer Month” is over. Once diagnosed, you never get the luxury of it being “just a month” ever again. So this is the last time I am telling you since I must relive it every time I look in the mirror. I don’t want to relive it on social media repeatedly too. As another breast cancer survivor said, “My brain often pretends like that person with no hair and a tube in her chest, wasn’t me. It happened to someone else. Well, it was me and I must constantly accept that and tell my brain to shut up. It’s powerful to have to fight for your life and come out on the other side.”
Zeta Tau Alpha put out a self-assessment tool to check your risk. Use it.
Schedule your mammogram.
Don’t presume it won’t affect you.
Don’t frame it as “those women,” because we are all those women.
Photography by Chie Endo