Komen Columbus is thrilled to announce our Honorary Race Chairs for the 2016 Race for the Cure!
- Amber Preston was 28 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.
- Ashlee Hunt was initially diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 24 years old in 2010. In May of 2015, she found out the breast cancer had returned at age 28.
- Brittany Beitel was 26 years old when she was diagnosed in 2014.
- Clorissa Ashley was 25 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.
- Tara Ernske was 30 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.
Collectively they have undergone 68 rounds of chemotherapy, 7 mastectomies, Herceptin, Tamoxifen, Zoladex, Aromasin, Lupron, and more. They have been treated by Akron General, Bing Cancer Center, Columbus Oncology, and Ohio Health, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James, and The Stefanie Spielman Breast Comprehensive Breast Center. Not one of these young survivors had a family history of breast cancer.
“This year we really wanted to shed some light on the unique challenges younger women face as they battle breast cancer,” said Becca Thomas, Director of Events for Komen Columbus.
Although relationships of all ages transform as a result of cancer diagnoses, many of these young survivors are not yet married, or even in a serious relationship. Their entire life plan has changed in the blink of an eye.
For Brittany Beitel, that meant going viral after Susan G. Komen Headquarters shared her engagement on their social media channels. “Through this battle came many hardships, but even more blessings,” Brittany said. Though she was excited to begin her life with her fiancé Ben and beat cancer with him by her side, waking up to endless friend requests from strangers was a bit overwhelming. But this surge in interest inspired her to become an advocate and raise awareness for a demographic that is often overlooked.
Another issue young women facing breast cancer diagnoses must consider is family planning. For many survivors, this conversation is the first one they may have had regarding family planning. Fertility treatments are costly and ultimately not guaranteed to be successful.
“It was extremely difficult to already have to push off having kids for 5 years, but as we were getting ready to start the next chapter I was re-diagnosed and it was honestly heartbreaking,” Ashlee Hunt told us. “We realized that the best thing for my future now meant I would never be able to carry my own child. That along with the stress of needing to find a surrogate for our future family is extremely hard to deal with.”
Other women fighting the battle are young mothers who already have a lot on their plate. Amber Preston’s daughter is just 6-years old. While she has explained breast cancer as much as she possibly can to Grace, it is admittedly a hard concept for such a young child to wrap her head around. She understands when Amber does not feel well, or when she is in pain, but she isn’t yet fully equipped to understand some of the big picture concepts. That, though, has definitely provided moments of hilarity.
“My daughter once announced to her class of 5-year-olds that ‘mommy doesn’t have nipples because of her cancer,’” Amber said.
But coping with a change in body image is a very real issue for these young women. Clorissa Ashley told us that not having her deceased mother by her side throughout her fight was particularly difficult at times. On top of that, “I felt like losing my breasts was like losing a gift my mother had given me,” she said. Her breast surgeon, Dr. Deepa Halaharvi, is a survivor herself; she was an invaluable resource when it came to preparing Clorissa to embrace her body post-mastectomy and helping her accept a new image of femininity.
These ladies have experienced more in just a few short years than most women their age can possibly imagine. There has been laughter, there has been laughter through tears, and there have been just plain tears.
Tara Ernske felt incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a core group of supporters from the moment she was diagnosed. The first few days after her diagnosis were a whirlwind of phone calls, conversations with loved ones, and work. Between her boyfriend, John, her family, and a close group of friends, she was continually surrounded by love and support. When she walked into her MRI, she had yet to take the time to fully process what was happening.
“It was right before I knew how bad my cancer was, and it was the first time I was alone. It was a very scary time for me to go into that MRI imagining the worst case scenario. I think I cried the entire scan. And it was 45 minutes!”
One thing these fierce survivors will tell you is that once they were diagnosed they were ready to fight. One of the key resources they had throughout their battles was the support of other survivors. Whether it be through their medical professionals, the women next to them during treatment, the Young Survivor Coalition, or even a group of Breast Friends, it was incredibly important to have the support of other survivors that knew exactly what they were going through. These were women that understood the distinct issues they were facing as young survivors and could support them not only in battle, but also in life.
We can’t think of a better way to celebrate this year’s Honorary Race Chairs’ 14 years of collective survivorship than to Race for the Cure with them on May 14. Their energy, positivity, and zest for life are beyond inspiring.