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Skylar’s Story (Breast Cancer)

skylars story breast cancer At 12 years old, my life forever changed when I received the devastating news that my best friend, my mom, was diagnosed with breast cancer. My entire world collapsed, but I wanted to be strong for my mom and was by her side throughout the entire journey. I witnessed her inner strength, hope, and positive attitude throughout her long and tiring battle with chemotherapy, radiation sessions, and eventually, a double mastectomy.

Through each of the hardships, she always stood strong and pushed through the tough times. She was always giving her all. She taught me what it meant to be brave. She showed me how to always carry a smile, looking at the positives in life instead of fretting about the negatives. She taught me how to make the best out of every situation, and to always keep my head up. My mom truly is a fighter. This terrible disease and rough battle impacted her life goals, but her drive and determination to beat it never wavered.

My mom has overcome so many hurdles in life. By far, one of her most difficult obstacles was kicking breast cancer’s a**. Through her true dedication, hope, and determination she has shown me that anything is possible. Although she could not control this terrible thing that had happened to her, she could control how she responded to the situation. Instead of letting the diagnosis make her feel sorry for herself or slow her down, she chose to be strong. Through it all, she continued to keep her same sense of humor and willingness to help others, staying positive all the while.

My mom showed me that you can’t let things, even things as big as what she dealt with, get in your way of happiness. With or without cancer, she continued to be the same person and never let the disease control how she lived her life. My mom used her frightening experience with breast cancer to teach others the same thing: that they have a choice to be happy, sad, worried, or angry when something bad happens. However, those bad experiences are always an opportunity to be brave, confident, and hopeful. My mom took a bad situation and turned it into something positive by supporting and helping other cancer patients. She was a mentor and counselor for others battling similar illnesses.

You never really think about the way a disease can affect you or a loved one until it actually does. In my mom’s case, the diagnosis came as a complete shock – there was no history of breast cancer in our family. Feeling hopeless and confused about the disease, I wanted to make a difference. I invited a team of 50 friends and family members to gather at the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure in my mom’s honor. Everyone showed up wearing their “Team Tracy” shirts and “TK Beat Cancer” wristbands. This was such a special, unforgettable moment and the experience filled me with so much gratitude and hope.

I will never forget what I saw looking into the crowd that day. Brave women, their families, and friends all running the race to beat the odds. Pink, glittery signs were pinned to the backs of t-shirts designating survivors. Pink boas fluttered in the sky and bright pink banners could be seen shimmering a mile away. People were wearing fluffy pink tutus and pink confetti was flying through the air. I felt the energy and strength of the strong, vibrant people surrounding me. Their cheerful sounds wiping out this deadly disease. I remembered my feeling of grief when I heard about my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis but it was quickly drowned out as a feeling of hope washed over me. I was scared back then, but now, surrounded by all the survivors and supporters, I felt mighty and determined.

We were winning this battle together. It was our fight, and nothing could get in our way. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my life, realizing that although I am only one person, I have a lot to offer. I played a part in changing someone’s life. All it takes to impact the world is guts, grit, and a refusal to give up. Nothing could stop me from fulfilling my dream. The joy of serving others fulfilled me. My passion and belief in this cause were contagious and caught on like wildfire. I quickly learned that sticking with something and believing in myself could make anything possible. I beamed with pride after learning that I had become the youngest fundraiser to start a team for Susan G. Komen’s 5k Race for the Cure. I realized that even a 12 year old girl could truly achieve greatness if she sets her mind to it. Every last moment was worth it.

While standing at the finish line, I thought of all that I had done to get to this point – all of the times I rang doorbells, sent out hundreds of messages, created posters for my neighborhood bake sales, made breast cancer-themed treats, had raffles at local gyms, and ended up raising over $15,000. I felt such pride in myself that I came in second place, just behind PepsiCo, but also for everyone else in this race for their life. I was told that I may have inspired some friends, but all of these survivors are my heroes!

Times like these make me realize that life happens and how we handle our hardships shapes the rest of our lives. Its so important to make the most of it. I realized that crossing the finish line at the race that day was a metaphor for my life. At every end, something else is beginning. All of the uncertainty and fear are part of the journey to the finish line, where greatness awaits. Through the ups and downs, I owe it to my mom for giving me the ability to be strong during difficult times. She taught me how to cope with these struggles. As I finished the race, my next adventure began. As strong as my mother was, it turned out that I was just as resilient when faced with a frighteningly similar struggle of my own.

One life lesson I have learned is that you never know what life has in store. It was about five years ago that my life came to a screeching halt. I did not want to face the terrible news I had received, but I learned how to cope with it. My mom’s battle with breast cancer was a very rough patch in our lives for quite a while. Through all the positives and negatives in life, she showed me how to use my experiences as a life lesson and grow from them. Seeing my mother’s strength and attitude through her cancer journey inspired me to be strong.

As my mom began improving, I wondered if I carried the same BRCA2 genetic mutation that she did, which would have made me at a significantly higher risk of getting breast cancer. As the months passed, I decided it was time to find out whether I would one day have the same fight as my mother. I thought to myself for several months, I need to know the answer. This could forever impact my life. Finally, my burning desire for the truth overpowered my fears, and I knew I wanted to take the test. My heart pounded, and I shakily walked into my parents’ room. “I have decided I would like to be tested for the BRCA2 gene,” I told them. While supportive of my decision, my parents were worried that I would become discouraged. They knew that a positive outcome would mean that my risk of breast cancer was around 85%. Despite their concerns, living with uncertainty seemed worse than a positive test result.

