“I’m glad I decided to show up for my life—because it’s really good now.”
Courtesy Mark Weiss Photography “Like many women, I discovered my lump by accident. I was dozing off to sleep one night and, as I rolled onto my side to get in a comfortable position, my arm grazed up against my right breast. That’s when I first felt the pea-sized lump. Because I had small, dense breasts, the lump didn’t show up on two mammograms. I then had a sonogram and biopsy that revealed the worst news a woman can hear: I had stage 1, non-invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer (the best case scenario of a worst-case situation). That began the rollercoaster ride that would become my life for the next two and a half years. In total, I had five surgeries, which eventually included a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Halfway through my chemotherapy, I had this nagging question that kept lingering in the back of my mind: ‘Now that you have a second chance at life, what are you doing to do with it?’ A week later, I quit my unfulfilling job, dumped my commitment-phobic boyfriend of nine years and started to go after my dreams. Still, even though my cancer was caught early, surgery and treatment are emotionally and physically depleting. It was only because I had soldiers in the trenches with me—my amazing medical team and my girl gang—that I was able to emerge a warrior.” —Caitlin Kiernan
There’s a lot of misinformation about cancer out there—check out the 50 myths about cancer that need to go away.
“The fear in my family’s eyes drove me to survive.”
Courtesy Laurie Pezzano “I was 37 years old when I found a lump in my breast. It was a week filled with immense fear and challenges. When the doctor confirmed that I did, in fact, have breast cancer, I instantly went into survival mode. I was a mother, a wife, and a business owner. I couldn’t let cancer take any of those things away from me. When I told my family, the fear in their eyes showed me that I had to fight to survive. I had eight surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation and was deemed cancer-free. It was not easy—and I worked throughout the entire process—but I never gave up and I always tried to stay positive through it all. I live in pain every day from all the surgeries and lymphedema, but I’m happy I’m alive. Dealing with the pain is a small price to pay to have my family. Today I’m three years cancer-free and extremely blessed.” —Laurie Pezzano
“My cancer fueled me to pursue my passions and give back to others.”
Courtesy Stephanie Johnson “I learned I had breast cancer after a summer of feeling a lump grow in my left breast. It grew from the size of a pea to a large tumor over one summer. After a mammogram and biopsy, I received the news I had cancer. It was like a punch to the gut—the words hit my stomach and took all of the breath from my lungs. I was 38 years old with two sons in high school and no idea what would come next. I was found to be BRCA1 positive, stage 3, grade 3, triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma. I did four months of chemotherapy followed by three surgeries: a double mastectomy, oophorectomy and hysterectomy, and reconstruction. Truth be told, while going through all of that, especially the chemotherapy part, there were many times where I didn’t think I was to make it. There are moments when you think, ‘Yep, this is what is going to kill me’ and moments when you do accept your mortality and even begin to plan your exit and necessary farewells. Thankfully, there’s hope, too. My hope came from many areas because, let’s face it, there are times when you’re fresh out of hope in your own mind supply. I’m fortunate to have an amazing husband (we were dating at the time—talk about a trooper!), a lot of amazing friends and a beautiful community. Surround yourself with people who can supply some hope when you’re fresh out. It’s important to remember that we’re not superhuman and it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be angry. It’s absolutely okay to wallow a bit. Cancer sucks and so does getting through it. I made a goal for myself. I’d always wanted to be a licensed beauty pro and wanted to give back to others. My cancer journey fueled me to do something about it. I knew that if I survived this, I was going to sign up for beauty school. My first day of class was just six weeks after my reconstruction.”—Stephanie Johnson