Breast Cancer Awareness: Stories of Struggle, Survival, and Inspiration to Empower You

October 1, 2021

Each woman’s illness and experience is unique to her. Yet, each journey defines their future. And each story you read in this article will forever impact how you think about breast cancer awareness. Because I believe to truly be aware and take action, you have to be emotionally compelled to do so.

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breast cancer awareness

October is breast cancer awareness month, and I want to share a different perspective on breast cancer awareness. 

Breast cancer is a silent killer. I want to bring a voice to the battles of three inspirational women that will challenge what you think you know about breast cancer. 

First, some stats. 

These stats are shocking. Honestly, they just piss me off.

Just hearing the words breast cancer pisses me off. But these stats on the disease are, simply put, infuriating. 

Breast cancer awareness: The stats

About 250,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with nearly 40,000 women dying from the disease annually. 

On average, a woman who lives to be 90 or older has between a 10% and 15% chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. 

While breast cancer is a silent killer, thousands of people diagnosed with the disease do survive and go on to thrive. 

Next up, I’m going to introduce you to three amazing survivors who’ve touched my life. They’ve selflessly agreed to share their stories of struggle, survival, and empowerment.

Our hope is to generate increased awareness of breast cancer and SAVE LIVES! 

We want to share with you how they discovered they had cancer so you can become more aware of early prevention, screening, following your instincts, and getting crucial second opinions for yourself and your loved ones. 

Each one of these women has a unique story to tell. And each story has an unexpected twist and turn. So I’m going to take you down the path of how I met each woman and what these extraordinary ladies mean to me.  

I asked each of them the same three questions about their survival stories:

  1. How did you discover your breast cancer?
  2. What was your journey like?
  3. How has breast cancer changed you mentally, physically, and how do you look at the future?

What will shock you the most is how each story doesn’t end! 

Breast cancer is not as simple as life or death. It fundamentally changes a person. 

I hope you learn the intimate feelings and grueling internal battle it has on a person’s life and how they forever battle cancer. Because without this insight, patients will forever feel alone and misunderstood. 

When someone is diagnosed, they read many numbers and complex words that make no sense to the average person. They’re instantly categorized into a statistic and forever hold the unenviable title of breast cancer patient

But what I want to share is not the numbers or the crazy terminology — because they don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they don’t tell much of a story at all. 

Each woman’s illness and experience is unique to her. Yet, each journey defines their future. And each story you read in this article will forever impact how you think about breast cancer awareness. Because I believe to truly be aware and take action, you have to be emotionally compelled to do so. 

So that’s what I set out to do. I wanted to share the deep, intimate stories that compelled me to take on this project and seek them out. 

Breast cancer awareness story #1: Meet Darla Oringderff

Darla Oringderff-breast cancer awareness
Darla Oringderff

If I had to describe Darla in one word, that word would be POSITIVE! 

I met Darla in a Judo/BJJ class when I lived in Knoxville TN in 2012. 

Darla is a very unassuming badass. She’s smart and beautiful and petite and very patient and kind….until she’s not! I had the great privilege of training alongside Darla in judo and BJJ and she is an incredible athlete. When Darla throws you or chokes you, she makes sure you know it. I remember one night the two of us sparred forever and we both were so exhausted we could barely take a knee. We both looked at each other with childlike smiles on our faces as if we needed that.  

She’s not only an incredible training partner, she’s an incredible teacher and was very much a big part of my growth and love for this art. She currently has been training for 6 years and is now a purple belt. 

I only lived in TN for a year but we stayed connected through social media. When Darla was diagnosed, I reached out to her and let her know I was thinking of her. Many conversations followed and we continued those conversations over the years. It’s pretty amazing to have met someone and still be able to follow their life journey through the power of pictures and words. 

Darla’s positive approach to life no matter what it brings you is contagious. I was lucky enough to have been affected by her and I cherish our friendship. 

~Darla’s story~

How did you discover you had breast cancer?