Going into my junior year of high school, I decided to get the BRCA2 test. The day was June 16th. I remember the doctor’s words so clearly after arriving at the appointment. “I have never in my twenty years of working here had a sixteen-year-old want to be tested for this before. There is no way I can run it on you!” I was disappointed and felt let down, but that didn’t stop me. Despite being turned down by several other doctors because of my young age, I kept on pushing and voicing to them my concerns. “There is a fifty-fifty chance that I could have the same genetic mutation as my mom, and it is crucial for me to know. If positive, I can begin early screening and watching my health habits.” I noticed that the more I heard the polite refusals, the more determined I became to find get the test done. Three doctors later, on August 30th, I felt a triumphant surge of energy inside me as the paperwork for the lab was finally handed to me, and they agreed to perform the test.

After several weeks of waiting anxiously, my lab results were ready. In an instant, everything changed. I felt like all of the air suddenly escaped from my lungs, and I was sinking in a cold pool of water. I was lost and confused. My heart sank, and I felt like my world was crumbling beneath me. The test was positive for the same genetic mutation that my mom carried. Devoid of emotion, I numbly shuffled to my bedroom, buried my head in my pillow, and cried quiet tears. Finally, after a month of self-pity and grief, I shed my last tear and came to terms with my likely future. I soon began laughing at the irony that I would perhaps one day be the beneficiary of all the research efforts I fundraised so hard for.

My mom used to share an old saying that talked of a man who cried because he had no shoes. That was, until he met a man that had no feet. By keeping this perspective and focusing on what I could control, like being more grateful and minimizing the stuff that does not matter, I have never felt more fortunate and more alive. With my mom’s advice, I chose to not be sad or scared, but to see this genetic mutation in a positive outlook, picking out the good in it. I realized I was a lot stronger than I thought, all because of how I reacted to this news. While I know we have no control over what happens to us, we have control of how we choose to respond. I believe that if I could handle this news in the way that I did, then I am ready to tackle anything that may come my way in the future. I decided to move forward and not allow fear to transform me into a victim. Slowly, I became more aware of what truly matters in life. I dedicated myself even more to my passions, fundraising, school, my friends, and my family. In addition, I felt tougher than I ever imagined and my experience taught me to take risks, face obstacles, and embrace trepidations. This experience allowed me to navigate through my daily life, striving to take chances and to do things I fear. Ever since getting those test results, when I’m faced with a challenge, my journey anchors and sustains me. It has enabled me to maintain a confident mindset and positive attitude, whether I am in a tennis match, taking a stressful test, or jumping out of a plane for skydiving.

Throughout the experience of getting tested for the gene, I advocated for myself in a way that was consistent with my own beliefs, rather than allowing myself to be convinced by others. My persistence and determination allowed me to find a doctor willing to take a chance on me. Even with the rejections I faced during my quest for an understanding of my genetics, I was confident and certain that I would ultimately benefit from this knowledge. Understanding that the best thing to do was not to allow my fears to get in the way of living my life, my bravery and willpower helped me achieve my goal. Overcoming the numerous obstacles was not quick nor easy, but I did not let failure stand in my way and made it happen by taking major risks. Although, it took months of standing up for myself and fighting for what I knew was the right thing for me, I grew even stronger by pursuing my goals while staying true to myself and what I stand for. And I eventually succeeded.

Looking back, I realize that change was inevitable, and more significantly, necessary for me to flourish. More importantly, my perspectives and priorities evolved. After first feeling overwhelmed at my future and afraid of my medical fate, I turned my positive test result into a catalyst for personal growth while gaining a new understanding of the fragility of life. I’ve learned not to take life for granted, to take chances and try new things without letting fear get in the way, to never give up, to stay positive, focus on what’s most important, learn to let things go, and to live in the moment. I looked for the lessons and teaching opportunities that came from it, allowing me to help others going through the same thing. I accelerated my fundraising and advocating for several breast cancer organizations in hopes of making an impact on those around me who might feel scared to live their own truth.

As this inspiration soon turned into a passion, I became a ‘bigwig’; a designated community leader and fundraiser, in my remaining years of school, making it my goal to educate as many people as possible. During this time, I hosted several ‘think pink’ gatherings, such as a a craft project I organized, where we painted rocks with inspirational sayings for patients undergoing chemotherapy. I was later awarded as Komen’s North Texas top fundraiser for 2018, raising almost $17,000. In addition, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation selected me to serve as the only representative in Texas to set up and participate in the national “Pink Lemonade Stand Challenge” to raise awareness for breast cancer research. Over the last five years, I have found hundreds of people to donate and volunteer for events connected to cancer education and treatment. In my pursuits to spread the word for breast cancer awareness, I have been featured on ABC, Fox, CW33, and in the Dallas Morning Newspaper. Furthermore, as a fluent bilingual leader in the nonprofit field, I made a positive impact in the community of both English and Spanish speakers by serving as a peer counselor for teenagers struggling with their mother’s diagnosis. Most importantly, I discovered an entire world full of individuals who faced obstacles just like me and many who struggled with worse. No longer crying silently into my pillow and focusing on others instead of myself became a central goal in my life. I derive so much joy from making others feel valued. Who would have known that testing positive for the BRCA2 gene could help me find my life’s purpose?

Submitted 08/17/2022

This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.

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