Prior to my diagnosis I was a thriving mother-2 sons, self proclaimed athlete, wife, professional model, philanthropist, addicted to societies accolades, insecure, zero self esteem and totally dependent on my external beauty.
The year before my diagnosis, I had a torn ligament in my right wrist. I went to several doctors who all said I had to have surgery. I picked the surgeon with the pedigree, Stanford grad. He performed the surgery. My biggest complaint during that time was when would I get back to yoga, by Christmas he proclaimed.
6 weeks later the pretty pink cast came off, his physical therapist showed me a free exercises to start with to get movement back and I was on my way,
2 days later my arm ballooned with swelling and grotesque pain. I literally could not move in bed, I laid my heavy right arm on my chest like a mother holding an infant and shook in pain. After several hours of icing it I called my surgeon. It was a Sunday, and I was worried that I was disturbing him on his day off-(self-esteem issue).
The surgeon told my I over-iced it. I believed him. One week past and my arm was still on my chest, I was still in bed, and the swelling was ginormous.
I asked my husband to call the surgeon and take me to his office. Once in the surgeons office, I could hear him but he did not see me, his physical therapist told me I had over used it. She splinted it and sent me home.
One week later I called the surgeon again, my husband drove me, I carried my arm on my chest and I was seen by the surgeon. He told me I had this thing called RSD, it was a bummer but not to panic, I would see his pain management doctor and we would go from there.
He explained RSD was a misfire in your brain-basically my brain was saying to my right arm-PAIN-SWELLING, when in fact it was fine.
So I went to his pain management doctor, she loaded me up with pain meds and they sent me to a physical therapist far away from their offices.
A month went by, and still extreme pain, I ditched the narcotics but went to PT daily to get as much movement back in my right wrist as possible. Christmas had come and gone and still no yoga.
A month goes by and wrist is getting worse, I see the surgeon on occasion and the real bullying begins.
Long story much shorter, I finally get up enough courage, 6 months into this arm debacle and see a second opinion (self-esteem issue).
The new doctor took one Xray and every bone in my wrist was broken, I had no cartilage left and within hours I was in emergency surgery to dig out as much infection as possible. You see, the entire time, dated back to the original day of surgery, I had an infection brewing. It's as showing its nasty face by the pain, swelling and loss of movement, but the doctor was ignoring all the signs.
Ultimately, I went to NYC to HSS hospital where they excavated my own broken wrist, replaced it with cadaver bones, cadaver bone grafts and a cadaver Achilles tendon. My arm was now permanently fused-handicapped and in full pain.
6 weeks post arm fusion, I was back in NYC in a hotel with a heavy cast on from my finger tips to my shoulder attempting to take a shower. My heavy cast hanging out of the shower, I took the bar of soap and brushed it over my left breast to wash it and immediately felt a lump. 6 days later, still trying to imagine life with a fused arm, how would I cook? Drive? Type? Take care of my kids, myself, my husband, my modeling career? I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. 41 years young, no family history of BC and now a sickly woman needing constant care and attention.
Upon diagnosis, what was your first thought?
I couldn’t wait to die. After the previous year of being in grotesque physical pain, to being stripped away of so much of what I loved with a freshly fused arm, to losing all that time with my children, to facing a new trauma, and the realization that my self-esteem was so damaged, to facing the realization that I allowed that vicious doctor to bully me for months. All cascaded in my mind, I was desperate to die, to quit, to move on to a more peaceful place and to free up the burden of my life on the ones who loved me. Fortunately, that sentiment only lastly the firs month. That is when I began to fight for my life, my self-esteem and my worth.
What is something that gets you through the hardest days?
Many things. Fortunately I rebuilt my self-esteem. I replaced people who put me down with people who wanted to cheer me on, I shut down the negative mental thoughts that previously consumed me, (your are not worthy, you are not beautiful, you are not capable-you are only……). Those limited beliefs no longer paralyzed me. I also rebuilt my life on things that could not be taken away, I knew my beauty could be taken, my material items, the very bags I used o covet couldn’t save me or comfort me during chemotherapy. I shred the false Idols in my life that never filled me up, they were only temporary. So now I live to serve, to inspire, to share hope, to use my story of pain to make others feel less alone in their struggles. I speak vulnerably about who I was and why that life doesn’t work. So on my hardest days, I seek to serve more, I find new ways to offer hope, I search for people who are lonely to help them because I never want anyone to feel as bad as I have felt in my life. I also cling to God and my faith in a higher power, that cannot be taken from me.