At the beginning of 2016, I was a healthy 50-year-old, stay at home, mother of two. I had never smoked, didn’t drink alcohol, or take drugs. I rarely took medication. I did Brazilian jiu-jitsu 3 days a week rolling with guys twice my size and half my age. I danced salsa and bachata for hours on the weekends. I was, to say the least, in good shape. I did not have a family history of any kind of cancer, and my parents were healthy and living independently in their 80’s. 

One day in March, I laid down in bed with my left arm up across my forehead, I felt an odd pressure-like feeling in my left breast. I reached down and found “a lump”. A large lump. Panic set in. I have 2 kids and a strained marriage with a husband that lived and worked 1000 miles away. I didn’t tell anyone.

 I made an appointment with my OB/GYN but could only get in to see a midwife on short notice. She felt the lump. It could be moved around. It was not attached to the chest wall. She was not alarmed. I mean I was so healthy, right? She did send me to get a mammogram. I had only had one previously when I turned 40. I was small breasted, healthy with no familial history of cancer. I didn’t think breast cancer could happen to me.

Still not having told anyone, I went for the mammogram. The doctor did not seem concerned. He thought maybe it was a bruise from jiu-jitsu. I mean, I was so healthy, right? I knew I had not received a hit to my breast, but I agreed to take the antibiotics for a week to see if the lump would shrink. I came back the next week, and the lump had not changed at all. The doctor said that he would do a biopsy, but it was probably just a benign cyst. My mother had previously had them. Time went by excruciatingly slow waiting for the results. No one but me knew what I was waiting to find out. 

The doctor’s office was supposed to call on Friday. Friday came and went. The next Monday evening, when I was getting ready to walk out the door to take my daughter to orchestra practice, the phone rang at 5 pm. I was in my room alone. The nurse just said, “It’s cancer. Everyone here is shocked. We just didn’t expect this. I mean, you’re so healthy.” That seemed to be the theme lately. I just stood there crying. 

I changed hospitals, and it took a week before the hospital scheduler called me to start making appointments. She was asking me questions, and I said, “I have no information as to what kind of cancer I have or anything.” She was shocked and proceeded to tell me what information she had. 

I’m the kind of person who takes care of everyone else first. I rarely took the time to address my own health, but, I began to think about the past year. I had been under a huge amount of stress for 4 years. Financial problems, marital problems, living as a single parent, and each of my children were going through their own major issues. 

The previous June I had gone to my OB/GYN saying that I didn’t feel right. They couldn’t find anything wrong with me. In November, I had an extremely sharp pain in my left nipple but didn’t think anything of it. I had even been losing weight and jokingly remarked to a jiu-jitsu friend, “maybe I have cancer”. I would drop my children off at school and make it to the parking lot where I would fall into a “drunken” sleep in my car. I couldn’t wake myself up for hours to drive home. I chalked it up to poor sleep and extreme stress.

What has your journey been like?

Darla Oringderff-breast cancer awareness
Darla Oringderff’s breast cancer story

My cancer was HER2+, ER/PR -; Stage 3 (6/8 lymph nodes involvement); and true to my overachieving personality it was 9/9 on the grading scale. The most aggressive kind. I took this information and did my own research. I listened to the concerns of my family, read lots of medical research,  and made my decision as to what I thought was the best course of treatment. I decided to listen to the surgeon’s plan and see if it aligned with my research. Luckily, it was exactly the same.

 I was to have 6 chemo treatments over 3 months. I would have carboplatin, Taxotere, Herceptin, and Perjeta, surgery to remove what was left of the tumor after chemo, and then 33 radiation treatments. Giving this kind of control to the medical establishment for a person who doesn’t even take medication usually was frightening. I had two natural childbirths (8lbs 3 ounces and 9 lbs 8 ounces). I could do this, right? I discussed my fear of Taxotere and its detrimental long-term effects on hair growth with my oncologist, but he dismissed my concerns and would not consider another drug.

 I told my surgeon and oncologist that I was going to have a pathologic complete response (the lack of all signs of cancer in tissue samples removed during surgery or biopsy after treatment with radiation or response chemotherapy). They told me that was rare and to not get my hopes up. I said, “Watch me!”. My theory was that the aggressiveness of my cancer would take up the targeted protein therapy as aggressively as it was growing. 

