As a breast cancer survivor, I was intentional about spreading a certain messages this month: anyone can be diagnosed with breast cancer, and education about the disease could help save lives.
October is a time of pink ribbons, pink hair, pink packaging, pink signs, pink shirts and pink whatever in the name of breast cancer “awareness.” As a triple-negative breast cancer survivor, I am grateful for the awareness that breast cancer has, but our society’s breast health education is what really needs the extra push.
Education is what makes the difference between finding a lump and getting a scan versus finding a lump and doing nothing about it. Education makes a difference between finding a lump and being given the choice to “wait and see” versus immediately getting that next available appointment. Education is knowing that breast cancer is not always a lump. It is telling our young women that they are not too young to face this diagnosis and reminding medical teams that this happens to young women, too. Education is telling men that they could also face this disease or carry a gene mutation that is associated with it.
October has become synonymous with the color pink and “fun” slogans. But what if it became synonymous with how to perform self-exams and educational breast health? We need to educate our youth on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and share the stories of those who have faced this disease.
At 28, I was told I didn’t need a breast exam, and in that same appointment a lump was found. At 28, a doctor saw that my lump was 3.6 cm in my right breast from an ultrasound, and in that same appointment I was recommended to wait six months before doing anything about it.
Weeks later, at 28, I was diagnosed with stage 2B, grade 3 triple-negative breast cancer, a disease known for being one of the most aggressive breast cancers with limited treatment options.
A gut feeling made me question not getting a breast exam, and another gut feeling made me push for the first available biopsy appointment following that ultrasound. But it shouldn’t take a gut feeling to be the difference for young women. Open dialogue and education on breast health can and will save lives.
Intentionally Celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a Survivor
Breast cancer awareness month can carry a lot of emotions for survivors. I’ve noticed my own mixed feelings as I walk into stores and am surrounded by pink or see out-of-touch phrases. It’s a constant reminder of what we went through, and in some cases it can be extremely frustrating to see companies color something pink and say they are “raising awareness” without pushing resources or research forward.
It is important for those impacted by breast cancer to intentionally take this month on with what feels best for them. It may be advocating, partnering or signing off of social media if it feels too much.
I have had the opportunity to partner with amazing groups and causes to raise awareness, education and funds for research and survivors. My mission has been to shed light that women are not too young to be diagnosed with breast cancer, the impact of an act of kindness and TNBC. You’d be surprised to hear how many people do not realize there are different types of breast cancer and breast cancer treatments out there.
This year, I had the opportunity to model in a breast cancer campaign for Lori Goldstein x AnaOno. They joined together in support of the Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, and AnaOno has vowed to donate 10% of their net sales to the TNBC Foundation to go towards TNBC research. It was truly an honor to be included in this campaign.
On a beautiful day in August, I made my way to a studio in Philadelphia to meet the team and experience the collection. On the day I arrived, the models were all TNBC survivors, some whom I’ve only met online. Tears of gratitude flooded by eyes on the drive out, in front of the camera and on the drive home.
It meant so much to celebrate and honor my body after all it's been through for a cause that hits close to home.
At age 28, I overcame eight rounds of dose dense AC/T chemotherapy through my port, medical menopause, weight gain, hair loss, stretch marks and more. A day after my 29th birthday, I had a non-nipple-sparing bilateral mastectomy where all my breast tissue and four lymph nodes were removed; I opted for reconstruction with implants that was completed a few months later.
But there I was, modeling a shirt that reminds women and survivors they are beautiful as they are — with boobs, foobs, one boob or no boobs. I was dancing in my underwear on a rooftop in this same body that has overcome so much — celebrating and eventually raising funds towards TNBC research. It was truly beautiful, and I think you can feel a little bit of my heart in this moment here.
I recently wore some of the collection out in the real world and those feelings of gratitude, love and determination came flooding back. It's truly special and empowering to be surrounded by women who are determined to make an impact in this space and benefit research efforts by the Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. This will be a memory I will always hold close to heart.
Tips to Support Breast Cancer Awareness
I’ve also been inspired by my fellow thrivers to courageously help push our educational efforts forward. This means having open conversations that can be difficult, or questioning the “why” and “what” behind certain campaigns. For companies and leaders who think they’re helping the “awareness” initiative with inappropriate slogans and pinkwashed goods to drive your bottom line, there’s a host of people and sources ready to help you do more and do better.
Here’s a start:
I am glad we are “aware” this October, but as a society are we aware that young women under 40 are getting breast cancer and dying from this disease? Talking about young women facing this disease can help.
Education can help. I challenge you to spread education with your awareness efforts. Lives depend on it.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.