I met Emily through a Flat (No Reconstruction) Facebook group. Here is her story…
Tell us your story /stats:
In May 2017, I was diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer at 31 years old. I had just celebrated my birthday a few weeks earlier. Fourteen months prior, at the age of 29, I found a lump during the first breast exam I had ever given myself. I was 32 weeks pregnant at the time so because of this, I had been frequently seeing the doctor for checkups. I informed the physicians right away of what I had found, but they were not concerned – even though I had a family history. They said I was too young for it to be breast cancer and that it was a clogged duct, or galactocele – both very common during pregnancy – and it would go away when I was done breastfeeding. Needless to say, it didn’t go away and I WAS young enough to have cancer.
C aside, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!
I’m a mama to a brilliant, beautiful little girl, a photographer & artist, and breast cancer & flat advocate. I’m the creator of EMPOWERHAUS; an alternative awareness and empowerment brand, and Flatties Unite; a body positive Facebook group for women living with less than 2 breasts.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?
The same thing that still plagues my thoughts, even after losing my breasts, going through chemo and burning from radiation: “Is this real?” I still have moments where I catch myself thinking this is just a nightmare that I’ll wake up from one day.
What are some of your personal coping skills during difficult times?
I tend to turn inward and shy up when I’m going through something difficult. I sleep as much as my daughter allows me to. Getting moving helps me: listening to my favorite music, dancing with my daughter, going for nature walks, stretching and creating art all help me cope.
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of. Where do you get your support from?
I feel blessed every day to have the husband, parents, in laws and friends I have. Every one has been so supportive throughout my experience, and in the creation of EMPOWERHAUS. But the biggest shout out I owe is to my online community! The women in my Facebook group, Flatties Unite, are among some of the most thoughtful, strong, beautiful women that I’ve ever met. Their support of my efforts is incredible and something I cherish always: I love each and every one of my sisters.
What have you learned about yourself since dx?
That I am beautiful: I decided to “go flat” and even though I knew in my heart it was the right decision for me personally, I had prepared myself to be upset when I looked in the mirror, because I had been told by the plastic surgeon I consulted with that if I went flat, I would regret it and my self esteem and life would suffer. But what I found when I looked in the mirror that first time after the mastectomy, was BEAUTY; and it was a type of beauty I had never seen in myself before. Even though my breasts were totally gone, there I was… still a whole woman. And for a second, I hadn’t even noticed they were gone, and that moment would shape my whole future.
What do you believe is a common misconception about being diagnosed? Or something that you’d like the general population to know about C.
That you have to be a certain age. And that when someone’s hair grows back they are suddenly better. Young women can and do get breast cancer and if I had “stats” on the support I had when I was bald compared to the support I have now with hair, it would show a sharp plunge. I don’t look sick, therefore I’m not, right? Not. Cancer treatment is toxic in and of itself, and the trauma we’ve gone through can never be forgotten. Typically, it’s only when treatment ends that the depression surfaces.
Thoughts on the pink…
My personal opinion on it is this: the original pink ribbon and its message was beautiful. Unfortunately, I believe the ribbon has been misused and twisted into being a symbol that it wasn’t originally intended to be; a catalyst for greed. I have a pink ribbon tattoo on my middle finger, for many reasons: it symbolizes my experience, it represents my grandmothers who had breast cancer (one of whom died from metastatic breast cancer), it reminds me “fuck cancer!” which helps when I’m feeling down; it is something I am proud to have. BUT, the practice of coloring something pink during the month of October, marketing it to people who genuinely want to support, and lining CEO’s pockets with the proceeds – AKA, pinkwashing – is disgusting and immoral.
Where are you at in life now? Mentally, physically, emotionally…
I’m okay. I’m alive. Some days are good, really good. And some days are really, really bad. Since the completion of my treatment, 15 months worth, I have realized that I will never be the same person I was. In many ways I am stronger, mentally speaking, faith speaking. But physically speaking, I am more like a 70 year old than a 32 year old. I have a lot of nerve pain, muscle weakness, and cognitive dysfunction. My brain simply cannot handle the amount of mental tasks I once I could. I have post traumatic stress disorder now; some things trigger episodes of anxiety, fear relating back to my treatment and experience. Some days these facts are frustrating. Other days, I move past it. I take it day by day, and imagine that I always will from here on out.
If you could send a message to yourself from 10 years ago… how would that go?
Fuck the haters! Live your truth. No apologies.
What are you passionate about? Is this different than what you were passionate about before dx?
I am passionate about the things I was before (arts, motherhood, advocacy) but I think it has increased ten-fold, because I now truly understand the time crunch we are under in this lifetime. Before, I was scared to pursue my dreams. I didn’t give myself enough credit. I talked myself out of most of the opportunities that came my way. Now, I embrace it all fully and just go with the flow and do what I want and don’t look back.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?
“Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.” – Kurt Vonnegut
What’s the latest happenings in your life now?
My EMPOWERHAUS brand is growing, I run an amazing Facebook group for flat women called Flatties Unite, and I am pouring paint to my heart’s delight. You can learn more about me and my story at: mrsemilyhopper.com & empowerhaus.co
If people take away anything from your story, it would be…
Medical professionals are not always right; they are human too, so listen to your intuition. If it is telling you to get something checked out, listen. If you want to go flat, but someone tries to talk you out of it, stand up for yourself. Only you know your body on an intimate level. You know what’s right for you, and you know if something isn’t right, too! You must be your own advocate.