Hi! I'm a rough around the edges, cuss words for adjectives, sensitive heart that will do anything I can to help someone. I've been married to my incredible husband for 10 years and am so very lucky to be mommy to our seven year old twin girls. I’m the youngest of 4 girls who took full advantage of being “the baby of the family” and now I work like hell to move past that title. To most people I seem very outgoing and gregarious but to those that know me best I’m actually painfully shy. It’s only once that I feel comfortable does the loud, playful, attention grabbing side pop out. I’m a voracious reader of books and a lover of long bicycle rides. I love to travel and hate to fly! I love deeply and with my whole self and am incredibly protective of the people I love. I dream of writing a book about my sister and I that one day becomes a movie.
Upon diagnosis, what was your first thought?
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer all I could think was, “now is not the time”. My oldest sister was in the hospital dying from the disease and my parents were barely holding on. They were taking turns living in my sister’s hospital room and helping her husband and young son. My next thought was, “how the hell do I tell my parents that I have cancer too?!” Being told I had cancer wasn’t nearly the sucker punch I thought it would be. Having to tell my family that they now had 2 daughters, sisters with the disease was the most horrible and guilt wrenching feeling.
Sometimes it’s hard to “thrive,” we all have days where we are just trying to survive. What is something that gets you through on the hardest days?
Between my survivor's guilt and the fear that my cancer will come back I have days that I slip in a dark, cold hole. These days my pain and even rage have quite literally brought me to my knees and to my bedroom, where I lay in complete darkness and sob. I always allow these moments. I feel as though I need to honor them and allow myself to really feel each tear that rips me open. And no matter how deep I get in that hole there’s always these 2 sets of little hands that reach for me and pull me out. My miracles. My twin baby girls who were born 5 years after my sister's death and my diagnosis. Their brilliant lights and all encompassing love brings me back and fills me with so much joy and happiness. And then there’s him. My husband. The man who walked into my life when I was going through the absolute worst time. He walked in with his eyes wide open and told me he was going to love and support me through it all, forever. These are my people. They are my whys.
Who is another woman you have admired on this journey that has shared a similar experience with breast cancer/cancer (please type what type of cancer you had/have)?
I have always admired how my sister lived with breast cancer. She made sure to never stop living. She didn’t let cancer take anything away, especially without a fight. She left in me awe of how she tried to live a “normal” life, despite living with stage 4 cancer. A life that required weekly chemo treatments, numerous surgeries as well as other procedures. I know she did it for more than herself. She was married with a young son and she never wanted her disease to affect their lives. Everything she did was for them. 3 months after my diagnosis my sister died of breast cancer. I know I never took the time to “deal” with my own cancer diagnosis because of how quickly it all happened. I was diagnosed while she was in the ICU, my mastectomy was while she was in a medically induced coma, I had my egg retrieval surgery hours before her funeral and I started chemo a week later. In those moments I tapped into my sister. She always handled her setbacks with such grit and grace and I was going to do everything I could to do the same. I didn’t want to be the cause of any more pain in my family's life and I wanted to make her proud.
We all need a good support system; who makes up yours?
I’m so lucky to have a large support system. So many feel as though they’re alone in their diagnosis but from the beginning I’ve been surrounded with love and support. My parents and sisters have always been there. From Tracy’s initial diagnosis to my own, we have held and supported one another through all of the tears, the laughter and the anger. The numerous doctors appointments, surgeries and chemo treatments and hospital stays. My sister and I were NEVER alone. I also have a niece and 4 nephews who, at incredibly young ages, knew the intricacies of cancer and always had hugs and love to give. Even giving their own words of support and encouragement. I have a fabulous group of friends as well as my sister's friends who have all showed up for me whenever I’ve needed them. And of course my husband and daughters, who are my foundations. The ones who believe, unwaveringly, that we can get through anything together.
Through your journey, what are some resources you have found that would be helpful to other women?
When I was first told I had the BRCA1 gene mutation I found an organization called Bright Pink. THeir mission is to accelerate the impact of life saving breast and ovarian health interventions. Talking with them helped me confidently decide to have a preventive mastectomy with reconstruction. I refused to “do cancer”. HOwever before my surgery at the pre-surgery tests my doctor found a mass and now my surgery was necessary instead of preventive. However, because of my sister I already knew the exact organization and group of women to lean on. The women of The Young Survival Coalition descended upon me and my family with all the help we could possibly need. The YSC is a premiere non-profit dedicated to educating the medical community and the public that breast cancer can and does happen to young adults. They have been an absolute force in my life who helped me find my voice and showed me how I could take the power back from cancer. I found so much support and strength in them and the other young adults I have met through the organization. Another amazing organization is Pink Cans 4 Cancer found by my friends Tony and Robbie. They are not only environmentally conscious with the recycling of cans and bottles but the money from the recycling is then used to support young women with breast cancer. From arranging rides to chemo treatments, paying for medical expenses or even the cost of funerals But also to help young women realize their dreams. Thanks to them they are supporting me and helped arrange the contacts for me to write a book about my sister and I. I feel so incredibly lucky that I have had such incredible organizations to help and guide me during my diagnosis and beyond.
What is something society gets wrong about young women battling breast cancer and cancer in general?
Unfortunately there are those that are still shocked to find that young women are diagnosed with breast cancer. There are still doctors who will send a young woman home after she points to a lump and tell their doctor it doesn't feel right. This is what happened to my sister. Her doctor dismissed her concerns over a lump and it took another 6 months and pressure from my sister before he would agree to a needle biopsy. Perhaps if her doctor had been better educated on young women with breast cancer, Tracy would have caught her cancer earlier and she would still be here.
You come across another woman who has just received her diagnosis. What is one piece of advice you’d have for them at that moment?
When I speak to young women who are newly diagnosed I always tell them that they must take the time to honor their feelings and emotions. If they want to sit in their sadness and fear for a short time then they need to. TOr if they want to go in “fight mode” have it. But then, no matter their diagnosis, of the stage of their cancer, they must live. They need to get up and go to their doctor's appointments. Do not skip that dinner with friends. GOne on the trip, fall in love, start new career, learn to ride a motorcycle. Just live. Rest and take time when you need to and then get out there and live. And no matter what, you will never be alone.
Because we have to (we love music here) - what’s the last song you listened to?
Ed Sheerhan’s Joker and the Queen. We’re MASSIVE Ed Sheerhan fans. Especially my daughter Tessa.