In April of 2014, I had just finished breastfeeding my 13-month-old daughter (my second child) and headed to the gynecologist for a regular checkup. She said that since I was done breast-feeding, I could go ahead and get a routine mammogram sometime in the next 6 months as part of our overall checkup. I went the following month and didn't think much of it. I never felt any lumps in my breasts (aside from being dense) and neither did any of my doctors.
Then one day soon after, while I was at a conference surrounded by people on a break, I got a call from the doctor's office. I stepped outside on the balcony of the building so I could hear them. The nurse proceeded to tell me that my results came back positive for cancer. I was in complete and utter shock. Also shocking was that I had over 7 centimeters of calcifications that never formed a lump and could never be detected by the human hand: Only on a mammogram. I had only ever heard of breast cancer being in the form of a lump, so this possibility of calcifications was completely new to me. Now I make it a point to share this with people to encourage everyone to get a mammogram, since it definitely saved my life (by detecting the cancer that I would have never found any other way). I also had positive 5 lymph nodes. I'm grateful that I got the mammogram as soon as I did so the cancer didn't have a chance to spread any further.
What proceeded from there was a whirlwind year of treatments: All that modern, Western medicine had to offer, according to my oncologist. In addition to everything he recommended, I coupled the traditional treatment approaches with Eastern medicine approaches. I believe that the protocols I received from Dr. Sari Cohen at the Center for Integrative Medicine (and other alternative healing approaches I experienced) greatly supported my body in ways that kept it strong as it worked to heal throughout the challenging process I went through that year. The combination of Western and Eastern healing approaches made a huge difference for me that year and beyond: Physically, mentally and spiritually. Etty Reut, an expert myofascial release practitioner, and her colleague Amanda, both at the Jewish Association on Aging Outpatient Physical Therapy area, have greatly transformed my quality of life through beautiful, deep healing work in the years since.
I've found in life that no matter how big or painful the experience I've gone through: If I can find the gifts in it, I can heal from it on deeper levels. Through this journey, I found courage to be vulnerable and human in ways I had never imagined. This included embracing the changes in my body. Right before having a head shaving party (as I began chemotherapy), I saw a bald woman walking down the street in all her beautiful glory and confidence. It was her example that gave me the courage to also march through the world bald. She showed me that I didn't have to hide when others were encouraging me to cover my head with scarves and wigs. I honor everyone who chooses to wear them, but it wasn't until I saw that one bald woman that I got the message that bald was an option too. It was beautifully freeing.
Building on that freedom to be myself, and not feel the need to change to conform to society, I chose not to get reconstructive surgery (again, completely honoring those who choose to, it's all good whatever feels right for each of us). I often walk through the world without my prosthetic as the one-boob-wonder, just being me. It's a real disruption in a society that doesn't usually encounter that. I hope that other people who see me may be inspired to resist societal norms too and just be themselves in whatever ways that means for them. Like the bald woman inspired me, I hope to inspire others. And if nothing else, I get to be me, both with and without my prosthetic (when I'm not working, while still struggling with my courage to do so in professional spaces, which I haven't done much yet).
While the amazing teams of doctors and nurses saved my body through countless appointments, 24 weeks of chemotherapy, 33 radiation treatments, 6 different surgeries (mastectomy with lymph nodes removed, additional chest drain inserted, complete redo of mastectomy site due to complications, ovaries removed, port inserted and removed), and 180 blood thinning shots in my stomach due to a blood clot post-surgery, it was Jennifer Kehm with the YWBCAF who absolutely saved my mind and spirit throughout that treatment year and beyond. I honestly don't know what I would have done without her generous support, knowledge, experience and encouragement. She was the one person who I could be fully myself with and who understood exactly what I was going through from personal experience. What an extraordinary gift and blessing.
I am honored to pay forward the extraordinary love and support she gave me. It was also a tremendous experience to attend YWBCAF events. It was truly amazing to be in a room with all of these phenomenal young women (many who are also moms) and to share our stories and support for one another. Jennifer and everyone in this group gave me the gift of being in loving community when I was at a most scary and vulnerable time in my life. I am forever grateful for them.