Michelle’s story is one of challenge, loss, and desperation—and a story of community, hope, and love. The adage that quickly comes to mind is “when it rains, it pours.”
A single mom to two young children, Michelle was initially diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in the spring of 2021, following a move to a new city for school. However, follow-up scans showed significant progression of cancer in her lymph nodes, so it was reclassified as Stage 3. Shortly after beginning chemo, her partner left, and then life took an even harder turn.
After the most challenging year of her life, Michelle is on a journey of self-awareness, self-care, and self-love as she strives for community and healing.
Feeling Lost and Isolated in a New World
When I was diagnosed, I stuck out like a sore thumb—a lot of older women were there, and I’m a young mom and have two small children. I felt really isolated. I have no history of breast cancer or any type of cancer in my family, so I was introduced to cancer by getting it. I was left to deal with it on my own and figure it out. I had no idea how to navigate any of this—especially emotionally.
I had a partner at the time, and they were very, very supportive at first. Then that partner disappeared. I was in a new city—I didn’t know anyone. The [initial] chemo was too strong, and it was taking a toll on my body, so we stopped that chemo, and then my partner left. Two weeks later my brother committed suicide.
I dealt with mental health issues before my diagnosis, and the depression took a big hit on me after my brother passed. I said, “I’m not going to do chemo anymore.” I refused. “I’d rather the cancer take my body than chemo.” My will to live went down because my brother was gone, and he was the closest sibling I had. I was mourning, and I just didn’t want to do chemo. I was exhausted.
When Everything Changed
But then I looked at my kids, and then I saw my kids looking at me and seeing me fight. I prayed and prayed and prayed to God to give me a sign—something to let me know, anything. Anything, you know? And I was given the gift of desperation.
Willingness is something I did not have before my diagnosis because I was a control freak. I controlled every aspect of my life. I controlled my work. I controlled my schooling. I was a controlling parent. I controlled the way people viewed me, and only let people know specific things about me. When I was given this diagnosis, I had to become willing and turn my will and my life over to a higher power.
I mustered up the will to continue treatment. I took a two-month break from chemo, and when I went back, the symptoms were minimal. They were very tolerable. I learned that just because one treatment is a certain way does not mean that [the next] treatment is going to be the exact same way.
I learned to ask for help, and I learned that I don’t have to prove anything by doing this all by myself.
Finding “Partners in Healing”
I found National Breast Cancer Foundation, thankfully, and I got into the support group, which has been amazing. I call them my partners in healing. I was really, really scared at first. At the beginning of my journey, I had nobody to kind of tell me “It’s going to be okay. You can do this; you can fight this.”
Being around people with different types of cancers has been really helpful. You get a lot of encouragement from your family, and you get a lot of support from everyone around you. But when it’s from somebody going through the exact same thing you’re going through—and maybe even worse sometimes, and you’re seeing them not only go through it but thrive through it—it’s been amazing.
I was telling my friend and group member Courtney how I was going through chemo and I was crying about my brother. I was apologizing, “I’m sorry. I know this is a lot. I’m going through a lot, and I know it’s a lot for you to handle.”
She said, “Don’t even tell me that. I can handle it. Give me some of that weight. I can carry that for you.”
Through these groups, you relieve yourself of some of that weight. Then you have space to listen to other people going through their treatment. It’s definitely a give-and-take.
One of my friends told me, “I’m going to give you so much support, and your life is going to change from all this, and you’re going to come out of this stronger and more of a warrior than ever.” Reaching out and connecting is probably the best thing you could ever do for yourself—and your well-being, your spirituality, your soul.
Community and Self-Love
I’m living every single day of my life not like I’m going to die—I’m thriving and I’m surrounding myself with love.
No matter how many days, whether I have 10 days or whether I have a billion days left, I want to sit in this mindset, and I want to share my experience, my strength, and my hope with other people who have been down in that hole and have been wanting to give up and thinking about stopping treatment.
Whenever I am willing to give other people the opportunity to help, it opens up a lot of opportunities for love and strength and hope and courage. The turning point was when I started seeing other people in these groups and these survivors, and I started thinking, “Okay, I’m kind of a badass, too, because I’m doing this.” I started seeing myself the way I saw these other people. It brought a lot of self-esteem, motivation, and courage to me because I didn’t feel alone. I felt educated.
Moving Forward With a Grateful Heart
I’m preparing for surgery and I’m going to write a letter to my breasts to thank them for all that they’ve done. As women, a lot of identity revolves around our bodies and especially our breasts. Breasts gave my kids life, and I appreciate them. I’m sad, mourning my old body, but I’m trying to be open to welcoming this new body, this new body that is also going to take me on a lot of adventures in the future. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m hopeful. I’m confident. I know if I have these women by my side, I won’t feel alone, and I know just how to navigate this.
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.