Zoom through the months of treatment. I barely remember them now. Like childbirth, the pain and problems fade. Don’t get me wrong. It was hell in the moment. I know my body very well, and I told the oncologist that I was very sensitive to medication. I asked if maybe they could scale back on my dose. He assured me he knew better. My first chemo infusion resulted in the worst toxic dose-reaction that he had ever seen. Losing my hair was no big deal to me, but the chemo killed my entire digestive tract from the tip of my tongue to my, well, you know. I had severe diarrhea 10-11 times every day. I couldn’t tolerate food in my mouth even though I was hungry, and the mouth sores were horrendous. I lost 20 lbs including muscle wasting. All I could tolerate was the occasional egg or chocolate vegan Shakeology shake made with water and a banana. 

My husband at the time was working and living 1000 miles away. He came home after the first surgery/chemo to get our 13-year-old son to take him to live with him. It was a very difficult decision for me, but necessary. My husband did not back until the Fall of 2017. He was physically and emotionally absent from my journey. I didn’t get to see my son from May until Christmas, at which time, I traveled to see him. 

The whole journey of cancer lay at the feet of my daughter and myself. With no family in town, we became closer through that year. My then 17-year-old daughter bore the burden of helping her mom through cancer treatment during her senior year. We laughed, we cried, and we binge-watched shows when I had no energy. She cooked me an egg or made a shake, and we took advantage of weekends after Friday chemotherapy treatments while the steroids gave me energy for any fun before the dreaded Monday crash. She was my rock. 

The skin on the soles of my feet burned off at one point making it difficult to walk. One day I was on the phone and smelled a horrendous smell. I realized my fingernails were rotting off (as did my toenails). By the last 3 chemo treatments, there were waves of fire burning through my veins. I literally felt like I was going to spontaneously combust. I just wanted to escape my body. I drank aloe water to try and quench the fire within. Surgery and radiation were next. Radiation wasn’t that bad for me. My skin didn’t burn, but it did continue to wear away any energy in my already exhausted body. 

It’s a cumulative effect. I often referred to it as my triathlon. I honestly don’t remember all of the horrible things that happened. I do know that when I got my diagnosis I said, “They are going to take a “perfectly healthy” person and break me down.” That is exactly what happened.  “The new normal”. How I hated that term, but I tried to keep my spirits and positivity up!

How has this experience changed you mentally, physically, how you think about the future, or what’s important?

Five years later, I still suffer from residual effects: numbness under the left arm, tingling in the left arm, constant threat of lymphedema, my muscles and skin have changed, my hair/eyebrows/eyelashes did not come back the same due to the Taxotere. But you know what? I got my pathologic complete response. The tumor shrunk completely away, I did not have a mastectomy, and the cancer was completely gone! Success!!

It has been 5 years this September since I was declared cancer-free. I was released from care this past spring. The oncologist said that if the HER2+ type doesn’t come back within 4 years, it doesn’t usually come back. I’m banking on this. My hair may never be the same, my taste might not ever come back fully, other side effects will probably persist, but I am here. I am here for my children. I am here to tell my story. I am here to encourage others that you can beat this. I often say that “Cancer Gave Me Courage”.

 It made me look at my life and realize that life is not a given. It gave me the courage to end a bad marriage. It gave me the courage to go on an adventure. I hadn’t worked in years, but in 2018 I decided to take a job as a speech-language pathologist in Los Angeles.  I ended up driving across this amazing country and back 10 times by myself. I rented my own apartment by the beach in Los Angeles and lived there until Covid. 

Having a renewed outlook on life, I pursued my interest in dancing and started studying Zouk (a Brazilian style dance). I stepped way out of my comfort zone and joined the Zoukbabes dance team. Beautiful, talented girls half my age welcomed me in and encouraged me. I was terrified, but they were amazing women and became some of my best friends ever. We practiced on Wednesday nights at a studio on Sunset Blvd and performed at dance festivals all over Los Angeles. How cool was my life? I danced on the deck of Queen Mary until sunrise and watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from my living room. I met, hosted, and became good friends with many dance artists and instructors from around the world. I had taken control of my life finally. Faced with the thought of death gave me the courage to live. 

