Note: Written by NBCF Director of Partnerships, Becca Epperley
Recently, Becca chose to share her truth to let others know that there is power in vulnerability, despite how scary it might be. Her story highlights the importance of early detection and finding support to make the first step towards mental, physical, and emotional health.
When my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2009, I was devastated. It was the start of my marriage, and I had no idea what was in store for my mother or my family. We didn’t know how quickly her journey would escalate, but just 11 months later, my mother—my best friend—was gone.
The importance of listening to your gut
Before my mom’s diagnosis, she knew something was off. She had dealt with breast cysts before and knew this lump was different.
However, my mother suffered from severe anxiety and phobias which led to her putting things off. She hid her anxieties and delayed screenings like mammograms. Also, like so many other mothers, she set aside her health to focus on her family’s needs. I was planning my wedding and she didn’t want to take away from the light and joy of a wedding.
My mother delayed getting this specific breast issue checked out until it was severe.
She was diagnosed because of pain in her stomach that sent her to the ER (which turned out to be liver lesions), tracing the cancer back to the breast. Eventually, her cancer spread to her brain. My mother’s metastatic breast cancer journey was a very short one.
Supporting the cause while keeping a secret
At the time of my mother’s diagnosis, our family jumped into supporting the cause and engaged with various breast cancer organizations. We vowed to be advocates and wanted to share our mother’s story so other families might bypass what we had to experience. We participated in walks, talks, and everything in between to provide support and awareness. But what many people never saw is that I had inherited my mother’s extreme anxiety.
For the longest time, I put off seeing doctors and dentists because my anxiety was—and still is—so crippling. The fear of finding out bad news has paralyzed me from taking action more times than I can count.
Fast forward to my current job at National Breast Cancer Foundation. As part of my role, I share education and best practices with companies and individuals at community awareness events. The words leaving my mouth advocate for breast self-exams and being empowered in communicating breast health issues with healthcare providers. After several webinars, many counseling sessions, and receiving care for my anxiety, I finally made the decision to not just speak these words but live them myself. I couldn’t continue to be hypocritical and advocate for early detection if I was not going to follow the same advice.
Courage in the face of a global pandemic
Ironically enough, this “lightbulb moment” happened to me during a global pandemic. Talk about extreme fear therapy in action. I noticed a slight change in my breast and got the courage to share this with my general practitioner. After a clinical breast exam, my doctor referred me for a screening mammogram to establish a baseline.
With the support of my husband and two sisters, I scheduled the mammogram and tried to prepare myself for the experience. That waiting time between scheduling the appointment and screening was probably the worst part. Had I not been in counseling and established a steady medication regimen to help with my anxieties, I would have probably tried to cancel (multiple times). However, because of the support I had been receiving, I made it to appointment day.
As I arrived, I realized this was a facility I had toured as an NBCF employee, which made it a little easier walking through the doors. Overall, their procedures for COVID safety were fantastic, which also made me feel more comfortable.
The screening went well, and the technician was very understanding of my anxieties. She was warm and caring throughout the process. She even took the time to show me the images and explained the way the scans would be read to give me a baseline.
A couple of weeks later, I received a notice that my screening was clear, and I could wait until the normal age of 40 to reinstate mammograms into my yearly health routine. I learned that I have dense breast tissue, which is very common, but now I can use this information to discuss additional screening methods with my doctors to ensure accurate results.
My sisters and I have all received baseline screenings and will continue to support and encourage each other year after year to keep getting screened. Although I still have anxiety, I feel more empowered because I was able to get through my first mammogram.
In honor of my Mom
As we enter Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I honor my mom and her wish for me to be strong. I am receiving treatment and support for my anxiety and truly feel like I am honoring her legacy by doing some of these things her anxiety prevented her from doing. It’s extremely hard, but I have made progress, and I know without a doubt that my mom would be proud.
If you are also living with fears and anxieties, with support, you are capable of anything. It just takes tackling these moments one step at a time, and knowing that you are NEVER alone.
National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to get you the help you deserve.