Don't Be Afraid to Feel Yourself (Up)!
Written by Alex Williamson, Head of Brand at Bumble.
Almost three and a half years ago, my mom received a call: She had an irregular mammogram. My dad was out of town, but I was in town visiting my parents. I tagged along for her second mammogram and for the doctor's appointment after her needle biopsy. I remember sitting in the doctor's office with her, surrounded by pamphlets with tips for keeping your scalp warm during chemo and information on breast cancer. "That sucks for those families," I thought to myself.
The doctor walked in and sat down. This doctor wasn't big big on for small talk. She opened with a statement I'll never forget: "We believe you have invasive ductile carcinoma with in situ characteristics." I grabbed my mom's hand and braced myself to listen to every word, allowing my mom to slip into shock so I could report the painful news in detail to my dad, my brothers, and her parents. As we stepped onto the elevator after the appointment, my mom looked at me and said, "That woman just told me I have cancer."
The next few months are a fog. I moved home to be with my parents. I sat in a waiting room holding my dad's hand for eight hours as the love of his life had a double mastectomy. I tried to make my mom laugh through rigorous chemotherapy sessions. My mom is known for her iconic mane of fiery red hair. Two days before her 53rd birthday, I walked into her bathroom to find my beautiful mother sitting at her vanity, holding clumps of hair in her hands. Thirty minutes later, I was standing in the back yard with shaky hands, shaving the thick head of hair I had envied since I was a child.
Three years later, as I relive the memories - the feelings of fear, anger, helplessness, and sorrow of that time - rush back to me. All I can think is one thing: Cancer sucks. You can eat as healthy as possible, be an incredible person (which my mom is), and help other people, but it doesn't matter.
Cancer can affect anyone at any time. That's why it's important to practice gratitude, to enjoy every day and every moment you get to share with the people you love. Our attitudes change everything. I witnessed first-hand how far a positive attitude can take a person in the throes of cancer treatment.
This isn't a post to brag about how brave my mom was, or how she went from warrior to survivor (though she did - heck yes Mom!), but rather a post to raise awareness. My mom was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which is the most aggressive form. Before her diagnosis, I thought breast cancer was breast cancer. While some breast cancers are hormonally fed, they still don't know the cause of Triple Negative. What they do know is TNBC is being diagnosed in girls as young as 16. While most people assume breast cancer is an older woman's disease, it's affecting young women everyday. The most alarming part of TNBC is there's only one treatment plan. The farther into the disease women are when they're diagnosed, the more difficult it can be to treat and remove from the body.
Scary? Absolutely. We were terrified when my mom was diagnosed. But the most powerful tool we have to protect ourselves is education and prevention. To put it simply, feel yourself up before you let someone else do it. Get to know your girls. Know how they feel during all phases of your cycle so you can tell when something doesn't feel right. Find a gynecologist you like and trust, and keep an open line of communication with her. Ask questions, educate yourself, and care about your health. Learn about your family history. Look at cancer patterns so you know what to keep an eye on.
This isn't paranoia. (If a doctor ever makes you feel like it is, walk straight out of that office and find a better doctor.) This is an act of self love. You get one body, so treat it with compassion. Have your own back so you can continue to live life to the fullest.
And for the love of all that is good, always remember: Examining your breasts is more important than Instagramming them.
Alex Williamson for The Bumble Hive
Alex's mom, Cathy, is the founder of The Middle Page blog, where she bravely chronicled her journey with TNBC. She uses the platform to help other women with the disease.