From: Dedham, MA.
Stephanie's Customer Story
"In early February of 2020, just after my 38th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I saw my doctor for what I thought was a bite mark from breastfeeding my son Jack that would not heal. He prescribed antibiotics but that didn’t work. For six months I went back and forth between my doctor, several lactation consultants, nurses and finally an infectious disease doctor who realized what everyone thought was breastfeeding related was actually an incredibly rare presentation of breast cancer.
The following month I had a double mastectomy in the middle of a pandemic (0/5, do not recommend), followed by chemo, radiation and antibody infusions every three weeks for a year and finally my last reconstruction surgery.
Through all of this my kids were only 5 and 2. We did our best to shield them from everything going on. We tried to explain that mama had some boo boos that the doctor was taking care of and I might feel sick for a while. I was lucky enough to cold cap and keep most of my hair. I refused a port because I didn't want to have to explain to them what it was and have that constant reminder (which my oncologist was not thrilled with, but worked with me to avoid). I tried so hard to make this as unmemorable an experience as possible for them.
After all that I went through I very much wanted to have a fresh start. I already had two chains with my kid's names on them that I wore everyday. I had friends who had the initial necklace and it was just so clean and fresh. I asked for gift cards for Christmas and was able to purchase one with a G and a J that I received in early April.
We had a belated 40th birthday for me (thanks Covid). I continued working and volunteering for my daughter's PTO. We made a bid on new house, which was accepted! In that market in our area, that was a small miracle. I was very much ready to have a clean slate. The day after we got the house, I realized I was pregnant. We were shocked. After chemo and me being 40 this was totally unplanned and unexpected. I had always wanted a third but thought after everything we'd been through we were done.
On December 21st of 2022 I had a healthy baby girl, Natalia. I was thrilled to send back my necklace to have that N added. I still often stare at it in disbelief that I have three kids. My necklace is such a representation of my life. A symbol of the twists and turns and coming out anew. I'm so greatful to have it and all three letters on it.
I can't leave this without my requisite plea for women to advocate for themselves. Make sure that you advocate for your health and check your breasts monthly. It took six months to diagnose me. There is a good chance the mastectomy wouldn’t have been necessary, or at the very least I wouldn’t have had to have it alone during a pandemic, if it had been caught earlier. I had no lumps. I was 37 years old, in good health and had been breastfeeding for literally 6 years straight. I have no family history of breast cancer. All of these things were supposed to be in my favor. No one even considered sending me for a mammogram (even me!) until I saw infectious disease.
Breast cancer can happen to anyone. Even if you are healthy. Even if you haven’t hit 40. Even if you don’t have a lump. Pay attention to any changes. It’s not always a lump. Sometimes it’s a sore or dimple or just a new weird spot. Keep going back to the doctor until you know what it is. Demand the mammogram, even if you aren’t 40 yet. If your gut tells you something is wrong, it probably is. Had someone not realized SIX MONTHS later that I should have a mammogram I likely wouldn’t have had one until I was 40 and my story would have been very different. So please, please pay attention. Check yourself once a month. Notice any changes and don’t take no for an answer when you know something is off."
Stephanie's story carries an essential message of self-advocacy. Her diagnosis, a complex puzzle without the typical markers, underscores the importance of proactive healthcare. Stephanie encourages women to trust their instincts, to persist until they receive the answers they need. Her Maya Brenner necklace, with the initials of her children, embodies chapters of strength, love, and the twists that life can bring. Her journey is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit--a story of courage, hope and blessings.
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