This December I celebrate my 30th year of being cancer-free! In some ways it’s hard to believe that much time has passed, as the memories still feel vivid and palpable. But as Thanksgiving was just upon us, I can’t help but feel grateful for life, and for this huge milestone.
At the age of 40 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had to have a mastectomy. I chose not to undergo reconstruction, instead opting to embrace my body’s new natural shape. After 6 months of strong chemotherapy, the cancer receded and has not returned. I am happy to say my life has continued on as a healthy, joyful journey since this time.
Breast cancer changed my outlook on life. It’s made me more aware of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle – like exercising and eating well – as well as giving me a newfound appreciation for day-to-day things, and a desire to embrace life as I age. It’s amazing how oftentimes (or all the time?) life’s obstacles can bring blessings in disguise. Along the way I have met some incredible women that share the same feelings. Luckily most of them are still with us. Unfortunately I have also lost some loved ones to this disease.
I am honored to be part of a small group of women that have been instrumental in my healing journey. We gather periodically to discuss our lives and experiences, with conversations about health and medicine at the forefront. We are supportive of each other’s stories, and through our gatherings learn about the latest medical technology, new procedures, and different ways of approaching selfcare.
Sue Miller (1934-2017) was my mentor for many years, and was at the center of this group. She pioneered transparency about breast cancer over 40 years ago by organizing a fashion show of women that were going through breast cancer, or who were on the other side of it. Her nonprofit organization was called “The Sue Miller Day of Caring,” and continues as a part of the Cancer League of Colorado. The luncheon and fashion show that Sue started took place in cities across the country, and included an educational experience, with vendors helping the audience discover new, healthy ways of dealing with this disease. I was lucky to be chosen to dress women for these shows for 5 continuous years – an experience that had a profound effect on me, and which continues to bring happy memories. I was also honored to receive the Sue Miller Survivor Award in 2014.
I’ll leave you with one very touching story that I feel compelled to share: Recently I was chatting with the husband of a fellow breast cancer advocate (who unfortunately didn’t survive). He told me that his wife was buried in her Brooks dress that I had designed for her to wear in one of the Sue Miller Day of Caring fashion shows, because she loved the experience and loved the dress. I know this isn’t your normal conversation, but it touched me. I am proud that I was able to bring positivity to her and to so many other women during what is otherwise such a difficult time. Art, fashion, and creative expression can have a positive impact on our lives, and that is what drives me forward.