A recent high-profile mastectomy and the onslaught of hype around it reminded me of what I learned in a board leadership class a few weeks ago: “The best advocacy is a good story. The best story is yours.”
After reading a barrage of responses (some supportive, some subjective, others just plain ignorant) to Angelina Jolie’s op-ed, My Medical Choice, I thought long and hard about my own medical choices. I thought about what it would be like to be in the public eye and have people criticize my own personal choices. Ultimately, I came to the same conclusion that I did when I was forced to make my decisions:
This is MY body, MY life, and MY story.
Two years ago this very week, I received some of the best news of my life. After battling breast cancer while pregnant, my scans came back clean or NED (no evidence of disease). Despite a planned prophylactic mastectomy and the start of reconstruction ahead of me, this was music to my ears. I was no longer going to be actively fighting the disease with treatment. Although my journey is far from over and even as I continue to battle the long-term effects of treatment, this week I will rejoice. Because my story could be much different.
I know my story doesn’t reflect the majority of women facing this disease. Still, that doesn’t stop me from sharing it with anyone and everyone who will listen. Yes, young women are generally not at a high risk for developing breast cancer. In fact, just under 7% of all breast cancer cases occur in women under 40 years old. Top that with pregnancy during breast cancer, which is also relatively rare (about 1 in every 3,000 cases) and that makes my story somewhat unique.
If you’ve ever heard me share my story, you know that I share one of hope. Sure, there are a lot more details that I could share about my battle. But I’m not here to tell you how cancer was hell. To me, that would be stating the obvious. I am not here to tell you how much breast cancer stole from me. Because, to me, that would undermine what I’ve gained through my journey. And I’m certainly not here to tell you which breast cancer organization to support (or not to support) or what personal medical choices to make. I’ll leave those to you to decide. I know that not every breast cancer fighter, survivor or advocate will share my thoughts, my feelings and/or my advocacy efforts. After all, we all have different diseases, different factors, different scenarios, different stories.
But this is MY story. And I choose it to be one of awareness, community and hope. As I reflect on my journey – and the many times I’ve shared my story – I think about that one person. That one person that was inspired by my story. That one woman that I gave hope. That one woman whose life may be saved. That one person that I educated about breast cancer. And to me, that one person is enough.