Lisa Niedrowski is one of five vibrant and strong women selected to represent Living Beyond Breast Cancer during Fashion Bug’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month Campaign. Throughout October the women’s clothing store, with nearly 700 stores across the United States, will support LBBC by donating 100% of proceeds from the sale of a one-of-a-kind inspirational tee and by asking their shoppers to make a contribution by rounding up their purchase to the next whole dollar.
For women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, October is often a month filled with emotion. While every woman expresses their approach to the month differently, Lisa reminds us when the one fateful touch of her left breast changed her life forever.
I was honored to be selected as one of five women to share my story through a Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign sponsored by Fashion Bug. The idea of the five senses became an alluring theme. Each of us have a breast cancer story, of course. But from person to person, our story is a reflection of one ideal sense that created the most appealing significance in our individual journeys. For me, it was my ability to touch.
In 2002, I was touched with cancer. That year, became the year that forever shaped who I have become – it was the year, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with Stage II Triple-Negative breast cancer. For weeks I kept feeling my left breast and trying to figure out if the hard lump was just my imagination, a normal part of my breast or if I really did have a lump that seemed to be getting bigger each day. It wasn’t until I said to my then husband, “I think I have a lump in my breast.” And he replied “In your left one?” My heart sank. He too had felt it. That started the beginning of one of the hardest years of my life.
I lost a lot that year and in the few years that followed. I lost my breasts. I will never forget standing in a hotel bathroom at 4:30 am in New York City taking one last look at my breasts before my mastectomy. I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy because I knew that every day moving forward, I would continue to feel, probe and worry about my right breast. After my surgery, I lost the ability to effortlessly pick up, hold, or touch my babies without being mindful of my restrictions from my doctor and the pain. I could no longer receive or give a much needed hug from and to those I loved without hunching over to protect myself. My chest no longer felt like it belonged to me. It became the focus of so many critical and sideways looks from doctors determining the next steps of reconstruction – like a painter looks at a portrait deciding where to place the next brush stroke.
I can barely remember what my breasts even looked like or felt like. Thank goodness my now ex-husband and I made a plaster mold of my breasts and pregnant belly a year before which serves as my only reminder of what they looked like. Quite honestly and gratefully, I think I prefer the way my ‘new’ breasts look versus my old ones despite some scars.
Then began chemo. My focus became about losing my hair because it signified that I could no longer hide that I was sick. My two-year-old loved to run his fingers through my hair and so I knew I would have to shave my hair as soon as it started falling out for fear that in attempts to touch my hair, he would get a clump of it in his fist. Late one Friday night, I ran my fingers through and I got the clump of hair. It was ‘go time.’ Out came the clippers and followed by an awareness of a very cold and stubbly head. It was sobering reaching up and touching the stubbles of hair. It solidified that I was a cancer patient.
Now, eight years out, what I was permanently touched by was not the bald head, numerous doctors’ hands putting me back together, bandanas, needles for chemo or tattoos to align my radiation treatments. Nope – they were all just things that helped me survive or a symptom of treatment that allowed me to survive. What has touched me at my core is the resilience, courage and strength that is within us all.
As many survivors know, you are often told you are a ‘hero’ because you have overcome cancer. None of us actively sought to be touched by cancer, it sought us. When your back is against the wall and you have cried all the tears you have night after night, the fibers of what makes you strong and brave get touched and you get up the next day for another day to LIVE. This is what has permanently touched me.
When I think back to the photo shoot, I’m just blown away as I saw how my diagnosis and the diagnosis of the other four women touched the Fashion Bug staff, the LBBC staff and every other person involved in the shoot. Our stories are powerful and because of this initiative, our stories can touch other women’s lives as they realize that they DO NOT have to deal with breast cancer alone.
No matter what life decides to deal me, I will survive, accept and continue to be taught more about what I am made of. Life is a roller coaster. It will be full of wonderful highs and difficult lows but through it all, I am choosing to no longer feel the tight grip of the safety bar. No, I am letting go and putting my hands up!
Touch – verb 1) to bring a bodily part in contact with, especially so as to perceive through the tactile sense: handle or feel gently usually with the intent to understand or appreciate; 2) to strike or push lightly especially with the hand or foot; 3) to lay hands upon with the intent to heal; 4) to leave a mark or impression on.
Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Fashion Bug stores will donate 100 percent of proceeds from the sale of an Inspirational Screen Tee to support our educational resource Guide for the Newly Diagnosed and LBBC’s Survivors’ Helpline, a personalized matching service that connects women in similar circumstances in a confidential setting.