The month of October, ignited by pink, raises its voice to Breast Cancer Awareness and reminds us of all the survivors, fighters and families that are affected by this disease. It encourages us to learn more about the battles others have gone through with open minds and commit to fighting for a cure, as a unified echo. Throughout the month we will be hosting a Q+A blog series guided by those who've taken breast cancer head on. We believe that their stories can teach young women + men about breast cancer and what it means to fight in every measure of the word.
"Breast cancer is non-discriminatory. Sure there are some genetic markers, predispositions and some obvious lifestyle risks, but we know now that BC doesn’t care how old you are, what you do for a living or the color of your skin." - Caitlin
This week we are featuring Caitlin Marcoux, Senior Prana Vinyasa yoga teacher and owner of Paddle Nantucket
Q: Tell us about the day you found out that you had breast cancer - what were your first thoughts? What stage was it?
A: Well, I first noticed a pea-size lump in my right breast during a post-yoga shower back in the winter of 2010. It felt hard and sore, and as I scrubbed myself with soap that night, so too did a lather of anxiety wash over me. Unfortunately, the radiologists and nurse practitioners who put me through subsequent breast exams, mammograms and ultrasounds, reassured me for 2 years that I had everything from “mastitis,” an infection in my milk ducts from breast feeding, to "dense breast tissue,” and then “cystic breast tissue,” that was nothing to worry about. I had 4 mammograms before anyone would validate my suspicion that something much worse was going on, something that would not be cleared up with a 10-day course of Augmentin. When I was finally diagnosed via needle biopsy, on March 15th, 2013, I had aggressive, invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2, with a grade 3 3cm tumor that had infiltrated 3/4ths of my right breast and nipple. Because the cancer had spread out, I had to have neo-adjunctive chemotherapy before the situation was operable, then a double mastectomy, and then more adjunctive chemo. I was forced to shift from cruising through my life on autopilot to racing into treatment at breakneck speed. My first thoughts on hearing the diagnosis and treatment plan where 'I knew it,’ and ‘I’ll never doubt myself again.’ I realized then and there the power of intuition, and how important it is to be our own advocates.
Q: What about you is different because of the impact breast cancer has had on your life?
A: I take very little for granted these days. I value the little things in my life more than ever. I feel more appreciative and grateful for the things I am fortunate enough to have and the amazing things my body can do when it’s in balance and harmony. Everything from having eyelashes and eyebrows to having enough energy to finish a bike race or run a paddle boarding business, has that much more significance and zest. When the grind gets me down, I stop feeling bad for myself by remembering just how lucky I am to be alive.
Q: What does it mean to you when certain companies [like ourselves] get involved in giving back and raising awareness? Do you relate to any of their missions in a way that you may have never thought?
A: Giving back is one of the most important things we can do, as an individual or as company; it creates a deeper sense of purpose and identity for both. Personally, getting involved in cancer advocacy and volunteering my time and energy has given me a much more profound sense of belonging. I think it’s fantastic that with the Breast Cancer Awareness Collection, Ivory Ella is making a contribution to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
"Pink washing" has become rampant in the month of October and there are many companies out there who take advantage of high visibility of Breast Cancer Awareness month to promote their brands. Ivory Ella's minimum pledge of raising $25K is no small contribution. I hope the campaign's success exceeds expectations.
Q: What would you want others to know about your experience? Do you have any advice for someone that may be going through something similar?
A: Even while I was going through it, I wanted my experience to mean something. I wanted the time I lost with my 3 year old, time spent recovering from surgery and time struggling to get back to “normal” to have counted towards some greater good - so I wrote about it on my blog. I put it all out there in a very raw and personal way so that other women could read it and know they’re not alone. But if there was only one thing I can share with your audience, it’s to make sure that people know that no one should be an island, especially when it comes to cancer. You need a solid team.These teammates are the family and friends who are going to be fighting with you, on the front lines. Choose them wisely, and appoint them well. Having an inner circle of cancer ninjas will give you strength. Appoint a Secretary, Treasurer, PR Manager, Insurance Guru, Domestic Goddess and Hand Holder. Of course, the very most important person on your team is going to be your Secretary of Defense & Homeland Security; your primary healthcare advocate. This person is typically a spouse, partner or close family member, and they should be willing and able to take charge of your “situation” at a moment’s notice. Don’t do this alone. It’s hard enough as it is.
Q: Have you always been into yoga or is it something that has come into your life after your diagnosis? How does it help you from day to day?
A: I started a regular yoga practice in my early 20s and I’ve been teaching yoga now for a decade. But yoga became critical to my survival while I navigated the high seas of cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. I practiced and meditated - in some way - every day, and created a ritual of doing one pose at the outset of each chemo infusion, usually set up in the hospital, chemo ward or in the actual infusion chair, which I called a “chemoasana.” It was my little way of psyching myself up for battle. I’ll never forget the time I did a stratal handstand in the MGH Cancer Center waiting room with my IV already in place and entire room of patients erupted into applause. This one bald beauty shouted, “I want the chemo she’s having!” Everyone laughed and laughed. I’d post these photos on social media and while I’d sit in the chemo chair, sometimes for up to 3 hours, I’d read the encouraging comments that would come in. It really helped me get through those really hard days.
Q: Do you live your life any differently than you did in the past? What can other women learn from you and your experience?
A: Yes, I take much less for granted now. I know what it feels like to hear the words, “We’re going to do everything we can,” and to feel the preciousness of life hang in the balance. I think going through cancer has given me an inner fortitude and self-assurance I didn’t possess before. I think that when women come out the other side of this experience they’ll have a better appreciation of how strong they really are, what they’re capable of overcoming and the healing power of love, faith and self-trust.
Q: When we first spoke, you taught me some new info I wasn't aware of. What is a common misconception people have of breast cancer and what is something you'd like to see change?
A: (I think I addressed the “Pinkwashing” above and I’ll put in my other two cents below)
Q: Our audience is very young and most people don't realize breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early age - what kind of advice would you give to someone in their 20s that maybe you weren't aware of yourself?
A: Breast cancer is non-discriminatory. Sure there are some genetic markers, predispositions and some obvious lifestyle risks, but we know now that BC doesn’t care how old you are, what you do for a living or the color of your skin. One of the reasons I was diagnosed so late was because I didn’t fit the old stereotype. I was under 40, a vegetarian, green juice-drinking yoga teacher with no history of BC in my family. So ladies, even if you are healthy and young getting know your breasts, especially if a medical professional tells you they’re “dense” or “fibrous,” is imperative. That way if you ever notice anything out of the ordinary, you’ll know to get it checked out right away. And if you EVER have a strong intuition that something is amiss, remember, you know your body better than anyone else. Anyone. If you find a lump and a mammogram is inconclusive, insist on additional screening; a needle biopsy or breast MRI can make all the difference between a lumpectomy or full mastectomy. You are your own best friend, teacher and advocate. Never let anyone allow you to doubt yourself.