Early into my treatment I felt isolated and alone, frustrated about the lack of resources available for young women facing a cancer diagnosis. I struggled to find other young women in my area, who would understand what I was going through. The challenges of facing a cancer diagnosis in my 20’s were unique. I had different things to worry about than my older counterparts: intimacy, sex, fertility, working through treatment and body image. The faces I saw in the hospitals and waiting rooms didn’t look like mine. Doctors, nurses and strangers all told me I was too young. Unfortunately, young women can and do get breast cancer. I just so happen to be one of those unlucky women. One of the 12,000 young women diagnosed with breast cancer each year—the ONE out of every eight women under 45 who will face this disease.
I was fed up. I wanted to find online resources and blogs written by other women like me. I wanted to read their stories, take in their tips and connect with women who knew what I was facing. I wanted to feel less alone in this nightmare. And that’s how My Cancer Chic was born. I was a lover of all things beauty and fashion, and cancer wasn’t going to change that. Cancer may take my breasts and my hair, but I would keep my lipstick and heels. I would keep my style, and I WOULD find a way to feel beautiful despite it all.
I always loved journaling for myself, but I had never shared my writing with anyone since a creative writing class in middle school. Writing was therapeutic for me—a way to process my grief. I decided if I couldn’t find a story like mine, I would share my own. I didn’t want anyone else to experience the isolation I felt. Lost in a sea of grey hair and mastectomy bras, I wanted to inspire other young women to find their confidence and see their beauty during this awful time. I wanted them to have the confidence to rock the bald head and feel strong and sexy. One woman at a time, I spread my message and led by example.
Sharing Leads to Sisterhood
The more I shared my story, the more I began to connect with other young women. I found these women through my blog, Facebook, Instagram and through friends and family who shared my story. Women began to email me from around the world. They shared stories of their own—their struggles, their fears and the way my honesty, positivity and vulnerability changed their lives and brought them inspiration during times when they felt hopeless.
That changed everything for me. I found my tribe—my sisterhood. I found inspiration and renewed strength in this knowledge. No matter how bad my chemo reactions were, or how many surgical complications I faced, these women lifted me up. On the days I felt ugly, mutilated and betrayed by my body, they just got it. They got me.
As I neared the end of chemo, a major depression set in. I had been so focused on making it from day to day, staying alive, that I had no idea how to just BE. Cancer changed the way I saw the world, and I was fearful of what the future would hold. How would I go back to my “normal” life and continue on? I didn’t feel like me anymore. I felt branded and traumatized. How would I redefine myself at this crossroads?
It was around that time that I learned about Young Survival Coalition. I immediately ordered the Newly Diagnosed Navigator. I wished I had this resource earlier on when I was overwhelmed and needed guidance. I also decided to take a chance and apply for a travel grant* to the 2016 YSC National Summit in Atlanta.
The Sisterhood Domino Effect
I can say without a doubt that the YSC Summit changed the path of my life. After attending the three-day conference with my husband, I came home with a renewed sense of purpose. I felt beautiful and empowered. I knew that although cancer had changed me, it couldn’t control me. I had control over what I would make of this experience and my life moving forward. I decided to use it for good. It was my turn to give back to this community and change the lives of other young women like me.
The connections I made at YSC triggered a whirlwind of opportunities for me to share my story and advocate for others. I began sharing the YSC guidebooks, filming a video diary series, and this past summer, I also started the first Raleigh support group for young women facing breast cancer. This was yet another avenue for me to support young survivors and make a difference in their lives. In five short months, we have grown from five to more than 35 members, and newly diagnosed women are finding us every day. YSC makes our group easy to find. I collaborate with local specialists, hospitals and healthcare providers to provide my group members with valuable connections and resources. I have come to be known as a local resource, a friend and an inspiration for those around me.
In addition to the support group, I am very active in the YSC online community where I have connected with thousands of women across the US. We share our fears, our struggles and everyday advice for treatment and beyond. We celebrate each other’s triumphs and mourn those we lose. This sisterhood I have joined is unlike anything I have ever known or experienced. These women I call my “survivor sisters” are like family to me. We share a special bond. We are united in our struggle, our triumphs and our rebirth. This illness will not define us. We lift each other up and celebrate each other with love and support. For anyone who has a sister or has been a part of strong group of women, I am sure you can relate to these powerful feelings.
With each new survivor I meet, my family circle grows. It’s a domino effect. One connection leads to the next, and before you know it, you’re looped into a plethora of amazing breast cancer resources across the country. No matter where in the world you are, no matter what your background, you are accepted and connected to this lifeline. Despite being strangers, we instantly accept and embrace each other—flaws and all. For those of us that are lucky enough to meet in person, the bond goes even deeper. We can talk for hours sharing our stories, our fears and how cancer has changed our lives. It’s like we’ve known each other for years. As we say in the YSC community: “initiation sucks, but the sisterhood is forever”. I never wanted cancer or the treatment that followed, but I wouldn’t trade this sisterhood I have gained for anything in this world.
Join Anna in Orlando!
If you are lost, struggling to face a cancer diagnosis alone, know that this sisterhood is waiting to welcome you with open arms. The 2018 YSC Summit is coming up on February 23 in Orlando, FL, and this is a great opportunity to connect with other survivors and learn more about life after cancer, fertility, advocacy and the unique challenges we face. I highly recommend you attend. I guarantee you will leave the Summit with tons of new friends, and you will feel empowered and reengaged in life. The YSC Summit also allows for amazing connections with resources and organizations across the country focused on providing care, support and guidance for young women facing breast cancer. I’ll be there with many of my survivor sisters, and I hope you’ll join us for a weekend of education, fun and sisterhood.
If you are already a member of the YSC sisterhood, stop and take a moment to appreciate this gift we have been blessed with—a network of women from all walks of life, spread across the world, holding each other close in their hearts. Whatever the future may hold, this group will be here for you. Like an old friend, always by your side.
Join us on February 23-25, 2018 for the 2018 YSC National Summit in Orlando, FL. Register before January 1st for early bird savings and RSVP on the 2018 YSC Summit Facebook event page for important announcements!
If you’re interested in joining us in Orlando, FL and need travel assistance, become a Summit Fundraiser and receive up to $1000 in travel reimbursement. Sign up today! Fee Waivers for Registration are still available. Learn more here.
Not in the Raleigh area, but interested in finding your local support group? Our Face 2 Face networks are peer-led social networking groups that offer young women affected by breast cancer an opportunity to connect with other young women in their community. Find your local F2F group or learn how you can start one today!