There are some things in the world that we’re all aware of — that lurk in the background of our subconscious — things that could happen to us. And we hold on to that could as hard as we can. 1 out of every 8 women (in the U.S.) will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. 1 in 78 will develop ovarian cancer. The statistics tell us these trials are closer than we think and for many of us, they are intimate parts of our lives. They affect our mothers, our sisters, our friends. Ourselves.
It’s a life-altering, intense, challenging subject — which is why I love Bright Pink’s mission to empower women through prevention and focus on health rather than disease. Part of that mission is to bring survivor’s stories to light — to let them speak in their own words about their own, unique experience. Here at The Everygirl, we reached out to five women who’ve been impacted by cancer and asked them about their stories. The result is a look behind cancer, to the faces and women who rise above it.
You lost your mom, Amy Krouse Rosenthal — who was a best-selling author — to cancer last year. What part of her legacy do you feel the most compelled to carry on?
There is definitely not one part of her legacy that I feel more compelled to carry on than others. I feel compelled to carry on her legacy in its entirety. I carry all of her with me in all that I do because it’s what feels right.
That being said, one part of her legacy that has been especially prevalent in my life recently is writing books. While my mom and I wrote Dear Girl together, I am now the book’s only spokeswoman. I feel like I am honoring my mom by representing and taking on opportunities on behalf of both of us. I am ensuring that this piece of art she and I created lives on. I honor my mom in smaller, more personal ways as well. I wear her Fracas perfume every day; I drink hot coffee with a splash of almond milk to start my mornings as she did; I wear a ring on my thumb because she used to wear a matching one on her thumb. Moreover, I try to keep my mind open to new people and new experiences like she did. When I smile at those around me, I feel like I’m channeling her. When I love those who I care about, I feel like I’m honoring her.
Prior to her death, your mom wrote her famed New York Times article, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” What was it like reading that as her daughter?
The fairytale love story that is described in the Modern Love column is the love story I witnessed first hand all throughout my upbringing. To be honest, it was painful because, needless to say, I wanted more than anything for that love story to continue for the rest of my life, and it 100 percent would have if cancer was not part of the equation. I wanted more time with my mom. But in addition to the pain I felt, I was able to recognize that what my mom did was so generous, so selfless. She thought about our family (not herself) when she was dying, and that is an unequivocally beautiful thing. She acknowledged the fact that she was dying in a prolific way, which is not something that people read or talk about every day. I saw her physically write the article while she was in hospice. I saw how much it meant to her, and I saw how determined she was to finish it in time.
You have an Instagram account dedicated to acknowledging your mom. Tell us a little bit about that.
The lists ranged from three lines of her favorite poem to three doodles to three different ways of seeing a seemingly mundane everyday object, and much, much more. She made it to day 61 of her 123 day goal before she became too sick to continue. Day 61 was coincidentally about halfway. Leaving a piece of work unfinished was something my mom would never willingly do, so, after she died, I had the idea to complete the last 62 days for her. My Project 1,2,3 was my commitment to acknowledging my mom in some way every day for the rest of my life, and it was the first step of my journey in doing so. It can be found at @akr.par on Instagram.
I am grateful for Project 1,2,3 because it now serves as an archive of what I was feeling and thinking about a year and a half ago when she had just passed away. The Instagram Project 1,2,3 has inspired me to continue to create in various platforms.
What has your experience with Bright Pink been like so far?
My experience with Bright Pink has been superb! I am genuinely honored that they wanted me to be a part of their Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month Campaign. Bright Pink’s mission to “save women’s lives from breast and ovarian cancer by empowering them to live proactively at a young age” is so important. I can’t stress that enough. They do incredible work, and I look forward to maintaining my relationship with Bright Pink as I continue to get involved with and speak out about causes that are meaningful to me.
What’s the last show you binged?
Seven Seconds, which is a crime drama that I binged in every sense of the word binge. 🙂
You work in Human Resources for the federal government. What’s a typical day at work like for you?
No two days are ever alike, which is what I love about Human Resources! The people in any organization are at the forefront of achieving the mission and results. My days center around analyzing employee engagement and workforce morale to develop plans and strategies to address and improve feedback. Throughout my HR career, I’ve served in a variety of roles in leadership development, career-pathing, and communications. Each day, I go to work feeling privileged to serve my country, take care of one of the most dedicated workforces, and work for the American people.
You lost your mom to ovarian cancer this year, which led you to getting involved with Bright Pink — how does that experience affect how you’ll monitor your and your children’s ovarian health in the future?
Losing my mom earlier this year was the most difficult and saddest event of my life. She and I were very close. She was taken from this world too soon, and I miss her every day.
