For 3 years as a YSC State Leader and Face 2 Face Coordinator (F2F), Josephine has welcomed hundreds with open arms, an open heart and her spectacularly witty and life-affirming sense of humor. She served as coordinator of the Seattle Face 2 Face group and has contributed endless hours to supporting so many young women through this whole life-changing process. The cancer dance is often difficult; Josephine adds a dash of two-step with her vibrant, thoughtful and unwavering support. We are honored to present Josephine Lowry as a YSC Game Changer for her work as a volunteer.
What inspires you in your work to support, empower or educate young women affected by breast cancer?
I was just developing breasts when my mother was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Even though it was the 1980s, “breast cancer” was a whispered word. Mom was in her 40s and had a radical mastectomy: breast, chest muscles and most of her lymph nodes were removed. I remember her in the kitchen “walking the wall” with her fingers to get mobility back while tears streamed down her face. There weren’t any support groups or really any means of connecting with other women. Her experience was hard and isolated. The cancer metastasized 4 years and 10 months after diagnosis. She died five days before her 54th birthday.
When I was diagnosed with a different advanced breast cancer in each breast – I’m an overachiever – my mom’s struggle haunted me. And while I was fortunate to connect early on with two women who’d also recently been diagnosed, I was dismayed to only find stories of loss when I searched for online support. My cancer friend, Natania, shared info about YSC, and we attended our first meeting – wearing matching wigs like some badass, no-tit lady gang.
In Seattle, the YSC crew was fond of happy hours. It might be the months of rain or the plethora of local microbrews and wine in the Pacific Northwest.
During my treatment year, I attended happy hours with 3 other women, and the sparks of magic, connection and shared experience were enough to light up the rainy sky. It was the first time that I’d belly-laughed since I was diagnosed. It was also at that moment that I fully realized I could help provide to others what my mom so deeply yearned for: community. None of us are alone. We. Are. Not. Alone. Misery loves company. Misery might also be a bit cheap, so she enjoys a good happy hour!
While I was the primary Washington State Leader, the current F2F coordinator stepped down. I was asked to take over her role. Serving in both roles for nearly 4 years has been such an incredible experience. I’ve been honored to help provide the support and connection that my mom never experienced. Through Seattle’s monthly meetings to our non-official (shhhhh) Facebook group, I’ve watched our numbers nearly triple during my tenure. Our Meetup group was 150 when I stepped into my role in 2015; we’re now at 278. Our Facebook group now has 193 members. Seattle is one of the largest YSC networks in the US.
Ultimately, though, it’s not a numbers game. I distinctly remember the weekend when I added 6 (!!) new women who’d all just been diagnosed. My heart still aches. I measure success based on friendships, connections and shared experiences.
In so many cases, cancer is the ONLY thing that we have in common, and yet some of my deepest and most cherished friendships are with women that I met through YSC. Our shared connection and desire to help one other continues to astound and inspire me.
What about your work for young women affected by breast cancer makes you most proud?
When I think about my tenure with YSC, I am most proud of the connections I’ve been able to facilitate. I hope I’ve been able to help a woman or two feel less alone. There’s something about cancer that reduces us to our most basic human core. As each of us spins, frets and suffers from cancer treatment, I hope I’ve been able to cultivate community and love.
I used to always say I was a glass-half-full girl, but thanks to cancer, I really don’t care about glass volume anymore. It can be half full or half empty – I’m just glad we have a glass!
What are your hopes for the future, with regard to YSC and young breast cancer survivors?
As more women are diagnosed with breast cancer, I hope that YSC can continue to provide and promote connection and resources. Breast cancer is more than just pinkwashing and 3-day walks to “save first base.” I want to see YSC continue to focus on the whole person and not the “ta-tas.”
We are mothers, professionals, homemakers, wives, daughters, sisters, single mothers, intentionally childfree … and none of us are alone.
What is your message for YSC on its 20th anniversary?
YSC continues to expand and adapt to the needs of the community while its focus has never waned: a dedication to the critical issues unique to young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. As more and even younger women are diagnosed, I know that YSC will continue to adapt and expand to ensure no woman is alone.
Anything else you’d like to share?
After many years volunteering for YSC, I am excited to leave the Seattle leadership roles (Face 2 Face, social and Facebook) in the capable hands of others. I’ve spent years focused on helping others’ cancer journeys. Now I’m selfishly looking forward to shifting gears and managing my own journey. I’m so grateful for YSC and all the incredible women I’ve met as a result of this shitty disease. I am in awe of the strength and vulnerability of my cancer posse.
About YSC and Game Changers
Young Survival Coalition was founded in 1998 by young women diagnosed with breast cancer under age 35.
YSC is made up of people: survivors, co-survivors, volunteers, donors, healthcare providers. Our strength comes from our community. So in our 20th year, we will honor our roots — the people who have helped build YSC into what it is today — and also look forward, recognizing those in our community who are changing the future of breast cancer in young women.
We are highlighting these individuals as Game Changers throughout 2018 and sharing their stories with the world to thank them for their contributions to our community.