According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It has become the most diagnosed cancer worldwide with an estimated 2.3 million new cases each year. This sobering statistic only reaffirmed Biosilk and CHI’s mission to donate $50 thousand dollars to the Susan G. Komen organization for lifesaving research, education, and medical services to help create a breast cancer-free world. Since breast cancer stories are as diverse as our community and profoundly impacts every single person it touches, Biosilk and CHI reached out to breast cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers so they could share their stories. Read about their experiences, and let their journeys be a reminder of how important it is for women to do a self-check and schedule a mammogram to help save lives.
Patricia De Leon
Cancer patient and business high school teacher
I was diagnosed with stage III triple-negative breast cancer – the most aggressive type of breast cancer – just two weeks before my 40th birthday. So many thoughts went through my head: “How did I miss it or why didn’t I get a mammogram sooner?” When I began chemotherapy, I experienced mild nausea and fatigue, but some weeks I had to skip it altogether because my white and red blood cells were too low. Around Mother’s Day, I started losing my hair because of the chemotherapy, and I had a breakdown. My hair, as a woman, is a big part of me; it’s not about image, but the hair loss is a reminder that I am sick. I am now awaiting to have a double mastectomy. Once I recover from it, I will begin my radiation treatment and – God willing – will be cancer-free.
What I learned: “Tomorrow is not promised so it’s important to appreciate all the little things in life.”
Cancer survivor and cocktail waitress
I have been a breast cancer survivor for 10 years, but over 20 years ago I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. I was told that I could develop breast cancer from this disease because I had received 25 sessions of chest radiation therapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Unfortunately, I did get breast cancer. It was important for me to stay positive and focused. I reached out to anybody who could offer support and listened to my doctors. Even during radiation, I made it a point to do my hair and put on makeup because it helped me feel more confident. Once I became a cancer survivor, I learned to take every day as a gift.
What I learned: “Make the most of what life has to offer.”
Sister to cancer patient Patricia de Leon and master hairstylist
My mother, sister, and I have discussed getting a BRCA gene test, which determines if you have changes in your DNA that increase the risk of breast cancer. However, we kept putting it off. Now we regret not getting it sooner because my sister, Patricia de Leon, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. To know she was suffering in fear was too much for me to handle, but I had to remain strong. The most difficult part was seeing her deal with chemotherapy hair loss. My job, as a hairdresser, is to make people look and feel their best, so it was traumatic to shave her hair off. While nothing will ever replace the feeling of my sister having her own hair, I’m thankful I have access to wigs to make her feel as comfortable as possible. The experience has made our bond stronger.
What I learned: “My job as a hairdresser is to make all my clients look and feel their best even during chemotherapy treatment.”
Cancer survivor since 2017 and hairstylist
I went to my yearly mammogram, and I was called in to get a biopsy. I didn’t think anything of it. When the results came in, I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in my left breast. The medical team had reason to believe that it would spread to my right breast in a few years. As a result, I decided to move forward with a double mastectomy, which was not an easy decision. Once I had both breasts removed in September 2017, there was no sign of additional cancer. My recovery was normal until I underwent a reconstructive surgery. Due to complications, I developed an infection, and I had four different implants removed. Over the next few years, I would undergo seven other surgeries. Even though my recovery was extensive, I still consider myself lucky.
What I learned: “Cancer taught me to find my inner strength.”