Breast cancer is an illness often associated with older women and although 8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer are those of women aged 50 and over, young women can also be affected. Lauren Bash, the vice-president of Fighting Pretty, a charity dedicated to helping women going through the illness to regain confidence and feel beautiful during or after their battle with it, speaks to me from across the pond about her own battle with the illness. The now healthy 30-year-old recalls what it was like to be diagnosed with breast cancer and having to fight it at the tender-age of 27, and talks about why she is now giving back.
“It felt like my world was crashing down around me,” Bash says, recalling the moment she received her diagnosis. A month earlier, Bash says that she felt a “pea-sized ball” on the lower left-side of her left breast but waited until she had her annual gynaecology appointment to address it with her doctor. The doctor sent her to get a sonogram which revealed a 10cm lump which spanned from her nipple to the wall of her chest. At that stage, she says, the lump was still suspected to be benign. “They thought it was just Fibroadenoma,” she says. Despite the doctor’s suspicions, an MRI was still ordered and was followed by a biopsy which revealed the result that changed her life. “I had DCIS in my left breast,” Bash says. Two days before her best-friend’s wedding and four months before her own, Bash’s diagnosis could not come at a more difficult time: “I had to give a speech [at her best-friend’s wedding] and act like nothing was wrong after finding out I had breast cancer at 27 years old.”
The diagnosis also brought back unease from the past for Bash.“I watched my mum suffer through her surgery just a few years earlier, but I never imagined at the time that I would have to endure what she did,” she says. Bash says that until this day, the shock of her diagnosis feels surreal.
The then young bride-to-be went on with her treatment which consisted of a bilateral mastectomy, and this did not come without its struggles. “My breasts were my prized possessions, so to lose them almost felt like losing an arm or a leg. They made me feel sexy and confident,” she says, “it is hard to face this at any age, but when you are 27 with hopes to start a family someday with your husband, it makes you question if you will ever have the self-confidence to do that.” The big up-side, she says, is that she did not require chemo therapy or radiation and after having the mastectomy, her treatment was complete and she was declared cancer-free soon after. She was given the all-clear over 18 months ago.
Although breast cancer is no longer a part of Bash’s anatomy, being the vice-president of Fighting Pretty still makes it a big part of her life. She says that she felt that the only way she was going to get through the trauma the illness brought was if she helped other women who also went through or are going through the same thing: “by making other women feel strong, I was going to become stronger and be able to cope with what I had just been through.” She also says that meeting women who also went through the breast cancer is “very therapeutic”, and until this day she maintains ties with women she met who also survived the illness.
These days, Bash sees every day as a blessing and won’t let a day go by without making the most of it. “Sometimes it takes such a devastating experience to realise what a good life you have,” she says. Bash also says that she isn’t going to let the way her body changed hold her back, and even though she has hang-ups sometimes, she strives to keep moving forward. “I survived by removing my breasts, and that’s all that matters,” she says, “I look at the scars that replaced them [her breasts], it reminds me of how strong I am and what a fighter I am.” When feeling down, Bash says she she looks to what she calls her “support system” to bring her back up. Someone who she credits for sticking around throughout her battle is her husband: “my husband has supported everything I’ve done to survive and doesn’t physically look at me any differently.”
So if you’re a young woman and you think you have breast cancer symptoms, what do you do? Bash stressed that seeing a doctor ASAP is important and says: “if something doesn’t feel right, do something about it. Don’t wait and see what happens.” And if you already have Breast cancer, Bash says that support is available: “know that you are not alone. There are support groups and resources out there for you.”
If you want to know more about Fighting Pretty or to contribute by sending a donation or a Pretty Package, or just want to know how to get in touch, visit: http://www.fightingpretty.org.