Last year, I became an Education Ambassador with Bright Pink. Presenting Brighten Up workshops to young women empowered me to feel more in control of my experience since I was proactively sharing critical health information with women about breast and ovarian cancer.
As I prepare to deliver my workshops, my daughter listens and hears about how important it is to know your normal, adopt a healthy lifestyle and understand the risk to both of these diseases. I hope to educate her on how we are our own best advocates as there is not a good, reliable screening mechanism for ovarian cancer. Knowing what’s normal for our bodies and trusting our instincts when something is abnormal for us. Specifically, we will pay attention to what’s normal with our digestion, menstruation and urination, and immediately consult our doctor if anything is not right. We will also make our wellness checkups a priority for our health.
I also lead by example by eating healthier and exercising regularly which has helped me be a stronger and more energetic mother too! She now says, “Mommy when I grow up, I want to exercise with you,” and that makes me so happy!
If you could tell all women one thing about the importance of paying attention to their breast and ovarian health, what would it be?
Early detection saves lives, and it all starts with you paying attention and being self-aware of your breast and ovarian health — knowing your normal and what symptoms to look out for so #ListenUp to your bodies! 80 percent of breast cancers were initially found by women themselves and when caught at an early stage, both cancers have a 92 percent or more five-year survival rate.
These are critical women’s health issues, so it’s important that we take care of ourselves and keep our breasts and ovaries healthy.
If you could tell your 25-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
You’ll never know how strong and resilient you are until faced with adversity. I saw firsthand what true strength was during my mother’s nine-year battle with ovarian cancer and being privileged to serve as a caregiver for her. Continue to draw closer to God and use your faith in Him to carry you. Ask for help when you need it, and don’t be a superhero by taking on everything yourself, discerning when to do that is in and of itself strength.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday?
My favorite way to spend a Saturday is to workout early in the morning, either at home on my Peloton or strength training. Then, it’s being with my family and attending a birthday party or other family-friendly activity, including living room dance parties with my kids! Now that my daughter is a little older, she and I have recently started to get our nails done together on Saturdays, which is fantastic!
This time of year, our favorite activity as a family is watch college football and cheer on the University of Central Florida Knights and the University of Florida Gators. If it’s not a date night, my favorite Saturday dinner during football season is my husband’s turkey chili — it’s the best!
You have quite the resume of writing, communication, and filmmaking experience! What would you tell a recent college grad trying to break into the industry in 2018?
Sometimes formal education and internships and jumping through all the hoops set up for college students can alienate us from what we’re meant to do. So, the sooner you align with yourself, the easier everything flows. This goes for everyone regardless of age, education level or craft — go with your gut. Pay attention to what makes your heart beat faster. Identify why you’re doing what you’re doing (and why are you doing that?) and allow that to guide you. People can tell when you’re networking versus following your passion with all of your heart.
Specifically for creatives: read more, watch more, and surround yourself with other people who want to critique and create. You’ll be blown away by how much you can accomplish with a couple other people who have time and passion.
Your production company, Breaktide Productions, works to let the voices of those who are underrepresented in filmmaking be heard. How do you feel about the state of representation in the media right now?
The state of representation in mainstream media is akin to the state of representation in positions of power across the country in every industry: shameful. That being said, there are independent creators in every corner of the country who are making smart, inventive, and critical work, and who aren’t waiting for the industry to acknowledge or fund them. Those artists are actually reimagining life and shifting culture. The lack of representation means we have to think more critically about what art and culture mean to us and support those artists wherever we find them.
Do you feel the current political climate has impacted your work?
As a black woman born and raised in the United States, racism and misogyny are not new revelations to me, and I’ve been writing about oppression and violence since I can remember. I do think the current political climate has been a wakeup call for many. And it ignited a collective sense of urgency that I hope translates into support and attention for all activists, artists, and others working to improve conditions for vulnerable populations. The best outcome of this period would be if the current level of awareness outlasts the tenure of this administration.
In 2011, you were diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). How has your diagnosis impacted you since?
The diagnosis taught me that even as a young, otherwise healthy woman, I need to pay attention to what my body is telling me, figure out how to treat my body better, and understand that daily choices can have a long-term impact. My diagnosis challenged me to love myself through all the uncomfortable and unattractive symptoms. It was also the impetus for me to seek out natural and holistic health remedies that have become an important part of my life.
If you could tell everyone one thing about what it’s like to live with PCOS, what would it be?
Before I was diagnosed, I expected my body to thrive on autopilot. Living with PCOS reminds me I’m human, and my body deserves kindness and attention and maintenance after all it has given me!
What self-care activity do you love the most?
