Paige Stoll is a chef, a businesswoman, and a ray of sunshine for whatever room she walks into. She is a daughter, a friend, and at the beginning of her life. She also has breast cancer. I'm going to break the fourth wall here for a minute and introduce myself. I'm Kathleen, our Editorial Manager, and I’ve known Paige for years. One thing you should know about this woman is that when she was given her diagnosis she decided to call it "the flu". So during Paige’s treatment if you asked her how she was doing she would say, "oh yeah, I still have the flu". More than fear, this was Paige reclaiming her life. She wanted to be more than her diagnosis, she didn't want to give it power. So she didn't.
She did talk about how it can happen to anyone, at any time. Even healthy, vibrant people with no warning signs. She taught me to advocate for my own health, to keep opening yourself up even when the world deals you a bad hand. I have a feeling she can help you with those things, too.
Can you walk us through how you were first diagnosed, and what that moment was like for you?
Cancer does not discriminate, none of us is immune, and in the face of diagnosis we are forced to gather all of our strength – from self, friends, family – to get these little alien fuckers out of our bodies. On December 11, 2015, I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, six months after I first presented a funny, painful lump to an OB/GYN who wrote it off as a cyst based on preliminary observations – I was too young at 34, I had no family history, I don’t drink (often), I don’t smoke (ever!), and I was generally the healthiest bird around.
Time is your most valuable friend when attacking cancer, and had my original doctor thought to be curious, my treatment may have been more gentle, but I really never felt anger.
I wrote an article about my journey here: Clementine Daily.
People often focus entirely on the hopeful aspect of cancer treatment, but as someone who encourages honesty so much, what were the hardest parts?
I believe in my body and love my body - even when I was going through the "Discovery Phase" battery of tests, I never doubted her and her ability to heal herself. I had all the resources to do that - tinctures and time to rest, family and friends who shared incredible wisdom and outpouring of love.
The hardest parts would come when I would be sitting in the treatment center, looking around at those whose hearts were breaking and battling alone. Those who fed themselves candy bars as nourishment, because they didn’t have access to knowledge about how food and rest can boost your immune system and elevate your spirit. There are so many people who suffer silently. Cancer is a garbage disease, but so is Lyme Disease, mental illness, and abusive relationships. Cancer raised my awareness of others, and my ability to love and empathize more deeply. For that, I am ever grateful.
Has your body image changed at all through this process?
I perhaps love her more now – not for the fact I’ve been able to keep my lovely teacup French breasts or that and I am (for now) scar free. What I love about my body now is how her and her story have been a vehicle for connection to everyone and anyone going through a journey. I have met some of the raddest women in the world, each on a pilgrimage for personal health, each raising positivity and light for others, each showing me what it means to be graceful and fearless. In this body, I can touch others going through trauma, and I can write about those lessons as a Wellness Editor on The Fold Mag. As a vegan, holistic chef, these hands can create meals that help and heal families. These eyes and this mind can be in excited awe in front of a Jennifer Ament painting or sitting under James Turrell's Skyspace at The Henry Art Museum. My voice is strong and can yell in resistance to oppression and in support of those suffering. My body, mind, and soul are unified, and are so very alive and well.
When it comes to breast cancer awareness, what do you feel people are not talking about, but should be?
My hope, so that those I love most don't find themselves hooked to chemical fighters and barfing every five minutes instead of living the beautiful lives we all have, is KNOW YOUR BODY, TOUCH YOUR BODY, and BE PERSISTENT when anything in your body feels questionable - especially as women younger and younger are being diagnosed. You are your best health advocate. Don't be afraid. This is a very treatable disease. Here is my email (and I am serious), if any reader of Girlfriend Collective has any questions, talk to me. I am here for you - firstname.lastname@example.org
Paige Stoll 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.