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Finding my Breast Cancer Family

Finding my Breast Cancer Family

Editor's Note: Allie passed away in October 2017. Allie will always be remembered for the inspiration she provided to so many. Her light will continue to shine through her writing.

This time last year, I had just returned from the Summit in Atlanta, GA and was beginning to feel the sisterhood withdrawals. It had been my first Summit and really my first time being surrounded by other young women just like me. I left Atlanta empowered, educated and connected. I had been out of treatment for a few months and just starting to feel like myself and I remember being proud to share that I was “cancer free” and had reached the light at the end of the tunnel.

Breast Cancer Family

While at the summit I had attended a breakout session called “Managing Fear of Recurrence and Anxiety.” I had never really thought about the cancer coming back, but I figured it would be important to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I also met many women living with metastatic disease. The breakout session was one of my favorites and the speaker ended up being someone I confided in for a period of time after the Summit. I felt as though I was meant to hear that lecture and was grateful to go home with a new perspective.

A few months later, my cancer metastasized to my liver. It meant I was joining a new sisterhood, this time of lifers. I thought back to the women I met in Atlanta, and was comforted to know they were there and thriving. I thought back to the breakout session and thought, jeez that’s some serious foreshadowing.

The unthinkable had happened AGAIN. But being the optimistic and maybe even naive person that I am, I told myself I would be okay and that I had schooled treatment the first time, so I’ll undoubtedly be good at it.

So fast forward to March 10, 2017. New year, new summit, new diagnosis. Heading to Oakland I felt incredibly lucky. Another year of my life and another chance to spend time with my sisters. But as excited as I was, I also felt nervous. I would be wearing a different colored lanyard and probably going to metastatic breakout sessions, as if I had graduated and was moving forward into something unknown.

I knew everyone would be there for the same reason, but I was afraid I now had this big sash around my neck that said “I’m going to die!” I was afraid that all the optimism I had and all of my get-busy-living attitude was going to be stomped on. But with a “breast” friend by my side I went for it.

“Somehow a Marriott thousands of miles from my house, felt like home.”

Upon arrival, I saw familiar faces. There were hugs and laughs, and in all honesty, somehow a Marriott thousands of miles from my house, felt like home. Nothing had changed. I was still surrounded by young women who understood, I still felt empowered and educated.

Me and My Sisters

My diagnosis was different, but for those three days in Oakland it didn’t matter. What mattered was our support for one another and our ability to show up. Despite everything we’ve been through, we showed up for ourselves and for each other. Each one of us with a very personal and individual diagnosis and story. Each one of us looking to the other for the same connection.

And as we danced on Saturday night, a particular song that I never paid much attention to in the past, really resonated with me. The lyrics went, “We are family. I got all my sisters and me.”

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Allie Vreeland is an F2F leader in Staten Island, NY.