In the world we live in nearly everyone has been affected by the “c” word: cancer. It hits at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected ways, and can leave you feeling completely hopeless. Here are the stories of four women who have been impacted by breast cancer, how they dealt with the crippling diagnosis, and the one thing they want you to know if you’re going through the same valley they once traversed.

Emily Washler

When I was young my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2006 she lost her battle after several long and drawn out fights.

I was very young when she was diagnosed and albeit didn’t really understand anything that was happening. As the disease progressed that only made it more confusing because I had no concept of why the things that were happening to her were and why I was losing one of my best friends.

I don’t know that I had to deal with the grief of the diagnosis at the time because as I said, I didn’t really have a concept of what was going on. Still today, though, I deal with the grief of losing one of my best friends. I think realizing that there is such a strong community surrounding women who are fighting the battle against breast cancer is a really powerful idea and one that I’ve relied on a lot. Almost everyone I know has been personally impacted or known someone who was personally impacted by breast cancer and as cheesy as it sounds, that makes you realize that you or your loved ones truly are never alone in the fight.

I didn’t realize it at the time –  and I’m glad I didn’t – but towards the end of her battle there was a significant change in the ability my grandmother had to do simple things. The last time we were ever together was in Disney World. As a kid in Disney, I was obviously very excited and I remember then being very frustrated with the fact that she couldn’t keep up and she was slowing us down. Looking back, I realize that that was part of her everyday life now. Now I can’t help but be incredibly grateful for that time she spent with us. Knowing that she was going through such an immense struggle and still chose to power through spending time with her grandchildren in Disney World is an incredible feeling that I will hold on to forever. I hold that thought in my head as a reminder of what a strong and courageous woman she was and as frustrated as I was at the time, I can’t help but feel blessed that those memories are the last ones that I have with her.

My parents were my biggest support system. Even though my father had just lost his mother, I very clearly remember several times he would prioritize me or my sister over him. It was a lot of confusing emotions to deal with as a child. I knew I was sad, I sort of knew why I should be sad, but I didn’t completely comprehend what had happened to make me sad. Both of my parents did everything they could to help us understand what was happening, why it was happening, and deal with the grief surrounding it. Even more meaningful to me though was observing how my dad and his siblings ministered each other during the trial. Each of her children are several years apart in age, so each had a very unique experience growing up in her household. Seeing those individual experiences come together to create a shared memory of a wonderful woman was something that would have been comforting to anyone at the time.

Since my grandmother passed away I have watched my mom struggle in her battle with cancer and the perspective that I have on interacting with her is completely new. Don’t take time with them for granted, no matter how serious the diagnosis. Talk to them, understand what they’re feeling. Laugh with them and help them when they’re down. Soak up every moment, positive or negative. It will be hard to watch them struggle and some of those experiences will be painful, but in the end those experiences can turn into surprisingly happy memories that you will be grateful you have.

Madi Spada:

My mom, grandmother and great grandmother were all diagnosed with breast cancer before they were 40. It was scary for me but not as bad as it probably should have been because while I was old enough to know my mom was sick, I wasn’t old enough to realize how serious it was.

Knowing how strong my mother is and I just knew she would survive. It also really helped me to pretend to be strong around my younger sister since she was so young I wanted to protect her.

My mom had already battled ovarian cancer and it was hard for me to see her struggle again. I knew she had already survived ovarian cancer and my grandmother had survived so I did my best to stay optimistic.

Don’t ever give up hope, medicine is advancing everyday and hopefully in time we will find a cure.

Kennedy Copeland:

My Aunt Karen, a woman who was a mother figure to me, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in 2010. She passed away January 3, 2011. She was my best friend in the entire world. To put it simply, I was terrified. Terrified of losing her, and terrified for what she was about to face. The only way to handle the grief I felt was to spend as much time with her as possible. We held hands, we prayed together, and we reminisced on all of the amazing memories we had.

I suppose this story will be different than most. There was no treatment. At Stage IV, the cancer had spread all over her body and she made the decision not to fight it. And the decision not to fight was hard in and of itself. Instead of having to watch her go through treatment, I had to come to terms with the fact that there would be no fight and that I would have limited time to say my goodbyes.

I was very blessed to have an amazing support system by my side during this time. Scripture was a big help to me during this time as well. Many people offered to pray WITH me instead of FOR me and that made a huge impact on me. Having people who loved me hold my hand while we talked to God meant more than any of the condolences.

Cherish the time you have and document everything. Write down the details of every moment together, take pictures, and record conversations. And if the time comes when the fight is over, please try to understand. Never forget that you have God to help you through it all.

Caroline Craig:

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer on July 17th, 2012.  I initially reacted to the news of my mom’s diagnosis the same way my mom did which was a lot of tears. The tears were a physical representation of the mixture of overwhelming feelings such as sadness, disbelief, anger, and grief.  The most helpful thing my mom and I did to deal with the grief of the diagnosis was both staying busy and prayer. Staying busy was helpful because you got your mind off of this life changing diagnosis. She threw herself into her work and it made the days before her surgery go by a lot faster. But in this time, we both turned to God. She found comfort in prayer and talking to God at any time of the day, often riding in her car silently using that time to talk to the Lord. She can still recall saying the Lord’s Prayer before surgery and feeling that comfort and acknowledgement from God that he was with her.

Thankfully my mom only had Stage IIA M0. This means that her cancerous mass was less than 2 cm and had not spread to distant sites. She only had surgery to remove the mass and 20 rounds of radiation. I can remember her complaining that the radiation was like having really bad sunburn. While my mom was going through radiation, we knew that they had gotten all the physical mass of the cancer out so this was just ensuring that any cells that could possibly be there were killed.

My mom was surrounded with a ton of love from family, friends, and especially the nurses. I think the beautiful thing about breast cancer that is so different from other kinds cancer is that so many people are aware of what it is and the community is so large. My dad went with her to many of her appointments, her friends spoke with her, and she had really relied on God during this time which was the best support she could ever have.

Keep. Fighting. You are given this life for a purpose and I can promise that the purpose of your life is much more than this diagnosis. Breast cancer is not who you are but rather, it is something that happened to you. Don’t let this define you and don’t ever give up on yourself.

Future Female Leaders is donating 50% of our net proceeds from our ThinkPink line to Breast Cancer Research Foundation, where 91% of funding goes directly to breast cancer research and awareness. Please consider supporting our campaign by purchasing our ThinkPink products here. 

Corrie L
FFL Cabinet Member
Corrie is a Cabinet Member at FFL. She is passionate about coffee, Jesus, and lipstick, and never wears white after Labor Day. If she isn't busy talking about law school or FFL, you can find her studying constitutional law or reviewing a contract. Her plan A is Super Mom turned Supreme Court Justice, and she hopes to one day be just like Sandra Day O"Connor.

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