PCOS is hard on my skin, so facials are my favorite. I also love learning about different herbs and their healing properties and making tea in the morning with things like spearmint, rose, or licorice root. But I have a ton of self-care practices that cost nothing. At least twice a year, I do a “blue sky” exercise where I check in with myself and diagram my ideal life. Even just leaving my phone in the living room at night. Now that I’m self-employed, I don’t set alarms unless I have a pressing deadline, and I allow my body to wake up naturally, without pressure.
You worked in hospitality and marketing for many years and recently launched your own company — congrats! What made you decide to start your own business?
I have an incredible female mentor in this business. One day, I stopped in to see her at her office, and she basically told me it was time to go out on my own. Her confidence in me was all I needed, and I never looked back! There is nothing like women supporting women!
You’re a Chicago native — what’s your favorite thing to do in the city on a day off?
Chicago is an incredible town for so much, but if I had to pick a few things, I would have to say that my love of great food and sports is at the top of the list. The food scene in Chicago is absolutely incredible. Even Bon Appetit agrees! From our famous classics like pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef to the restaurant homes of celebrity chefs, Chicago wins the best restaurant and food city hands down. Recently, I took a group of friends on a Pizza City USA tour for a fun afternoon of exploring different styles of pizza found all over Chicago to include the neighborhoods. It was a blast!
Chicago is a huge sports town, and I am proud to say that I have experienced every major team winning a championship in my lifetime….and not to brag, but a few teams more than once… but who’s counting. 🙂
After you discovered a lump in your breast, you were diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer and made the decision to get a preventative mastectomy. That couldn’t have been an easy choice, how did you come to that decision?
Following my diagnosis, I called my Uncle Joe. He is a surgical breast oncologist and was my personal consultant throughout my journey. It was a conversation that we had that helped me to finalize my decision. He told me that I had every reason to live: a family, a career, and lots of memories to make. He then asked me a question that solidified my decision. Do you want to live your life looking in the backseat, or do you want to hit the gas and never look back? Well, that was easy!
What would you want to tell the women reading this about being their own health advocates? How do you incorporate this into your experience at Bright Pink?
I think women are great caretakers by nature. Women never forget to take their kids to their doctor appointments or miss a carpool run. They don’t miss a work deadline or forget to send that birthday card. But somehow, women forget themselves in the process.
My work with Bright Pink allows me to interact with women all the time. After my 30- minute Brighten Up presentation, women often share with me that they have put their own health on the back burner and will now make it a priority. My greatest satisfaction is that women make their health a priority and listen up to their bodies!
What’s your go-to coffee order?
Hands down…. a coconut milk late. Yumola!
You’ve been a PR professional for over 10 years — what was your first job, and how did you land it?
My first PR job was an internship at a public affairs agency in Chicago. I got it the old-fashioned way: by sending out a bunch of resumes to HR departments of companies I was interested in working for. This was back in the day, so I’m fairly sure I may have actually sent them in the mail lol. Luckily, I was able to get some amazing internship experience that made me a viable candidate and was hired as a full-time employee shortly thereafter.
What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
One of the things I love about my job is the ability to generate placements that truly impact the bottom line for my clients. This past year, I secured a 10-page spread in a prominent design magazine which was a first for this particular client. It’s been amazing to see her business grow from when we began our partnership and to know that I played an important role in her success.
At 34, you were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. What was it like hearing that diagnosis? What would you tell other women hearing the same thing?
I’ve often said that nothing in the world prepares you to hear those words, and it’s true. I’d heard that word “cancer” millions of times in my life, but in that particular moment it felt entirely different and carried a much more significant weight. Suddenly, I saw this huge mountain in front of me. I questioned my strength (physically and mentally) and had no idea how to get over the top.
Being diagnosed at a young age is incredibly isolating. I remember being surrounded by people but feeling more alone than I’ve ever felt in my life. My advice would be to reach out to others for support. Through my experience, I’ve uncovered so many great organizations and supporting women who have been through the same thing that will lend an ear to listen and hold your hand through the good times and bad. It’s truly one of the most welcoming and supportive communities I’ve ever been a part of.
What’s been your favorite experience volunteering at Bright Pink so far?
Bright Pink is such an amazing organization; it’s incredible to see such smart young minds working together to help other women. It’s difficult to name a favorite experience, but I value the inclusive environment and opportunity to work on cause-driven campaigns so close to my heart.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Not like she has any free time on her hands, but I’d have to say the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a two-time cancer survivor herself, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation, never missed a day on the bench and has been working tirelessly to safeguard women’s health issues ever since. If that’s not the definition of a true badass and fighter, I don’t know what is.