Written by Tara Bennett
On 09/25/2015 I heard the words, “I’m 95% sure it is cancer.” I was 26 years old. I collapsed into myself in utter fear and despair. Alone, I felt so alone. 26-year- olds do not get cancer, right? Wrong. I was diagnosed with stage 2a triple positive breast cancer (er+/pr+/HER2+).
I found the lump in my left breast in the shower. It was March 2015 after I got home from a SUP yoga class at the Yoga Journal Live in San Diego. I knew something was wrong. I went to my primary care doctor who felt it and chalked it off as nothing. She said she would do another examination when I booked my annual OBGYN appointment with her. So, for 6 months, I went on with my busy San Diego life. Juggling yoga and my crazy schedule. However, in the back of my mind, I knew something was wrong. In September the same doctor ordered a breast ultrasound “just to put my mind at ease.” That breast ultrasound turned into a 3-hour appointment ending with multiple mammograms and those six life-changing words. There I sat alone, in the cold breast imaging center, as the radiologist handed me a tissue and said this will only be a bump in the road for you.
I endured four months of chemotherapy. 6 rounds, spaced three weeks apart. I felt like it was killing me, but I had a complete pathological response. The cancer disappeared completely. This was very rare. It was a very difficult decision for me to undergo chemo. I began with CBD tinctures and topical rubs, but since my cancer thrived off of hormones and being HER2+ it was very aggressive. So, I decided to take an integrative approach to my healing, mixing both Western and Eastern healing modalities. During almost 2 years of treatment, I incorporated acupuncture, Reiki, crystal healing, Shamanic healing, releasing of stuck emotions, sensory deprivation, meditation, guided visualization, pranayama, medicinal mushroom extracts, Chinese herbs, and an anti-inflammatory vegetarian whole-food diet into my path towards healing myself. Something switched in my brain by round 5 of chemo. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew that I was going to get through this. I didn’t remember what feeling healthy felt like anymore, but I knew I was going to get there. I became my own self-advocate. I didn’t just follow what the doctors told me to do. I asked questions, I helped shape my treatment plan. After chemo ended, I underwent a double mastectomy with tissue expanders. During a double mastectomy, they scrape out all of your breast tissue all the way up to your collarbone to reduce the chance of a reoccurrence. They placed tissue expanders under my pectoral muscles to help stretch out my skin to make room for implants. Every 2 weeks I would go into my plastic surgeon’s office and get 50cc of saline inserted into the tissue expanders to stretch out my chest. I then underwent an exchange surgery in November 2016 where they replaced the rock-hard expanders for soft implants. I also had a year of Herceptin infusions.
Herceptin is an immune targeted therapy that attaches itself to the HER2 receptors on the surface of the breast cancer and helps reduce the growth signals. In January 2017, I finally got my chest port removed.
I had one more revision surgery in May 2017. This is breast cancer. It is not easy. I had to fight for my life. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed. Never did I think that I would be that 1. I am now here as a healed, healthy and whole testimony that young active women can and do get breast cancer. It is so important to know your body and advocate for yourself.
“Here I am a year later. I did it. I survived that which was supposed to kill me. Thank you cancer. Thank you for allowing me to face my own mortality. Thank you for allowing me to face the darkest parts of myself. Thank you for giving me the gift of pure, raw, vulnerability. People asked what I’ve learned from cancer. I’ve learned that vulnerability is in fact strength…Thank you cancer for allowing me to transform more in the past 13 months than I ever did in the past 27 years of my life…What a year it has been. What a crazy emotional roller coaster form hell it has been. Here I am. I did it. I will be standing in the dust crying at the temple in 10 months. Thank you cancer for transforming me into the most beautiful warrior goddess I would never had had the chance to become. Thank you for letting me not be scared to live my dreams.”
And with that, I can now say that cancer was a gift. I was able to return to the playa with my partner by my side and burn the letter and my bras. So much release, so much transformation and healing. I couldn’t have done it without my mom and sister, who picked up their lives in Nevada and moved down to San Diego to help take care of me, my loving boyfriend who helped change my bandages, my dad
who always knew exactly what to say to help me through my anxiety attacks, and my survivor sisters.
I am here to tell you to be aware. Be aware of your body and if something is not right get it checked. I have been a healthy vegetarian since 2007 and I still got cancer. 70,000 women and men between the ages of 15 to 39 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year within the United States. Breast cancer is usually found at a later stage and is much more aggressive in younger women. So, it is imperative that women preform monthly self-breast exams. Be your own advocate and follow your gut. You know your body better than anyone.
I would like to offer up a great resource for young cancer survivors: The Young Survivor Coalition. Also, I urge anyone who is looking to donate to breast cancer research to reach out to Metavivor. Only 2-5% of donations for breast cancer research are actually donated towards researching metastasis. Metastasis is when the breast cancer spreads to other parts of your body. That is the breast cancer that takes lives. This is where the funding needs to go, not towards the pointless pink-ribboned socks hanging in the checkout aisle at the grocery store that claim to support breast cancer research. The research needs to focus on metastatic breast cancer.
In October breast cancer awareness is heightened however, cancer doesn’t go away. Remember all of the fighters and survivors in your life like me. Host a donation-based heart-opening yoga class and donate the money to Metavivor. Take action, support and uplift the women around you. We are at a crucial time in the world where female empowerment and love is more important than ever. We are magical, healing, warrior women that must stand up for one another. Be present. Practice abundant gratitude.
With that, I am so grateful to say that I am thriving. I am now a yoga teacher and Reiki Master. I will be opening up my own yoga healing oasis in San Diego, so stay tuned through my Instagram @healed_healthy_whole which will have the link to my website that is launching soon!
I’d like to end with a quote my sister gave me that helped get me through all of the struggle and pain:
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”