Who is another women who also had cancer that I admire.
Truthfully, I have many women I admire, mostly the friends who taught me self love and stood in a space that allowed me to learn about what truly matters-not stuff-but people. They led me through the seasons of trauma in my life and assured me that once I was healthy, I would have the privilege of inspiring others. They are my heroes. In the cancer world, I have many friends and I respect all survivors, It’s a traumatic road for us all. I was diagnosed with stage 2 level 3 Her 2 positive breast cancer October 1, 2012.
I would say my support system has historically been my female relationships. I could even say that back in high school. I am a strong believer in women standing together, not standing alone. I have great parents who also have helped me along my path. My support system now would include people I have met through what I do, my modeling career, my speaking career, the non-profit boards I sit on and even some long time followers on socials. I have been lucky enough or courageous enough or maybe crazy enough to be very honest about my story, and because of that, I have an astounding amount of people who cheer me on, I am ridiculously grateful for that.
Resources for other women?
I wish the resources for women going through breast cancer were more widely known. For example, when I was going through active chemotherapy in 2012-2013, there was not a support group at the hospital I was being treated. I think since then, there are, but those are few and far between. I believe socials can help, following survivors or organizations is important BUT I truly believe we need to be seen, heard and touched. SO that means in person. I get to speak to lots of organizations so I meet survivors and become an ear for others, but one complaint I hear about is this lack of nationwide support. We need more. The walks and activities around cancer are great if you are able to participate because you can meet people there. Doing this type of campaign and sharing real stories is critical for others going through cancer, nobody wants to feel alone in their diagnosis.
What society gets wrong about young women battling breast cancer and cancer in general?
I wish I could shout this answer from the rooftops. Society is mistaken about the perception that when women complete active treatment, the story and the battle over. Too often, survivors have only begun. There is what I call-FOR-Fear of Reoccurrence that paralyzes so many. That alone should be talked about. Next, there are emotional as well as physical side effects to treatment AFTER treatment is over, there are too many to list. For me personally, I have heart damage from one of the chemo’s I endured, I have liver damage also from the chemo, I had an almost fatal MRSA infection in 2020 from the implant I had put in after my mastectomies, the lists go on and on. Just two weeks ago, I had PET scan, which is an invasive test to rule out cancer. So often cancer survivors go through ‘scares’ and tests for years and decades after. Post care, compassion and connection are crucial. Let's start talking more about this. I heard a statistic one time about the number of women who take their life during or after treatment. Cancer can be a very lonely disease. it doesn’t havre to take money to help someone, it just take awareness. Check in with someone who has been diagnosed, send a text, give them a call and if you don’t know what to say, say that. Say, “I don’t know what to say but I want you to know I care.”
Advice for someone newly diagnosed?
Be kind and gentle with yourself and your emotions. It is a gigantic roller coaster, the less you try to control the better. Let go of pride, my insecurity and lack of self esteem got me stuck in a mindset that it was shameful to ask for help. That is pride. Let that shit go, ask for help-you will need it and people WANT to help. Work on your inner self not just outer self. When we have a low self esteem we make marginal decisions. During my 15 months of chemotherapy, there were plenty of days I was laying on the bathroom floor in between vomiting, I was on that floor doing introspective work. I was not meditating on self pity, I was ruminating on ways to chance negative self talk. There are many moments after diagnosis that fears can grip you, the more you work on self love and self care, the less that fear can keep you stuck. Lastly, a diagnosis can be an opportunity, to show courage, to teach others around what it looks like to be brave and scared at the same time. You deserve time, and attention-ask for it and give it to yourself.
The last song I listened to……
Pachelbels Cannon in D-mostly because I want to get married again. So I am manifesting love. Which is funny because I don’t even have a boyfriend? To be continued……