An Introduction to ‘Cocktails and Chemo,’ a Young Breast Cancer Survivor’s Guide

An Introduction to ‘Cocktails and Chemo,’ a Young Breast Cancer Survivor’s Guide
Sporting my post-chemo look in 2015.

Ten years ago I wouldn’t have pictured my life this way. At 22 I was planning my wedding. It was the dawn of an innocent life of health and bliss ahead. But fate has a way of testing the boundaries of our limitations; it will bring you crashing to your knees under the weight of heavy expectations.

The past four years threw me down a different path. Short version: Divorce, moved across the country to a state where I knew no one, and I got breast cancer. This all happened before I turned 30. I hit the jackpot at life!

Although I’m on the opposite spectrum of what I imagined my life would be, I love it. A lot has changed. Yet, I am more “me” than I have ever felt.

Here I am at 32, writing my first column for Breast Cancer News. It is not something I had imagined 10  years ago, but it’s a very pleasant deviation from my 22-year-old dreams!

In the past two years I’ve had seven major surgeries, six rounds of chemo, seven nights in a hospital, three MRIs, two PET scans, one round of IVF, and a bazillion needle sticks. I have had so many doctors’ appointments and tests that I’ve lost count.

My life as a young cancer survivor looks very different from my friends and colleagues with whom I grew up. Most of them are married, living in a mini-mansion in suburbia with enough kids to field a soccer team. Sure, I get a little twitch of jealousy every now and then, but I have something different and priceless — an invisible coat of armor that I bought during my non-discretionary vacation in hell. It’s my most fabulous accessory. I wear it daily as a reminder that life is not perfect, which is the most amazing thing about it.

My life is spontaneous. It’s fun, scary, slightly out of control, slightly off color, and weird — all shaken up into a bright pink vodka martini.

I realize now that I don’t want to be the girl living in suburban utopia driving a Range Rover up the yellow brick road. Not that there’s anything wrong with it; it sounds fabulous. But it’s just not where fate led me. Occasionally that twitch does provoke me to indulge my curiosity into what my female peers are up to these days. I click through their social media posts and stare at the computer screen, as if I’m seeing it all through a telescope looking at Earth from my spaceship orbiting Mars. Smiling newborn babies. Sparkling wedding gowns. Clinking glasses of rosé on the beaches of Tulum. New luxury sports cars. Gleaming marble kitchens with glowing vintage Edison lights. It is all so far away.

Social media reminds us of everything we aren’t, because social media is not who we truly are. It’s like in elementary school when we had to make a collage of our life for show-and-tell day, and pasted all of our favorite photos on a giant piece of neon poster board. We want to show off only the best and most beautiful pieces of our lives and frame it with glitter puffy paint.

I think my purpose is to show the world the flawed pieces of my life. I want to show people that I got breast cancer when I was 30 years old, and I am living an imperfect, yet awesome, life.

When I was first diagnosed, I felt alone and betrayed by my body. I wondered if I was going to die. I wondered why nobody else my age got cancer. I did not know a single other person who had experienced this, and that unknown was terrifying, like a menacing smile in the dark. I’m here to scare the boogey-man away and tell you that you’re going to be fine. You’re going to be better than fine, because I’m making you one of those super awesome coats of invisible armor to wear. (Pants cost extra.)

Namaste, my pink sisters.


Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.

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  1. Michele Gavaletz says:

    Wow Susan! I can’t imagine it at your young age. I was diagnosed at 66 (2 years ago) and I can only say that perhaps starting at a younger age you may not waste any of your life on things that really don’t matter to you. Cancer certainly gives you a new and clearer perspective on what’s important in this life. Good for you – I’m rooting for you all the way.

  2. Jean says:

    I love your article. And feel it really speaks to us young breast cancer patients. Thank you for sharing and for being such a positive advocate!

  3. Maraidh says:

    Loved this article. The story is similar to mine….divorced, with a tiny child, and a Stage 4 dx…all before age 30. I am here to say that I survived and THRIVED. This is my 27th year of being a kick-ass survivor. Every single day is precious. My baby is grown and married. Has life been easy? Perfect? Hell no, but life is beautiful and each day is a gift. Peace and love.

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