“More than ever, when faced with a challenge, I know that I’m enough.” - Jacey Powers
Jacey Powers was diagnosed when I was 25 years old with Stage II Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. She was stunned when she received a second diagnosis three years after her initial diagnosis).
MK: What was your mindset at diagnosis?
JP: I had expected that eventually I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother had breast cancer twice when I was a child, and again just one month before my diagnosis (after twenty years of remission). What surprised me was that it happened when I was only 25 years old. The diagnosis came nine months after my father had passed away suddenly from a heart attack, while he was working out. So when I was told I had breast cancer, I dove deeper into survival mode, where I had been living for months. I saw the problem clearly, put emotion aside and, with my doctors, attacked my cancer head on.
The second time I was diagnosed, I was shocked as well; but that shock quickly turned to anger. I had treated my previous breast cancer very aggressively (with double agent chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and hormonal therapy). So, to be told that my cancer had returned felt very unfair.
MK: How did your breast cancer diagnosis change your life?
JP: This is a question I ask myself all the time and I feel like I’ll never know the answer to. If I hadn’t had breast cancer, would I be farther along in my career? Would I be married? Would I have kids? Would I be as close to my mother and sister? Would I live in New York City? Would I be less patient? Would I be less empathetic? I don’t know. We can never know the way one thing, big or small, changes our lives in myriad ways.
I am the same person I was before I had breast cancer. But this illness, and perhaps just time, leaves marks… scars… not just the surgical kind. If we are lucky, as we grow older we gain wisdom and our experiences—good and bad—allow us to age like a fine wine. Don’t misunderstand. If I could go back and not have cancer, I would. Because of cancer I will always have the acute knowledge that one spot on a scan could be the end of everything. At any moment my body could decide to stage a mutiny against me. That was always the reality, and although I am happy and proud of the person I am today, I miss the days when I didn’t know that reality so well.
MK: What do you wish you’d known before being diagnosed with breast cancer?
JP: My mother had breast cancer three times before I was diagnosed, so I already knew a lot about it before my diagnosis. I also had a wonderful sorority sister, Shardé, who was diagnosed two years before I was. She gave me the best advice. She gave me a couple mantras that carried me through difficult times: one was the “Serenity Prayer”. She also often said, “How do you eat an elephant?” – ‘”One bite at a time.” It was important to me to look only at the bite in front of me, and not think of the whole elephant—just tackle one task at a time.
MK: How has this experience awakened you to your purpose?
JP: I’ve always known my purpose. I published, That Time I Had Cancer, a darkly, comedic perspective on getting breast cancer in your twenties. The vlog has more than 40,000 views on YouTube, and has connected me with survivors all over the country, which was absolutely the goal when I created it. . This past year, my mom and I walked 39 miles over two days in AVON 39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer New York. I’ve also volunteered for the SHARE Helpline, which connects women going through breast cancer to other survivors who have shared similar experiences. A few years ago, I was also a recipient of a beach vacation through a great organization called, Little Pink Houses of Hope. I have volunteered for them doing family intakes over the phone. The trips they offer breast cancer patients and their families are truly magical. My vacation came at the perfect moment and gave me a much-needed week away from cancer to recharge and refocus after treatment.w focusing on breasts, which are used for practical things like nursing, but are also –let’s face it—fun and sexy, detracts from the issue at hand. Women lose their breasts yes, and that sucks. But, women lose their lives, and that’s where the focus should be women (and the 1% of diagnoses that are men!) who are fighting this illness.
MK: If there was one thing you could change about breast cancer and the way people view it, what would that be?
JP: I think there is a dangerous, growing movement that overemphasizes the impact lifestyle choices have on breast cancer diagnoses, and the result is that patients and survivors are left feeling their cancer is their fault. Of course any doctor will tell you that if you’re obese or smoke you’re increasing your risk of breast cancer. There are genetic factors that play a role in developing breast cancer. There are environmental factors that may play a role. But there are a lot of cancers that are just bad luck. My hope is that the researchers find some answers.
MK: What would you tell a newly diagnosed young woman?
JP: That there is life beyond breast cancer. A lot of life is about the story you tell yourself.
MK: What one word defines you?