Today, as I sit here, looking and reflecting back on the past year, I have the biggest, warmest heart anyone could ever ask for.
I officially entered and exited my fifth year of survivorship, and I am ready for the next five. That amount seems a reasonable enough goal for now. I prefer to plan for how long my future might be based on how much I can emotionally and physically take at any given time.
As I welcomed my beautiful niece into the world two weeks ago I was once again reminded how precious life is. I feel extremely emotional and thankful - *tears* and *more tears* - that I was able to experience her beautiful birth and lucky enough to still be here to share this moment with my family. My niece will forever fill my heart every day of her life because she gives me hope. She shows me that I can make it, I can be strong, and I can be resilient. As she entered into this world, a wave of emotion overcame me as I thought, “I could have missed this. I could have not had this moment to share with my loving sister and her family, and I will be forever grateful that I made it this far after having breast cancer.”
Because there is NO cure. We are getting better, and I believe even closer to a solution to help it remain a chronic condition, not a deadly one, but until that day comes, we will never be able to say “I am cured. I can go along with my life never having to worry about it coming back or happening again.”
These thoughts are even more emotional for me now more than ever before because not only did I witness an infant girl take in her first breath of life, but this past year, I also said goodbye to way too many amazing women who took their last because of breast cancer. Women are dying. They are NOT “losing the battle,” instead they are all fighting for their own lives, and in turn the lives of many future women, so they may not die from this disease.
I am so very thankful that my treatment, Herceptin, was available to me and gave me a new lease on life. Women diagnosed before me may have not had that chance, and they gave their bodies to science to find this drug that could very well be my lifesaver. And to these women, these doctors and these researchers, I am forever in debt.
This past year was not just bittersweet or filled with anger, anguish and tears. I reveled in moments of celebration, too. But, so many things happened so fast, I sometimes got swept up and didn’t honor all of those moments with the gratitude I should have. But taking part in the Tour de Pink with the women and men of the Young Survival Coalition was a turning point for me. After all, there is a lot of time to think and digest life when you’re biking 300 miles. (And the exhaustion at the end of each day prohibits you from immediately plugging in to emails and social media).
It wasn’t just about the solace, however, because the ride meant so much more. It is because of YSC that I’ve met my sisterhood and my community of women who are continuously supporting me. These women are not only some of my closest friends and the biggest AnaOno cheerleaders. They have always been there for me be it because of emotional or physical turmoil, treatment hell, surgery aftermath, or just because some days you feel shitty! The ride also represented fulfilling a promise to a dear friend who I was supposed to be biking with me but lost her life to breast cancer before we could.
Another big moment this year was being honored at the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Butterfly Ball with an award for going above and beyond and being able to share that moment with three other amazing and inspirational women. That night will forever be a warm hug in my memory bank, one I can conjure up whenever I need to feel supported.
When I think about this incredible year, from last March to today, I think back to how I got here to experience these moments and what had to transpire in order for these 13 months to be what they were.
You see, when 2009 turned over into 2010, I was a fashion industry executive five months from her wedding. I had no idea what 2015 was going to look like, but I certainly wasn’t expecting THIS. And, I definitely wasn’t foreseeing cancer coming to call a month later and uprooting my life. I mean, who does?
The year that would be my 2015 actually began in early 2011, nearly a year to the day of my diagnosis. It was then when I woke up mid-slumber (likely from hot flashes and night sweats) and decided I had to take it back. My life that is. At that point, even though I was through with treatment and well past surgery, I still was letting my morning ritual - my routine - run my life. It was depressing. I was angry and lost. I still hadn’t come to terms with my body and its new permanent prostheses. But when I decided that night to do something about it, pass or fail, it really did change my life forever.
That was the moment AnaOno was born.
Thinking back on my five years of survivorship always leads me to the events of 2015. Because while every year has been filled with emotion and gratitude, this one by far has been the most momentous.
Oh, what a year it’s been not for only myself, but for AnaOno as well.
Starting a business is hard. It is not for the faint of heart. Starting a business after cancer, well you may as well be down right crazy (glad I have that box checked!). And it wasn’t easy. The development process took longer than expected. The educating the public process took even longer. And getting merchandise into the hands of women across the globe took nearly one full year after our launch. It was getting to be a nailbiter, this enterprise of mine. I was so passionate about my products and collections, and knew the joy and affirmation it had given me and my YSC sisters to wear my new bras, but business was slow. And lean.
One article from the Today Show, published on April 24, 2015, changed everything. Within hours the course of my development and momentum to reach as many women as I possibly could to help, encourage and support, shifted into hyperdrive.
Letters, stories, heart-to-heart conversations with women around the world all tumbled in quicker than I could ever imagine. At times, I truly couldn’t keep up. I am so fortunate and grateful they chose to tell my story and talk about AnaOno. The response would trigger what would become the watershed of 2015. (And shine a light on where we needed to grow up and put on our big girl Rachel briefs). Now almost everything I see down my new five-year road and all the opportunities we have as a community was built on that first brick of what would become the foundation of our business. We are committed now more than ever before to pull together, build an army and fight for our collective lives elegantly, beautifully and confidently with the grace, strength and empowerment we give to one another.
Because even though an article, and the many that followed it, gave us the building blocks, it is ALL OF YOU that created the village and are growing it together. There is no way any of this, from 2010 to 2015 to 2016 to 2020 and beyond could be possible without any and all of you.
AnaOno is not just a lingerie and apparel line, it is a community. It breathes because you give it life. As we begin to build the next level in our story, we invite all of you to take part. We WANT to hear from you. We want to share your advice, your stories, your struggles. We want feedback. We want you to continue to talk about us and share us with your networks, support groups, friends and healthcare providers. And now that our new look and our new year is kicking off, we will be sharing your posts and your creations. So please keep us in your social media feeds, on your Pinterest boards and in your inboxes. Make conversation, too. We do our best to answer each and every one of you as we can, and we encourage our community to interact with one another as well.
From the deepest, darkest part of my heart I will always miss the friends I’ve lost. I think of them daily and know each and every one of them, among too many others, are watching over us. They have our back from the world beyond, and together in strength, we will one day bring an end to the whole reason why AnaOno was started. But until then, and even after, I will work with every piece of my being to bring beauty, confidence and empowerment back into the lives of whomever needs it. Remember, you are Never Alone. We are here, all of us.
Happy New Year!
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You are not going to look like you used to, and that is OK. With a little ingenuity, anything is possible.