18 May 15

Life Beyond Breast Cancer, The Interview.

I first saw Emily's image from The SCAR Project a year ago and it just spoke to me, I am so super excited and grateful that I was able to interview Emily... the woman behind the image, behind the scars and behind breast cancer as she shares her journey with us.

pregnant woman breast cancer

 

 

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born and raised in Connecticut. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998 to pursue a restaurant/wine career. My grandmother was diagnosed twice with breast cancer and is alive today at age 97. She and my mother are BRCA1+ as am I. My sister and aunt do not have the mutation. My mother has never had breast cancer. First diagnosed when I was 32, my daughter was 5 months old. Second time I was 39, with my daughter about to turn 7 and my son just over 5 years old. I live in Berkeley with my family.

1. Were you diagnosed with breast cancer or was it a prophylactic bilateral due to hereditary risk?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer, DCIS, in the right breast, in December of 2006. Because of my BRCA1 mutation, the recommendation was bilateral mastectomy, the left side being prophylactic. I was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer in June, 2013. My treatment was chemo, surgery and radiation.

 

2. Did she fall pregnant after or before the mastectomy?

I got pregnant with my second child after the bilateral mastectomy. My daughter is my first child, 5-months old when I was diagnosed the first time. My son is the one in the photo with me. Now he is 7 years old.

 

3. If after, what were your thoughts, fears or concerns around your pregnancy and baby? Or was there just gratitude…

I was grateful to have caught the cancer early enough to avoid chemo and have another child so easily. There was some concern that having a child would increase my recurrence risk. Because I ended up having a recurrence, I wonder if there is any connection, but I believe it was because of my mutation, not because of becoming pregnant again.

 

4. Did you have any remorse or feeling about not being able to breastfeed?

My son was unable to breastfeed, and yes, it was a tough loss for us both. I had many donations of milk so I was able to give him 5 weeks of breast milk. However, I know he lost out, as did I, on the special connection as I had with my daughter. There were also comments made by insensitive or unaware people, about how I had not breastfed my son and should have.

 

5. Having one child before and one after did you find you had a different view or different way of parenting? 

I think I was in such a fog after my first child that even with a cancer diagnosis, it was all so difficult. But I never had a chance to fall into a comfortable place as a mother to her. 5 months in I had cancer. Then surgery, then more fear and challenges to my "self", and then the pressure to have another child because I had to have my ovaries removed ASAP. When I got pregnant with Micah, it was a great thing to start focusing on, but I was able to ignore the pain of the cancer while thinking of the pregnancy. It wasn't until after he was born that my hardest work started. I had to spend time on healing, and this included starting anti-anxiety and depression medication. I feel like the first diagnosis was so much harder than the second even though it was much more serious and I had to have chemo. And I do my best as a parent to tell the truth and be real with my kids about the world, cancer, and health, and do everything I can not to take my anxiety out on them.
6. What have your children said about your scars?

My children have both seen them every day. I walk around with my shirt off quite often. They seem to think it’s normal and are very taken with other breasts when they see them naked. I try to be as open as I can. And my SCAR Project photograph is framed and on the wall in our upstairs living space.

 

7. Did you have any side effects from breast cancer treatments that you encountered?

I am in menopause because I had my ovaries removed when I was 36. With my recurrence at age 39, I went through chemo. That has many side effects that I believe will continue for a while. Chemo brain, fatigue, weight gain, etc. And Tamoxifen keeps me foggy and more fatigued as well.

 

 

8. Have you had a reconstruction since or are you using external breast forms? Any reasons or thoughts you would like to share…

I have not reconstructed nor do I wear breast forms. I find it more fitting for my every day experience to go flat and breastless. Some of my goal is to raise some awareness as I go about my day. But mostly I believe the breasts I was born with had to go and nothing can replace them and I don’t need them.

