Every person I know has been affected by breast cancer in some way or another, whether it's a friend, colleague, or loved one. This month we are raising funds for The Bobbie Queen Co., a non-profit founded and operated by two times breast cancer survivor Whitney O’Connor. Whitney is dedicated to empowering Boobie Queens by helping them find ways to celebrate themselves through their cancer journey. JTI is partnering with Alison South Marketing SoFlo and The Bobbie Queen Company to host a group of survivors here in South Florida, facilitating a retreat specifically catering to them called Breastrest. We are looking for colleagues to join us in these efforts by donating their time, talent, or treasure. Click here to learn more about it!
- Joy Lynskey
I had no idea that there was such a thing as a "young breast cancer survivor" until I became one myself. Growing up, I'd always heard stories about women who would get breast cancer but most of those women were 65 and older. Not once did I ever think it would happen to me.
6 weeks after getting married and 1 week after turning 30, I got a phone call that changed the storyline I thought I was going to have for my life. I answered the phone and my doctor said to me, "I'm so sorry Mrs. O'Connor. I hate to be the one to tell you this but the biopsy came back positive for breast cancer."
My first thought was, "They have the wrong patient. I'm only 30."
My second thought was, "How am I supposed to tell my brand new husband that he has a sick new wife instead of a healthy one?"
Because I was diagnosed at such a young age and didn’t have any family history (that we knew of), my oncologist suggested that I have genetic testing done. I assumed I had the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Only because this is all I ever saw on signs or in the magazines at the gynecologist. Man, I sure do wish it had been one of those... But it wasn't.
My genetic testing results came back positive for Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder that predisposes me to cancer. Basically, my body's filtering system is broken. Not only are good cells reproduced, but the bad ones are also. Those bad cells then do bad things like make tumors and cancer. In fact, I had a recurrence at age 32 after a routine full body MRI.
Since 2017, I've had 9 rounds of chemotherapy, 6 surgeries, 36 targeted hormone therapy infusions, 25 rounds of proton therapy, 1 year of oral chemotherapy, lymphedema treatment, monthly shots to keep my body in menopause, and too many hormone suppresant pills to count.
Then there’s the mental and emotional challenge.
Once all of the physical challenges were over, I got to ring the bell. You know, the cancer bell that patients ring on their last day of treatment. And boy oh boy, I was pumped! I was ready to get back to the way I was and start living the storyline I had in mind before breast cancer. But that didn't happen...
About a year after completing treatment, I started feeling off. I was anxious and worried all the time. Sometimes I would walk in a room and start crying for no reason. My mind was confused and foggy. The number on the scale just kept going up. Sometimes depression would show up and not leave for days. Things that used to light me up felt like a distant memory that I may never see or feel again. Support was all around me, but I still felt alone and then guilty for feeling alone. I didn't know anyone around my age that had been through breast cancer treatment like me. I had so many questions and so many fears that haunted me.
People would say things like, "Well, at least you're alive" and "You're such a huge inspiration." I felt pressure to be the same old Whitney but I couldn't find her. I was even embarrassed at times because as a licensed therapist, I'm supposed to know how to cope with all of this. But I wasn't...
I just kept thinking, "Why is survivorship just as hard as treatment was?"
After months of keeping these things to myself, I came to the conclusion that I was a bad survivor. I wasn't doing it right so maybe there were other women out there that could tell me what I was doing wrong. I turned to Facebook breast cancer support groups, started following breast cancer survivors on Instagram, and started therapy. I soon figured out I am not alone and that I actually wasn't a bad survivor either.
There's so much healing that happened for me once I started connecting with other breast cancer survivors. It turns out there are many women out there my age who are trying to figure out their minds and bodies post treatment while also trying to just do life. I soon began celebrating myself again and figured out how to help other women do the same thing. They just need to remember the Boobie Queen within them!
Between my 2 diagnoses I founded a nonprofit business called The Boobie Queen Company, created out of my desire to support other women going through treatment and survivorship. I designed “crowns” from bras, to sell and donate to women who have been affected by breast cancer. My mission is to help women celebrate who they are, AS they are. This helped me through my own journey with survivorship; I needed to learn how to cope with the aftermath of my experience, embrace what my body looks like and feels like now, and remember the Boobie Queen within me.
How could I help other Boobie Queens remember who they are as a breast cancer survivor? How could I raise money to pamper these women and help them heal?
I was inspired to create a space where we can gather as survivors and say things out loud that are hard to say and feel things that are hard to feel. A space where we can learn, grow, and let go of who we think we should be and embrace who we are. And I wanted to begin it with younger breast cancer survivors like myself.
Though my connection with dear friends Margaux and Wally Cawthon, word started to get around Jackson Lake of what we wanted to do for these amazing women and before I knew it, neighbors were helping with extraordinary accommodations donated. Then, we coordinated having massage therapists, yoga therapy and facials for some pamper time for Queens to be celebrated for 3 nights and 4 days! All meals prepared and served by loving women who showed up for them! Through donations and fundraising efforts, these ladies were “treated” to these accommodations, spa sessions and straight talk about coping with body image and the mental challenges of living as a survivor. Many tears and much laughter helped
The Boobie Queen Company along with local residents have facilitated 2 BreastRest retreats in Jackson, Ga. Each retreat has hosted 8 women from all over the country including Colorado, Utah, Kansas, New York, North Caroline, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. Some mothers, and some childless, some trying for children to beat the odds, some unable to bear more, or have children of their own due to the treatment. . These women came as complete strangers and left as unbreakable sisters.
Together, my Boobie Queens and I have been through:
250 chemo treatments
353 radiation treatments
59 breast surgeries
It turns out, we have a lot in common. And after witnessing the magic these women created together and efforts they made to heal, I know I'm where I'm supposed to be. These women came to Jackson Lake thinking they were "bad survivors" and left as Boobie Queens. Now they can rule their worlds as the daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, and girlfriends they want to be.