I encourage you: Do your self-exams, get your mammograms, but more importantly dont wait, dont get bogged down by life. Dont forget to LIVE!

Breast cancer awareness story #2: Meet Marjo May-Korish

Marjo Korish-breast cancer awareness
Marjo & Kit Korish

What I am about to say sounds cliche, but it’s true — Marjo is one of a kind. 

You won’t find another like her, and best of luck to you if you even try. Marjo deeply and authentically cares for all humans, and she has the most compassionate heart of anyone I’ve ever met. 

Marjo and I met in Bend, Oregon, in 2014. My son, Madux, and her grandson Holden were in the same wrestling club and later became competitors and friends at the same high school. 

I describe Marjo as the cheerleader of all the kids and parents. She would walk around and watch all the kids compete and go out of her way to let them know they were amazing and doing a great job no matter their outcome. 

She made a point to get to know not just you but your whole family. She ALWAYS has a smile on her face, and with every interaction you have with her, you leave feeling like you are lighter and brighter. That’s the kind of effect her presence has on you.  

I remember seeing on social media that Marjo had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and I had not been on Facebook for a while. So, I was unsure of what had happened and how she was doing. 

I reached out to her son, and he filled me in on everything, explaining that she’d had surgery and was currently doing chemo and radiation. It had been rough for Marjo and her family. I asked his permission to get her address and to drop off a bouquet at her house. 

My husband, myself, and our five kids picked out some flowers at the local florist that afternoon. We dropped the kids off at practice and swung by her house to deliver the flowers. 

My husband and I were unsure of how she was feeling, so we were just going to leave the flowers on the porch with a note. But her husband, Kit, caught us red-handed and invited us in. 

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was. I took one look at Marjo, and I just couldn’t believe how beautiful she still looked despite the battle she’d been fighting. 

The four of us talked for several hours. It was intimate and raw, and to this day, it was an evening I won’t forget. Not only did Marjo touch our hearts, but her husband Kit did as well. 

The way he looked at her, the way he completed her sentences to give her hope and reassure her he had her back, the connection they had was one you can’t make up. 

As ugly as this disease is, I can tell it brought them closer than ever and their priorities were now aligned like never before. 

So to Marjo and Kit — thank you! Brandon and I had hoped to stop by to cheer you up and support you, and we left inspired about what a couple could and should be in dark times. 

~Marjo’s story~

How did you discover you had breast cancer?

It was an overcast day in January, and I had missed my second mammogram appointment scheduled for October.  

I just thought, why bother? I was 67, and there was no history of breast cancer in my family, and I was busy. So I had all of the excuses, but my husband would have none of that. 

One morning I got up and found a note in all capitals, GET A MAMMOGRAM, and so I did.  

My first inkling that something was wrong was when the radiology tech took duplicate slides of my left breast. Then, they left the room and came back and took another image.  

I thought this was not good.  

As I sat in the booth waiting for the radiologist to talk to me, I knew something was amiss. He finally met with me and said they wanted me to come back the next day for a more sophisticated 3D image to rule out any possible abnormalities.  

I knew at that moment that this was not going to end well and . . . it didn’t. 

When I returned for my second appointment, I asked the radiology tech if there was a concern that it might be cancer. She nodded. 

I was scheduled for a third appointment to take samples from a small tumor hiding behind a larger benign mass in my left breast. 

I knew I had cancer, and I was officially diagnosed. 

Our next step was to go to the surgeon to schedule a biopsy of my lymph nodes and the small tumor. 

My lymph nodes were clear, but the small growth was Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which doesn’t have receptors for most breast cancers’ newly-developed treatments and medications. 

I was told that Triple Negative Breast Cancer is currently the most researched breast cancer today. But thus far, there are no treatments for it besides aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. 

I was scheduled for a lumpectomy and to begin chemotherapy the following week.

