Emily Piercell was 27 when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple positive breast cancer in August 2015, a few months after she graduated from law school. She went through five months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, 25 radiation treatments, a year of Herceptin treatments, three other surgeries to fix her reconstruction and is currently doing hormone therapy for the next 10 years. She is currently living in Toronto and working at Rethink Breast Cancer and Pink Pearl Canada, creating community for young women who have been diagnosed with cancer. To follow along with her life after a breast cancer diagnosis, follow @emilypiercell or read more of her personal blogs.
After a cancer diagnosis, I have become pretty good at spotting other women going through cancer treatments. When I see a woman with a bald head, or a beautiful scarf on her head, combined with scarce eyebrows, I tell myself to go say hi and let them know they are not alone. Being a young woman going through cancer is very lonely and isolating. I didn’t see another person close to my age at any appointments or support groups. I had to actively search out AYA (adolescent and young adult) programs to meet others in a similar life experience.
However, I’ve always been too shy to go up to a complete stranger – until this one time!
I was at the gym with my sister, wearing my compression sleeve because of my lymphedema and I see a woman with a bald head. All class I kept looking over at her, trying to see if she had a port scar. I was also trying to emphasize my compression sleeve to signal to her that I had breast cancer. But she never looked back at me.
All class my sister told me I had to go introduce myself to her. When I was going through chemo I know I would have appreciated someone a couple years out of active treatment telling me that life gets better.
So, after class I worked up the courage and said hi.
Me quietly at the end of class: Are you going through cancer treatments?
Her: No. I have alopecia. She goes on to explain what alopecia is.
Me (wanting to crawl into a hole): Yes I know what alopecia is. The reason I ask is because I’ve been through cancer myself.
Her: Wow. Good for you! (She was actually trying to make me feel better about being diagnosed with cancer.)
I was mortified! The one time I gather the courage to talk to a stranger it totally backfired! I haven’t had the opportunity to try this again but I hope when the situation arises that I will go up to that stranger and tell her she is not alone. After all, my intentions were good and now we both have a funny (or embarrassing for me) story to tell.