Elaine’s story is a familiar one - it started with a routine doctor’s visit and ended with her having to tell her three kids that she would be battling aggressive breast cancer. It was that routine doctor’s visit that gave her a chance to make it through. And through the treatment, Elaine got to know her kids, her body, and herself better than she had before.
When and how were you first diagnosed? What was that moment and season in life like for you?
I was diagnosed in the Fall of 2008. My regular OB/GYN appointment resulted in my doctor finding a small lump which I could only feel once she showed it to me. Since my breasts are dense, she did not seem concerned and since I keep all my girl appointments clustered together, I already had a mammogram appointment scheduled. I had just turned 42. My mammogram appointment was scheduled incorrectly so I needed to do it in two parts. However, when I came in for the second part the next day, I was ushered quickly in and directly to the doctor (NOT a good sign). He told me I was textbook breast cancer and he wanted to do a needle biopsy immediately....or, I could wait and schedule my husband to come with me. I did it immediately. It was Halloween. I did not tell anyone because I decided I didn't have to deal with it until the biopsy confirmed that I had breast cancer.
I waited the official three days and found out I had an aggressive (3/3, 3/3, 3/3) type and was triple negative. They wanted me to have surgery immediately and get Dr.’s lined up. I called my OB/GYN and she basically told me which oncology doctor I should have. I met him and he told me which surgeon and which radiologist he recommended. I basically did what I was told.
Thinking about the science of what was wrong with me scared the hell out me...so I didn't. I had a left mastectomy, chemo, and radiation. A couple years later I followed through with a Tram to create a breast from my stomach. Telling my children I had breast cancer was the worst thing ever and each of their specific reactions are clearer memories than any treatment I received.
During your treatment process, what or who gave you encouragement?
I was incredibly lucky to have a large family, a giving community, and badass friends to support me through this trial. My mother was by my side for every treatment and appointment and I really can't ever explain how truly comforting that was for me.
After your mastectomy, did your body image change? And how so?
I never had a great body image prior to breast cancer and so I really thought I would end up disliking myself even more. However, strangely enough, I think I have a better self image now. I like my body, my scars, my breast made out of my stomach. I think I'm interesting and thankful for my body because it is strong and alive. Acceptance and confidence are sexy.
As a mother, how has your battle with breast cancer affected your relationship with your children?
I believe my breast cancer affected my three kids each very differently. They were ages 16, 12, and 8. They definitely were each radically affected that someone they relied on without thought, might not be there. Horrifying for a child. I tried to make everything humorous and not scary. The resulting after effect is that even at ages 25, 21, and 17, we all cherish snuggle time together... napping, snapchatting, movie watching and laughing.
What does being a breast cancer survivor mean to you? And how would you like to be portrayed?
I like to be portrayed as a lucky human with a loyal outside support system. I don't like being considered "strong" or any other special adjective. It happened to me and it could happen to you. Hopefully, between both God and science, we get lucky and get to keep enjoying life with those we love. Too many others have fought harder than me, had fewer resources, more dreams to live and have not made it.
When it comes to breast cancer awareness, what do you feel people are not talking about, but should be?
I actually feel lucky to have had breast cancer in an era where it is a very visible and understood disease. I love October Breast Cancer Awareness Month because the pink everything is a reminder for everyone to get checked. Many other forms of cancer and other diseases scare people and it results in less money and personal support. I was diagnosed in October and I love fall so it has become a month of gratefulness for me.
Elaine Say photographed by Christina Hicks in Seattle.
Every week this month we’ll be featuring a different woman’s story with breast cancer, and 100% of the profits from our Dusty Rose leggings and Paloma bra will go right to the Breast Cancer Research Fund while our supplies last. But what more can you do? Get a mammogram, talk to your friends, and listen to those who know. The more we talk about it, the more we encourage each other to take care of themselves, the more we take care of each other.