When I was a sophomore in high school, my mom’s best friend, Mrs. V, who was also my first-grade teacher and like a member of our family, revealed she had breast cancer. As a 15-year-old I couldn’t comprehend the gravity of her diagnosis until she came to see my mom after she finished her treatment. I saw how thin she was (and she was already tiny), her bald head hidden by an uncomfortable wig, and how she and my mom would talk in hushed voices contemplating what she would do if treatment didn’t work. They even booked a big trip to England and Ireland, just in case, but the treatment worked, and thankfully she’s still my mom’s best friend and she’s still a big part of our family. We even celebrated her 75th birthday and my mom’s 70th together in Paris.
When I look back, I saw her illness, but I think I failed to recognize her power. She was/is a fighter, she wasn’t going to give up easily, and despite her outward appearance, she was a warrior. It was my first experience with breast cancer. It made me very aware of the cancers that affect women. I did my first breast cancer awareness walk in college and have done many more since. I’ve worn pink ribbons, I’ve shopped “pink” during the month of October, and I’ve made countless donations for breast cancer awareness.
Yet, it never really hit me that it could happen to me until it did.
For those of you who are part of the Luminary community, some who might just read our blog, or those of you who have attended our events, we bring experts, storytellers, leaders, professionals, and founders across all industries who speak to our community. In the summer, I asked both my breast surgeon and oncologist if they would speak at a Luminary event. I naively thought they couldn’t turn me down, they’re doctors, they need to spread awareness, right? They both said no. And both said, people rarely listen to doctors, but they’ll listen to their friends, their colleagues, their family. That’s when it feels real.
In 2020, I skipped my annual gynecological appointment, which included my mammogram and breast ultrasound, because it was a ‘Covid’ year. I’m sure many did. We felt like we had a good excuse. In 2021, I skipped it because, to be honest, I didn’t prioritize my health. I was focused on keeping my company afloat, managing through a pandemic that seemed to be never-ending, and I put my health on the back-burner. Once I skipped it, it was easy to skip again. I was busy, breast cancer doesn’t run in my family, I felt fine, I absolutely hate the pain of mammograms (who doesn’t), and I told myself I’ll just do it next year for sure. You know the excuses we all use, especially if you’re over 40.
In April 2022, I finally went back for my overdue mammogram/breast ultrasound, after my wonderful, if not forceful, gynecologist wouldn’t let me out of her office until I made an appointment. Two weeks, several hours of mammography imaging and a core needle biopsy later, I got the call from my radiologist that I had early-stage breast cancer. It felt surreal. I thought back to my sophomore year thinking about what Mrs. V had to go through. I beat myself up about skipping two years of doctor’s appointments. I felt guilty. The good news was that they caught it early and I have the privilege of having the means and access to some of the best doctors, treatments, and medicine right here in NYC.
It took me a while to share with a broader group of people about my diagnosis, the treatments and ongoing medication. It’s ironic how I have this incredible platform and community at Luminary, and I felt like I couldn’t use or lean on it. That I had to be the strong one, that sharing would somehow make me weaker. Well, the reason I decided to share isn’t for sympathy, it’s for awareness. I’m sharing my story, and sharing with whoever will listen so that the next time you want to skip that mammogram, ultrasound, or any doctor’s appointment for that matter, for whatever reason, don’t. I wouldn’t have found this cancer from an ultrasound or a breast exam. Mammograms exist for a reason, no matter how painful they are, they are lifesaving and preventative, as are ultrasounds.
I’m proud to say that by sharing my story, it has persuaded more than one hundred people to book their appointment, and/or call their mom/daughter/sister/wife/aunt/friend to encourage them to book their appointment. That’s why I’m sharing this. To create a call to action for whomever is reading. And not just because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but because it’s time we prioritized. So, for those of you reading this, and you had an excuse like me, or it’s just been a while, call your doctor. Make an appointment and prioritize your health.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Only lung cancer kills more women each year. No matter your age or gender, you can help by spreading the word to your sisters, wives, mothers, aunts, godmothers, friends, and more. We’re doing just that on October 26th at Luminary with Dr. Monique Gary, Brilliantly Founder Kristen Carbone, Tiffany Dyba and ABCD Exec Director Ellen Schupper.
Please join the conversation and register here.