Musician, Yogi, Two-Time Survivor
q & a
You are an inspiration to so many women, people everywhere facing the big 'C' word. Can you tell me about your first diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was 11. My mom took me to the ER, and they admitted me for surgery. It was worse than they anticipated—they had to scrape my diaphragm and remove one of my ovaries. Then I underwent six months of chemo.
Eleven years old, wow. Did you fully understand what was happening?
Not at all. My parents tried to explain it to me, and my response was just, “If I’m alive, then I’m fine.” This is still my mantra today. The hospital was kind of fun, honestly—there was a game room, an art room. I got homeschooled in the hospital so I wouldn’t fall behind my friends.
What motivated you to keep fighting?
Right before I started treatment, I auditioned for the school musical, and I was cast as the lead. They wanted to pull me out, but I told them, “Absolutely not.” I made a deal with my parents and the doctors that we would check my white blood count before rehearsals, and, if it was too low, I’d skip. It’s so helpful when you have something to look forward to through treatment. I’d sing all the songs and practice the lines with my nurses. It kept me going.
And look at you now, a full-time musician! Did your music help you through your second battle with cancer?
Even more so. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months after graduating college. I wrote my first song the same month as my double mastectomy. I didn’t know what I was writing, but I sent it to my sister, and she told me, “This is about everything you’re going through. It’s about the dark side of cancer.”
I later wrote the song “As You Are” about my journey back to self-love. Some people think I’m talking about a love interest, but that never occurred to me. It’s as if love was a human being talking to me, and telling me that no matter what, if I love myself, that’s all that matters.
How did you prepare yourself for your mastectomy, for your second battle with cancer?
I just expected it. Since I was first diagnosed so young, I became acutely aware of my body. I started doing self-checks all the time. I found a few benign cysts—they kept popping up, but my doctor didn’t want to turn me into a cutting board. Then, during my senior year of college, I found one that felt different. The doctor suggested we keep an eye on it. I went in a year later, and it had grown so much I was rushed in for a biopsy. When I got the call a few days later that I had breast cancer, I wasn’t surprised.
So, yeah, mentally I was ready for a double mastectomy. I’d been through this before. And I had a plan.
“I am stronger now than I ever was. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see all my scars and think, 'Wow, I overcame all of that.' My body can do anything.”
The doctors told me all the things I wouldn’t be able to do again, but I know my body—I knew I could defy their expectations. I trained for that double mastectomy—I knew it would be tough on my arms, so I trained my arms. I made my core really strong because I wanted to be able to get out of bed without anyone’s help. I had a goal.
What other emotions did your breast cancer diagnosis bring up?
I always hid that I’d had cancer growing up. I didn’t want to be seen as the “cancer girl.” I kind of felt broken. But when I got diagnosed again in college, I saw it as a sign that I needed to share my experience, and use it to help people—especially young people going through this. I struggled to find people my age to talk to, people who’d understand, so I wanted to be that for others. I knew I couldn’t be alone.
How did you connect with others?
It happened during my recovery. I struggle with depression and anxiety, and the chemo caused a lot of mood swings. One night, I was overwhelmed by it all and just wanted to write. So I did—I poured myself into a journal, and then decided to post it. I never planned on sharing something like that, something so personal, but then I heard the reaction. From people fighting cancer to people just fighting their own battles, hearing how much my journey helped them made everything so much better for me. It gave me a higher purpose.
“I woke up from my surgery, I looked down, and it was a bloody mess. My body was weak. But I was like, ‘Damn. I am a badass.’”
Were you able to find a support system through that? To feel you weren’t alone?
Absolutely. When I meet someone who has gone through some sort of cancer diagnosis, we just bond immediately. We both just get it, nothing needs an explanation. And that is such a powerful bond to have with someone.
After my double mastectomy, I was looking for people my age going through something similar. That’s when I found Paige [co-founder of the Breasties Organization]. The Breasties wasn’t a formal non-profit yet, but she was still out there sharing her story. One day she posted something about putting together a cycling class for survivors, thrivers, and previvors to meet each other. I was so excited, but I’m so shy I almost left without saying hi. I finally introduced myself, and that was it. We’ve been best friends ever since.
You had her at hello.
Basically! A month or two later, she put together a Breasties snowboarding retreat. I went and met all these incredible women—it’s such a beautiful movement.
How has your journey impacted your ability to be active?
I am stronger now than I ever was. Once I got the greenlight to work out again, I was so determined to become stronger and stronger. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see all my scars and think, “Wow, I overcame all of that.” My body can do anything.
You make it sound so easy, but I can only imagine how hard that was on your body. How did you overcome the pain?
There was a lot of pain. I almost broke one of my nurse’s hands squeezing it when I got an injection. But I just reminded myself that it’s only temporary. That’s how I’ve gotten through everything. This too shall pass.
Tell me about a time you felt strongest. Did you feel it in your body? In your mind?
A memorable moment is when I first had my expanders in, as part of my reconstruction. I felt so strong and powerful, like I had taken back control of my body and my life.
So many people tried to stop me from having a double mastectomy. But the way I saw it, it was simple—I have the surgery, and I can live.
I woke up from my surgery, I looked down, and it was a bloody mess. My body was weak. But I was like, “Damn. I am a badass.”
What are your hopes for women going through their own journey with cancer?
I hope they know that cancer does not have to stop your life. It doesn’t take away your strength, your beauty, who you are as a person. Cancer doesn’t have to stop you.
I also hope that you, whoever you are, know that you aren’t alone in this. I’m here for you, there are resources here for you. All you have to do is reach out.
The whole point is people supporting people. I promise, you are never alone.
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