What has your journey been like?

Marjo Korish-breast cancer awareness
Marjo Korish’s breast cancer story

At the time I was diagnosed, my sister-in-law had been a breast cancer survivor for eight years. But her cancer had spread to some of her lymph nodes. 

After she got the news about my diagnosis, she called me to give me support. We met at Barnes and Noble for tea. 

She told me that once you have cancer, your life is never the same. She said, “For example, I’ve had a pain in my back, and I always worry that any pain is cancer.” 

Tragically, when she went to the oncologist to discuss the pain in her back, he found cancer had spread throughout her body. 

She died six months later. 

She was my co-pilot, and I loved her deeply. She was only 57. 

My first chemotherapy was the day before my 49th wedding anniversary. My husband attempted to shave my hair because you lose your hair with the chemotherapy I had to get. 

It was hysterical. He got out clippers that I believe were 25 years old and started to give me a buzz cut. But the clippers broke. 

So he got scissors and cut the remaining hair by hand. I looked like a four-year-old who had given herself a haircut. 

But I didn’t care. It actually brought some humor into a very bleak situation. 

Chemotherapy is a surreal experience. On my first treatment, I was with patients who were having their first treatments too, and the volunteers were bringing us snacks and taking lunch orders. So I thought this wasn’t going to be so bad

However, after the first treatment, the staff and volunteers didn’t even go through the charade of offering meals. I was too ill, as were the other cancer patients. We all were scared, confused, and sick. 

I learned to live on Boost, a supplement to keep my caloric intake high. In addition, I discovered that the steroids you get the day before your treatments can give you a sense of invincibility. 

I learned the art of faking it to not upset my family and friends, and I learned to embrace the times when my wheels fell off, and I just cried. 

I never vomited, but I always felt like I had the flu. The smell of food made me nauseous, and the thought of eating was horrible. Nothing tastes right. I stopped enjoying milk chocolate, and I still don’t like it. 

The radiation treatments that followed were not difficult for me. I really did not have any side effects to speak of, but it was horrible sitting in the waiting room with people who were not as lucky as I was and were very ill. My heart broke for them. 

I’ve always been a serious athlete, but I became so winded and weak during the treatments that I couldn’t walk to the dog kennel without stopping to rest. Until that time, my body had never failed me. Now it was an alien to me. 

I have been cancer-free for three years now. 

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer is on a three-year trajectory. So every three years that I am cancer-free increases my chances of survival. Today, I’m at about an 85% survival rate. 

I’m fortunate because my husband forced me to have a mammogram. 

My advice to others is DO NOT PUT IT OFF! 

Most breast cancers and Triple Negative Breast Cancer are treatable if found early!  

In my heart, I believe that most of you will live to see the cure for breast cancer. It will happen. 

But until then, be vigilant with your health. You are worth it.   

How has this experience changed you mentally, physically, how you think about the future, or what’s important?

To be honest, this cancer thing has changed me. I have lost confidence in my future. But I know that as time passes, my mojo will return. 

The experience has shaken my core. Until my diagnosis, talking about death was an abstract exercise because I was healthy, active, and happy. Now, I’m keenly aware of deaths from Cancer. 

I have new filters and will become overly sad by tragic stories, books, or movies. Every day at this point of my recovery is a little too sharp.  

In other words, I overwork at being a wonderful grandma, mother, or friend because I know that I may not have a full life expectancy. And, when I do make an all-too-human mistake with my family or friends, I’m brutal on myself and unforgiving. 

On the other hand, those who care about me are frustrated because they’ve moved on and cannot understand why I’ve changed so much. 

As a friend of mine said, only until you walk the walk do you truly understand the journey. 

Breast cancer awareness story #3: Meet Joy Sherman

Joy Sherman-breast cancer awareness
Joy Sherman

My first meeting with Joy was anything but pleasant. 

I had an allergic reaction and had developed an infection while out of town. My entire face was swollen, and I looked like a deformed chipmunk. Joy came highly referred and so I set up an appointment to see her.

