A Sisterhood of Survivors: 4 Women Share What Surviving Breast Cancer Taught Them

For the month of October, Athleta has partnered with National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) to support their mission of providing help and inspiring hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education and support services.

This post is the third in our three-part series dedicated to celebrating and sharing the success stories from women who have survived cancer. You can meet all the women featured in the series here.

breast cancer

Ellen, Renee, and Mary


“No one expects to be diagnosed with cancer. If it happens to you, it shakes you to the core. You learn to deal with the unexpected and live with uncertainty.”

Ellen was putting her Masters in genetics to good use teaching science at the local public school when she was diagnosed. With four kids under the age of 13, she had to learn to deal quickly.

Mary and her family were driving home from Santa Barbara after spreading her father’s ashes when she felt a pain in her left breast. She told her husband it was either a broken heart or breast cancer. Less than a week later, the latter was confirmed.

Renee asked her husband to take the phone call that would reveal the results of her biopsy. When he came to sit next to her and reached for her hand, she said, “The bottom fell out of my world, and I just put my head in my hands and sobbed.”

And for Laura, it started with a gut feeling. She had been training to run the New York City marathon, teaching pilates, and was seemingly in excellent health. Yet she couldn’t shake “a deep, low lying, pit-of-my-stomach feeling that would not go away.” And after a routine mammogram in 2011, her fears were confirmed.


As each of these women began the arduous process of chemo, treatments, surgeries, and drugs, they tried to continue living a normal life.

“Teaching pilates is my passion and being able to work my passion while going through mental, physical and psychological changes within myself helped me tremendously emotionally.” -Laura

Laura appreciated that her friends and family continued to treat her normally. “I had breast cancer but my whole world did not revolve around it. I wanted to continue doing the things I loved as much as possible; being a wife and mother, a friend and a family member.” She and her daughter have always had a close relationship, and though Rebecca was concerned and scared for her mom, Laura says, “I also knew that she was witnessing my strength and determination of wanting to beat cancer down, and saw the importance of staying healthy and happy, and relieving as much stress as possible in order to help with the healing process.”

breast cancer

Laura and her daughter, Rebecca

In anticipation of losing her hair, Ellen made an afternoon of wig shopping with three friends. She even took home the display Styrofoam heads and gussied them up with makeup. And because her friends stepped in to help manage the details of her life, including arranging carpools for her four young kids, she was able to keep teaching science classes.

Mary continued getting mani/pedis right up until her nails fell off. And when her hair started to fall out, she would go on online hunts with pals until she found the perfect Robin Wright wig.

Renee took her oncologist’s advice when he said, “the reason you are doing this is so you can go live your life, so go live your life.” She went paragliding with her son in the middle of treatment and says it was incredible. She urges anyone else going through treatment to make plans with friends, take a vacation, go live your life.

All four women wanted to share what they learned from going through cancer.

Ellen is a mentor to women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, offering support, advice, and an understanding ear. Though Mary sold her spa after 16 years of business, she recently developed a chemical-free product line. Renee takes the time to slow down and enjoy every moment, “appreciating the people and things that make it special. The day-to-day of life is much like it was before, but I no longer stress about things I have no control over.”

And Laura encourages women who are going through cancer treatments to be their own advocate. “Stand up for yourself and be heard. Ask questions if you do not understand what is happening or will happen to you during your treatments. Be extra kind and gentle with yourself. Ask for help when you need it and let people know when you need solitude, space and rest. Believe in the power of prayer and meditation. Enjoy your life and remember to see how beautiful you are.”


Throughout the month of October, Athleta stores will host FREE in-store yoga classes. Drop by for a workout, and check out our pink collection, where a portion of the proceeds from each sale goes to NBCF.
Find your nearest Athleta store calendar here.

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