Name: Brooke Baran
Where I live: Yonkers, NY (during the week), Waterford, CT (weekends)
How far out of active treatment: 10 months and two days (but who’s counting?)
I noticed a small spot inside of my bra where my nipple was. I had just turned 40 that week. I was in CA and decided it must be nothing. Two weeks later, I saw it again. I still said, "It must be nothing."
A week later, I saw a spot of brown on my sheets and knew something was wrong. I went to the gynecologist. He put the discharge on a slide and sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. I got the all clear that day, nothing was wrong! “Come back in a year,” they said. Three days later, the doctor called and said he didn’t like the pathology report on the fluid and I had to go see a breast surgeon and get a contrast MRI. The contrast MRI showed nothing, all clear. The surgeon said she thought it would be irresponsible not to do a surgical biopsy on the duct that was clearly causing the discharge. he saw my husband after the surgery and said, "Looks good; I can spot cancer a mile away, and it looks good."
Five days later, the surgeon called. All 2.9 centimeters of duct were loaded end to end and top to bottom with cancer. Here was the kicker, she said, "I would recommend a double mastectomy because your cancer is sneaky, and if I can't track it with modern technology I can't keep you safe." Who had ever heard of sneaky cancer? I’m sure others would say she was crazy to recommend such a radical solution to DCIS, but I went with my gut and agreed to the surgery. I wasn’t sure if I could go another sleepless night and wanted a one and done solution.
Low and behold, on June 14, 2018, I had a double mastectomy. The full pathology came back with another duct in a different quadrant of the same breast with disease as well. Nothing and all clear on the left side. Her decision to be aggressive and real AF with me saved my life. Otherwise, I would have gone through lumpectomy and radiation and I’d still have cancer. I don't share my story often because it scares people—but it’s real. Not everything can be picked up on scans and cancer can certainly be sneaky.
What does the word 'survivor' or 'survivorship' mean to you?
That I belong to a tribe of amazing women who have fought like hell. That each day I have to try to make the world better and that I want to be part of team that beats the beast and finds a cure. I beat it for now... that is what it means to me.
I also know I will forever look over my shoulder at the shadow of breast cancer and wonder, “Will you win someday?”
If you had to describe what survivorship feels like in three words, what would they be?
FUCK YEAH BITCH!
What's one thing you wished people outside of the cancer community understood about survivorship?
They say things like now everything is back to normal. Or you got so lucky. Nothing goes back to normal; I am changed forever. And if I was lucky I would never have had cancer, but thank you for thinking I am lucky. I fought like hell to survive and learn to do things all over again with my breast muscles stretched and implants and encapsulation and a whole bag of shit I never wanted. I would also want them to know that people show up for you in this community. That is something I will never take for granted. The women who I have met and those that have helped me to find peace in what my experiences have been are invaluable. I am grateful for the gift of them everyday.
What are some things that have helped you during this time?
First, a partner who continued to tell me I was beautiful even when I felt disgusting. A family that was there for me every step of the way. And for real - like the low, down, dirty real truth my billow heart shaped pillows. They saved my life! ;) The other thing that saved me was my massage therapist who is certified in oncology massage. She helped to make movement easier and to keep the other parts of me going while I recovered. I also found a woman who specializes in pilates for breast reconstruction patients and she was amazing. Learning to move in a safe way with these implants was hard. (I went direct to implants without expanders so I had new huge mounds in my chest that I had no idea what to do with.) I am learning to integrate yoga into my life and to try to breathe again. It is a peaceful time of day for me.
Biggest survivorship pet peeve?
At least your boobs won't sag when you are 50...no bitches, they will need to be replaced because implants only last an average of 10 years. YUCK. Or you are so lucky you don't need to wear a bra. Nope, but I wear a tightass corset under my skin everyday that I can never take off. Which would you rather?
What, if anything do you think should be done more in the cancer community in terms of survivorship?
We need to find a way to get to women before they are survivors and answer the real questions. When you are being diagnosed so much is happening that you try to get as much knowledge as you can but still we don't have a place where women can go that is all the questions you don't know to ask. And then a place to ask, "OK I am done with treatment, or in the middle, is this normal?" There are lots of horror stories and places to post diagnosis questions but not the things no one tells you. Like once you have implants it is like having ice packs in your chest. You will be freezing forever more.
What's your favorite swear word?
FUCK for sure. I love this quote: “The word ‘FUCK’ is a form of meditation and the more you use it, the more your throat chakra clears.”
What's something you haven't said out loud about survivorship that you want to get off your chest?
Why me...I have never once said out loud why me? I felt like why not me? But I think ultimately I ask that sometimes. Why me? I would not wish this on anyone because it really never leaves you and you are not the same person once you are on the other side. I am forever changed. In some ways better, in some ways not. Maybe that is why me? Maybe I needed to change - or maybe not.
What's your theme song?
Work B**ch by Britney Spears. I listen to it first every time I am in the gym to remind myself you better work bitch. And now, I love Edge of Glory.
Consider this a free space to say anything you want about this topic and word vomit away. No judgement, I want the realest of the real here.
I probably already said more than you wanted in these other areas, but first thank you for what you do to inspire us. You are clever and fun and real and I think that is what the world needs.
I am so tired of the same old cancer shit. I am so tired of listening to people tell me how to feel and how not to feel. I will feel the way I do. Some days good, some days like shit, and some days I am struggling—it is what it is. I am not what you would think when you think of a cancer patient. I have a 4-pack stomach, I have arms that are jacked, and spend an hour and a half in the gym everyday. I am only 41 years old. So don't think just because I look one way on the outside you know my story. You don't—you assume I had a boob job because I am vane, you think that it was because I want to look even better in a bathing suit. Stop judging what you don't fucking know. And please dear God, may the anxiety some day subside. May I begin to believe that the ghost on my should won't get me.