Joy is an aesthetic nurse practitioner at Gentle Touch MediSpa and Wellness in Orlando, Florida. 

She’s not only extremely talented at what she does, but she is also everything you could hope for in a nurse — non-judgmental, compassionate, caring, and present. Joy didn’t just take care of me, but she went above and beyond the call of duty. 

We were approaching the weekend. I lived nearly an hour away. So, Joy gave me her cell number in case I had any symptoms or questions. Joy reached out to check on me twice a day and invited me back for follow-ups until she knew the infection had cleared. 

I honestly can’t say that I have had any doctor or nurse that has gone to such lengths. That alone speaks volumes on Joy’s character. 

I had a couple of trips planned, so I waited a few months before reaching out to Joy for follow-up procedures. That’s when she hit me with the news that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and would not be available to see me. But her staff could take care of me. 

My heart dropped looking at that text. 

I’d reached out to her for an elective aesthetic procedure, and she was having surgery in just two days to remove life-threatening cancer. 

I know this sounds odd because I didn’t really know Joy at this point, but I felt very connected to her and her story. I wanted to take care of her the way she took care of me, without question and without hesitation, only I really didn’t know-how. 

I’m not capable of saving her life or administering life-saving treatments, nor do I possess the knowledge or connections she needs to battle breast cancer. But what I did have was pure intentions and the gift of my time. 

I let her know that even though we were only recently acquainted, I genuinely wanted to be there for her. 

I offered to drive her to any appointment, be a friend and listen, drop food or supplies off at her house — whatever she needed. I just wanted her to know that I cared and I was backing her, and she could count on me.

I know this simple gesture went a long way. But she never took me up on the offer, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. So I followed up with her as she went through her initial lumpectomy and weekly as she started chemo. 

I surprised her and dropped flowers and gifts by her house one afternoon. I can tell Joy felt genuinely loved and supported. I know for sure from this experience that a woman can fully help another woman no matter the circumstance and have a tangible impact on their heart and health. 

Keep that in mind the next time you see or hear of a woman in need. The stars don’t have to align perfectly to step up and offer your support. 

When I stopped at her house that day, we didn’t get to chat long because she had an appointment and had to leave soon. But the 15 minutes I was there, I could feel her struggle and her strength. 

She opened up about how hard it was and also how lucky she felt to be alive. I gave her a big, long hug, and I could feel her pain. 

Honestly, I am not a crier. But it was hard for me to hold back tears as she told her story and her voice cracked. 

Joy inspired me to write this article as Joy is not a survivor yet. 

She is currently battling this disease and seeking treatment at the time this post was published. Her story really shook me to the core because of how her breast cancer could have easily been missed. 

I kept questioning what I thought I knew about breast cancer based on the info she shared. Then I thought about how I couldn’t be the first to feel this way, and I certainly shouldn’t be the last. 

Joy’s story is very new and raw, and recent. I asked her if she would be willing to share her story. And not that I should have been shocked, but she agreed without hesitation and said if it helps save a single life, it’ll be worth it. 

~Joy’s Story~

How did you discover you had breast cancer?

I was lying in bed watching Handmaid’s Tale on March 26th, 2021. I had my right arm up and behind my head, and my 185lb Great Dane, Dexter, was lying on my arm. 

At one point in the movie, my right breast had an itch. Instead of scratching it, I pressed the area and felt a pebble-sized lump. I stood up and tried to find it but I couldn’t. 

So I laid back down in the same position and was able to feel a small pebble-like mass at the four o’clock position on my right breast. 

I knew it was different from my other benign lumps as it was hard, didn’t move, and wasn’t tender.

What has your journey been like so far?

Joy Sherman-breast cancer awareness
Joy Sherman’s breast cancer story

I was devastated and terrified when I found it. 

The day after I found the lump, I called my OB to get a mammogram and ultrasound. I went to OB on Wednesday and had a mammogram and ultrasound on Thursday. 

Waiting for those results was extremely difficult. 

I got those results back, and it said benign, not cancer

I thought it was odd that it could state this without having done a biopsy on the lump. I knew the mass was different and did not feel confident in the results. 

