October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to, U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, “about 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 13%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.” I used to scroll past posts like these with a “thumbs up” thinking that’s all I needed to acknowledge the movement.
Eleven years ago, I was invited to be a special guest in Kansas City’s Fountain Pinking Ceremony on October 2nd, 2010. It was a beautiful event where selected people gathered, adding pink dye to the city’s most famous fountain on the Plaza. The ceremony was a symbolic way to honor those who have passed away and support those who have survived their journey, while raising awareness about breast cancer. I was honored to be included as a VIP, but I remember feeling out of place. I wasn’t a survivor. And at the time, I hadn’t personally known many women who had experienced this horrible disease. I was invited to participate because I am passionate about supporting women advocacy events. I was honored to show my universal support of women, while recognizing one of the difficult journeys we may encounter in our lives.
Along with my mom and my two daughters, I also invited a friend who had recently overcome breast cancer. The event was especially meaningful to her and her daughter. Through the years, we’ve remembered it fondly together, and I am thankful we got to know each other better that day. However, it took a full decade before I truly understood the magnitude of the ceremony, and most of all, what it means to be a survivor.
Fast forward to Fall 2021 – I am on my way to being a breast cancer survivor. I am only two months into my journey, and I have a long road ahead of me before I can say I am officially cancer free. Earlier this year, my dad passed away from congestive heart failure. His decline inspired me to be more proactive about my own health. I am forty-five years young, but I want to manage my health now so I can age comfortably and gracefully.
I scheduled my first mammogram in early August after noticing some concerning signs. Initially, I tried to tell myself I was overreacting. Breast cancer does not run in our family, and I believed my healthy lifestyle had decreased my chances of developing breast cancer. However, the results of my mammogram revealed several questionable masses. I had an ultrasound, followed by a biopsy of two suspicious tumors on the same day. Within a few hours of checking in for a routine mammogram, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I went to the appointment by myself, but as the discussions became more serious, my husband was able to join me to hear the diagnosis. I had invasive ductal carcinoma. Following several weeks of appointments and other tests, including a breast MRI, I ended up having a single mastectomy on September 10th. Some get a choice between a lumpectomy, or mastectomy – I did not have an option. During that surgery, twenty-one lymph nodes were also removed. The cancer had spread into four of those lymph nodes, requiring me to start chemotherapy in October, eleven years after I naively participated in that memorable Pinking Ceremony.
Throughout these physically painful and emotionally challenging weeks, I have been encouraged by the positive diagnosis that my form of breast cancer is in fact “survivable and treatable.“ I understand and appreciate the value of these words. However, it’s a lot to process. Cancer is frightening, no matter how many encouraging words we hear as we face each uncertain step towards recovery.
Everyone’s treatment plan is different. For me, five months of chemotherapy will be followed by four-six weeks of radiation, followed by medication, followed by reconstructive surgeries within the year ahead. While all of these are truly wonderful medical advancements, it feels like a series of violating forms of punishment. Cancer is a crime against our bodies, and our lives are interrupted as we do the time for an offense we didn’t commit.
While I cannot fully control what is happening to my body, I can control the narrative. Having a positive mindset is a crucial part of healing my whole body and my broken spirit. I learned a long time ago, centering oneself in a place of gratitude can offset suffering. And I am most grateful for the abundance of support I have received from my friends, family, and church communities in recent weeks. I have a gratitude debt for which no amount of thank you notes can adequately express my appreciation for the love, support, and acts of kindness our family has experienced. I realize there are others who face this journey alone. Having such a strong and supportive network is a blessing, and has eased so many uncertainties.
Initially, I felt the need to turn inward and remain private, keeping my community small. Now, I’m choosing to share my journey with a wider circle to put the spotlight on breast cancer, not me. As I learn more about this disease, I want to do my part to raise awareness. I’m hoping my story will inspire others to get a mammogram, even if it doesn’t run in your family, or if you think you are considered low risk. For women over forty, it’s easy to dismiss abnormalities as hormonal changes. Plus, many of us fill our schedules with other things, putting off important appointments for ourselves. Yes, mammograms are awkward and uncomfortable, but cancer is worse.
Make your body a priority. I know I wish I had done so sooner. Overall, I have felt healthy through the years, and I didn’t feel the need to see a doctor for anything. However, based on the spread of my cancer, it appears my body has been carrying this for quite a while, long before the visible signs finally got my attention. I will always wonder if I could have avoided such an invasive surgery and aggressive treatment plan had we found the tumors earlier. I am also aware that thinking about what I could have, or should have done doesn’t help me heal, or change anything about my situation. Once again, I am reminded to live in the present, one moment at a time.
We caught my cancer in time, making it treatable and survivable. This is only a short chapter of my life, which will have a long lasting impact. I’ve been given a second chance to be stronger and healthier than before.