 IMG_4198

 

9. When you say the "no reconstruction option" is that sometimes not an option?

I've spoken with women who were never encouraged to consider not having reconstruction. Yes, it's always an option, but it's not always offered as a good option. Society expects us to want to have breasts reconstructed. I've had women tell me how cool it is that I can have new breasts just the way I want them. That was something I found bizarre, but the way it is in this world. But when women see I have no breasts and still look very womanly, they are amazed that it seems to comfortable and normal. Flat and Fabulous is a Facebook group started by some wonderful women who did not reconstruct. And my doctors told me that not having reconstruction likely made it easier to find the recurrence. I didn't have the find a lump through silicone or saline implants.

 

10. Why did you model for The SCAR Project and what was your reaction when you seen it?

I wanted to feel beautiful and womanly in my “new normal” body and I thought it would be good for other women to see this beauty remains after cancer treatment. The baby just added to the realization for others that life continues, and sometimes you can still have children. My reaction to seeing the photo was prideful and emotional. Every time I look at the photo, I see a varying set of emotions coming from my face. I feel these emotions every day of my life.

 

11. What was the reaction from others when they see the photo?

Amazed, proud, and speechless.

 

12. Do you have any advice for friends and family that would help them support their friend/ family?

Listen to the patient and also the primary caregiver. Try to express support without asking what you can do every time. Just give what you can in the form of letters, phone calls, bringing groceries, taking the kids for a play date, etc.

 

13. What is your advice to other women diagnosed with breast cancer?

I don’t so much give advice but offer support and my experience. My knowledge as a patient has helped others be more prepared and aware. Advice comes in the conversation I have with the individual.

 

14. What did you really need that wasn't either available or offered to her from medical system, social groups/friends/family etc??

There could have been more support for the no reconstruction option. I’ve spoken to women who hadn’t realized this was an option and wished they had known what flat would look like.

 

15. How much time has past and how is it still effecting you?

My treatment for my recurrence started in June, 2013, with my first surgery that removed my cancerous lump. Chemo started in August 2013, and ended on Halloween, October 31, 2013. My second surgery was in early December, to get healthy margins around the lump area and to check for lymph node involvement. Radiation started in January 2014, and ended in late February 2014. I can't really believe it's been just over one year. So much has happened, including running the NYC Marathon in November 2014, one year and 2 days from the last chemo treatment. But cancer will always be a part of me, making me fearful and strong at the same time. I just became the PTA President at my kids' school!

 

16. Life after breast cancer, what does it look like for you?

I am working and raising my kids along with my husband. We are overwhelmed, as I assume everyone is, but we are happy. I think about cancer quite a lot, and don’t believe it’s ever going to leave my everyday conscience, but I can still live well as I remain healthy.

 

17. Is there something that breast cancer has taught you that you now have a new outlook on?

I wonder if being a mom and having breast cancer both played a part in getting me to my current outlook. I have had so much pain and struggle and given myself permission to behave the way I see best. The anxiety medication has been a major player, so I have to mention it, but I also see incredible women dying from breast cancer and there's something always in my head telling me that this is my time to live and who knows what's down the road.

 IMG_4034

 

THANK YOU THANK YOU THNK YOU Emily may your strength, courage and will carry through out your life and beyond. I am left feeling humbled and inspired xxx

 

Please check out our breast cancer/ breast care and mastectomy articles for more information.

Join THOUSANDS Of Women & Stay Updated
Feel Alive From The Inside Out

Your Email Is Safe With Us

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want to show your comment, go get a gravatar!

  • Toni Truda

    When I was shown the SCAR Project photo portfolio during a Trulife Breast Care Mastectomy Fitter Training Program last year- I was in awe at the power of these images to convey the strength and beauty these women all show, despite the difficult journey faced by these survivors from all cultures and all ages.
    Emily’s photo was such a strong image- as most people believe that breast surgery take’s away a woman’s femininity. A expectant woman is the ultimate testament that whilst breasts are an important part of a woman’s anatomy and body image- it doe not define a woman and her sense of femininity and in this case motherhood.
    I thank you Bra Queen for sharing Emily’s inspirational story.

    • Thanks Toni and it is such a powerful collection, I love what the photographer captures in his models. It gives us hope, and it was so good to get the Emily and her story.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInYou Tube Email