Breast Cancer Awareness Month: An honest account by Erin Hazelton

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: An honest account by Erin Hazelton

At Alemdara we are privileged to work with clients at many different times in their life. The soul of our brand is rooted in protection, and our clients seek that during times of adversity, awakenings, new journeys, and many just for daily assurance. 
A client, and friend, recently agreed to share her most moving experience overcoming breast cancer, Erin has found silver linings, and her positivity, resilience and strength is admirable. 
In support of breast cancer, in Breast Cancer Awareness Month (and always), we are donating 25% of the profits of our Didem Bracelet in pink to Breast Cancer Awareness UK throughout October. 

It’s been four years and nine months since I received the phone call that changed my life:

“It’s cancer.”

These are words that a thirty-seven-year-old, rosy-cheeked, mother of two-slash-graduate student should never have to hear. Ever. 

For weeks after my diagnosis, I waited for a call from the lab who examined my biopsy:

“I’m so sorry! We mixed up your slides with an old lady’s! Your tumor is totally benign! Just some weird tissue fiber! So sorry!” 

Actually, I waited for that call for months. Even after my third round of chemo, I still thought that call would come. In my mind I schemed: I’m going to sue them so hard for making me go through all this chemo for no reason!
Then, one day, it hit me: I had breast cancer. And the only way out of it was to endure months of chemotherapy, then surgery, then six weeks of daily radiation… followed by ten years of endocrine therapy. I was no longer in denial, I was straight up depressed. I was sure my life was over. If cancer itself didn’t take me down, then all the poisonous treatments would rob me of my beauty, my womanhood, my vibrance. And what was the point of being under forty if you looked and felt like refried life? 

Up until that moment, I’d only told my closest friends and family about my situation. What would people think of me now that I had cancer? They’d think something was wrong with me. I had always been the one who was annoyingly healthy, eating her greens, shunning meat… and sugar… and refined/processed anything. I was the one who ran six miles around Central Park almost every day after dropping her kids at school, before heading up to go to school herself. I was the sexy one who loved to get up and dance on a table, unafraid of a tight dress, or a short dress, or the highest of heels… even as a mother of two! Now I was the one who had cancer? 

I was embarrassed. I felt like a fraud. My body had let me down… or had I let my body down? What had I done to get cancer? No one else in my family had had cancer… and my mother was one of eight kids! Was it the stress I kept inside? Always blaming myself for anything that went wrong? The guilt of being raised Catholic? Was it the non-organic fruit and veg I ate when I was little? Was there radon in the ground under the house I grew up in? Was it standing in front of the microwave to watch popcorn pop? Was it the GMO corn that made that popcorn? Was it the chemicals in the bag or the fake butter? Was it all the years my celiac disease went undiagnosed? An unbalanced microbiome? That moment I had when I smoked cigarettes socially? 

I literally spent hours upon hours, days upon days trying to figure it out. But guess what? I’ll likely never know what caused my breast cancer. Sometimes it’s clear, and sometimes cancer is just random. Cancer doesn’t choose you because you are bad. In fact, as one oncologist said to me: “Think about it: The healthier you are, the healthier your cancer probably is. If all your cells are working properly, reproducing quickly… so will your cancer cells.”

That’s when I decided I was just unlucky. As my hair started falling from my head in heaps, I also decided I didn’t give a fig what anyone thought of me: I was fighting for my life. Nothing else mattered. If I could get cancer, anyone could get cancer… and I wasn’t helping anyone by not sharing what I was going though, least of all myself. 

As a woman, I generally don’t like asking for help. I can do everything myself. And I can, I’ll just lose my mind in the process. It took me a bit, but, when I was sick, I realized it wasn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help. That it wasn’t “needy” to seek understanding and acceptance, or to want the support of friends and family when you are scraping rock bottom and literally can’t get out of bed. I didn’t want cancer, but I also didn’t want to be completely alone going through it. It was isolating enough as it was being the only person I knew with cancer, but to not let anyone know and suffer even more isolation? That was too much. 

That said, I didn’t want to play Twenty Questions every time I did tell someone I was “sick.” I didn’t want to see sad eyes or even a single tear. I just wanted people to be aware of what was happening to me, to show them that it wasn’t going to fundamentally change who I was. That it was a hard moment that I had to get through, and I’d be even stronger for doing so. That’s when I did what any modern woman would do, and I took my Instagram off private. With one fell swoop, I told my community of a few thousand people that I had breast cancer. 

The outpouring of love I received from that one, single post forever changed my perspective on humanity. It made me realize how little confidence I had in the innate goodness of people. I had allowed my hang ups, my old beliefs, stand between me and the kindness of others. Up until that point, I’d assumed people were judge-y and cold, that they believed I was frivolous and superficial because I worked in fashion and liked to get dressed up… because I celebrated my femininity while many of my peers subdued it. Perhaps I felt that way precisely because I’d worked in fashion for so long, but it was the wrong perspective. I was protecting myself from something I, for the most part (there are definitely some jerks out there), from something that didn’t exist. Due to my own insecurity, I feared people wouldn’t think I was serious, or intelligent, if I was openly me, basking in my pretty dresses, fancy shoes and blown-out hair. How dumb was that? Guess what? No one looks at you that hard, and if they do? If someone thinks your clothes define you? Then there’s something wrong with them, not you! Why did it take me getting cancer to figure that out? Not sure, but I’m glad I did. 

Cancer, as much of an albatross as it was, was also incredibly freeing. When you receive that kind of diagnosis, you realize your life can be taken at anytime. It doesn’t even have to be the cancer that takes you down… you could step off the sidewalk, meet a bus, and boom. Game over.  

If you are living your life for the approval of others, then you are not really living. When I was wheeled up to surgery, I said to myself (rather dramatically—the likelihood of my dying during a lumpectomy is basically zero): If you make it through today, you are living your life the way you want to. No more BS. No more appeasing others. You accomplish your goals and don’t stand around as support for everyone else. Who cares if that doesn’t make everyone happy? This is your life and you’ve got one shot at making it what you want it to be. 

Needless to say, I made it out of surgery alive. For a bunch of reasons, I wasn’t ready to die. Mainly, I still had two kids to raise. 

A couple months later, after I’d finished radiation, I was officially deemed “cancer free.” That was four years ago now. Have I stuck to that live-for-myself promise? I mean yes and no. Like I said, I have kids. They’re my life. As much as I’d love to run off to Paris on a whim, or, well, not really sure what else I’d do, I am more unapologetically “me.” I embrace all the stuff I used to try to dilute. Could I be even more flamboyant? Definitely, but that’s not really me either. The main changes I’ve made is that I am more focused on my personal goals. I say no to things that don’t excite me. Even if they’ll bring me more money… or help someone else attain their goals. I need to indulge in me, my joy, my future

I also don’t push myself to my physical limits any more. Cancer pushed me there, I don’t need to go back to my pre-cancer regimen, where if I went for a run, I ran, I never, ever walked. If my body hurt, I pushed myself to finish strong. I’d enter myself in races, train, and brag about my times, my body cursing me for being so mean to it. Now? Hells no. If I want to walk, I walk. If I feel like running, I run. If I want to watch a show in bed in the middle of the day because I’m exhausted, I do it. No shame. 

I’m forty-two now. I’m still a rosy-cheeked mother-of-two. I’m no longer a student, I’m no longer a cancer patient. If you see me today, I’m very much the woman you saw when I was thirty-seven and blissfully unaware of what was going on inside of my body. 

The only difference? I’m a whole lot wiser.