When we met Kim, we were taken aback by her perseverance and positivity. Below she shares her breast cancer story and how she empowered her daughter to think differently about her body and overcoming adversity. She has been an invaluable help to the Athleta bra design team, by wear-testing and providing product and design feedback on the Empower Bra and even modeling the bra for our website. Read on to hear her story.
It was Memorial Day while visiting my mom, that I discovered a pea-sized lump under my left armpit. After a mammogram turned up a suspicious area, and a follow-up ultrasound, my fears were confirmed. At 31, my doctor told me he’d found an 8-millimeter nodule – I had cancer. I remember thinking, “How is this possible?” I was the mother to a four and six-year-old. I needed to be around to help them grow up.
To remove the cancer, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, and chemotherapy to follow. The process of losing my breasts was devastating, to say the least – especially for a young woman. But, the reconstruction process allowed me to feel whole again.
Though there were many difficult moments throughout my diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, but there were beautiful moments, too. One that I’ll never forget happened when I was exhausted, sick, and tired from the treatments, and all my daughter wanted was for me to tuck her into bed. As I walked down the hallway toward her room, I saw her kneeling beside her bed praying for strength for me so that I could fight breast cancer. In that moment, I felt a renewed courage to battle my disease.
For three years I did. Until I felt swelling under my breast and after a series of tests found out my cancer was back. I’d promised my kids the previous surgeries had removed everything, and now I had to go home and share the bad news.
As I navigated my treatment plan, one of the biggest hurdles for me was not having any breasts. I had many emotional breakdowns, with moments of despair and anxiety in fitting rooms feeling so frustrated that I could not find a sports bra to accommodate my prosthesis very easily, or a bra that felt sexy and feminine, or a bathing suit to hide the many scars cancer had left on my chest.
At the time of my second diagnosis, my daughter was old enough to understand the challenges I had faced, and as a young lady herself, asked me if I felt angry about losing my breasts. I wanted her to know that I wasn’t angry at all. I said, “Sweetheart, there are many people who have faced adversity, many who have lost their arms, legs, sight, hearing. My breasts do not define me.”
Today, I am extremely blessed to say I am completely cancer-free. I just celebrated my 40th birthday, and my daughter is now 15 years old, and my son is 13. Every day I express gratitude or count my blessings for the life I have been given.
During one of the last conversations I had with my medical oncologist, I asked how to overcome the fear, anxiety, lack of control, and uncertainty cancer can bring. He said, “Let me give you 3 pieces of advice. Number one, I am a medical doctor, and I do everything I can medically, but the man above has the final say. Number two, have HOPE. There are new drugs coming to market every day. And, number three, go home and have a glass of champagne and live every day to the fullest!” I think about those 3 pieces of advice often – especially when I have days filled with fear and worry that my cancer will return.
It is my sincere hope that my story can inspire, empower, and educate other women to “be their own best advocate,” and not allow cancer to define them negatively in any way. We all have a story to share, and I am grateful and blessed I am alive to share mine.
Not only have I been able to share my story, teaming up with Athleta, I’ve been able to share my first-hand experience struggling to find a sports bra that works for a post-mastectomy body. What initially started as me just giving feedback for the Empower Bra led to me wear-testing it, and finally modeling it for Athleta’s website. Working with Athleta’s bra designers was a healing experience for me. Their passion for creating the Empower Bra inspires me and I’m grateful for their dedication. The Empower Bra is changing my life in a really profound way, and I know it will do the same for other women.