So I decided to go to a breast surgeon. She conducted her own mammogram and ultrasound and recommended a biopsy that diagnosed the lump as HER2 + breast cancer

I did genetic testing, which came back negative. However, because the lump was smaller than two centimeters, my surgeon recommended a lumpectomy vs. mastectomy. 

On June 24th, I had a lumpectomy with sentinel lymph node removal. My surgeon reported that she could clear the margins and that there was no lymph node involvement. I met with an oncologist and radiation oncologist to devise a plan. 

I started chemotherapy on August 2nd. I have 12 rounds of Taxol chemotherapy scheduled every Tuesday. In addition, I receive another type of chemotherapy called Herceptin every third week, along with Taxol that will continue through August 2022. 

Once I am finished with the 12 rounds of Taxol, I’ll have to complete 30 rounds of radiation therapy. 

The Taxol causes the most symptoms, so I should be less fatigued after completing this, and my hair will grow back. 

Losing my hair has been devastating. 

I have had long hair since I was 18, and I will be 51 in December. I’m lucky as I have very thick hair and still have most of my hair. But to have this disease and all the changes physically and then lose your hair, something that has always been a part of you, is life-changing. 

Everyone is different, and to some, losing their hair is not a big deal. But to me, it is! Yet, I keep reminding myself that it is just hair, and it will grow back. 

To this day, I’ve completed six rounds of Taxol, so I have six more to go. I’m looking forward to ringing the bell next August when my Herceptin is completed. And hopefully will report that I’m cancer-free!

How has the diagnosis changed you mentally, physically, how you think about your future, or what’s important to you?

I think about it all the time. Unfortunately, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. It creeps into my thoughts during the day, and it’s the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. 

The whole ordeal is mentally draining. 

I’m a positive person, and I believe this trait has helped me tremendously; however, this is still the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced. Having a cancer diagnosis will always be a part of me, and I will always have concerns it’ll return. 

Physically, it has been draining, too. 

Since my surgery and starting chemotherapy, I can’t exercise like before. Ten minutes on my Peloton is all I can do some days. I’m still working as much as possible, but I’ll be cutting back on my hours until I’ve completed the Taxol. 

My symptoms have been:

  • Severe fatigue
  • Neuropathy in my toes,
  • Mild diarrhea 
  • Hair loss

I’m lucky as I’m tolerating chemotherapy better than most. I have chemotherapy every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, and those are my worst days. 

When I think about my future, it’s difficult because I have no idea what the future holds. 

I’m reminded every day that at least I’m alive and here. It has made me more present in each moment. I appreciate the fresh air more and am more aware of things like the grass on my feet, the sun on my face, my hair blowing in the wind (I will miss this once it all falls out). 

Having cancer puts things into perspective, allowing you to see the world from a different lens. I’ve learned that I’m strong and can handle more than I thought I ever could! 

My hope for Breast Cancer Awareness:

Denise Borrelli-breast cancer awareness
Fight like a girl: Denise Borrelli

My hope is that by sharing these inspirational and emotional stories, you look at breast cancer differently. I hope you look at each woman’s journey and seek to listen and understand — not just to react. 

And if you’re a woman reading this, you’re inspired to not put off screening and question everything.

For the men reading this, I hope you encourage the women you love to get their exams and listen to them when they feel that something is wrong with their test results. And to encourage and support them to get a second opinion. 

Lastly, I hope you share these stories with others, and we cheer on, support, and send all the good vibes to these ladies and the battles they currently face and the ones yet to come. 

As Marjo’s friend once told her:

Only until you walk this walk do you truly understand the journey.

I believe it’s our job as fellow human beings walking this earth to seek to better understand each cancer patient’s journey, how it changes them, and how we can support them. 

Going through cancer changes a person forever, so let’s aim to change with them.


Life-saving breast cancer prevention tips

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

Types of breast cancer

Different types of breast cancer treatments

How men can support the women diagnosed in their lives
Join in the cause

Follow their journey!

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Feeling inspired? I want to share with you my personal story of survival.