7 Inspiring Stories From Breast Cancer Survivors

As the saying goes, your health is your wealth, yet all of us take it for granted at one point or another. But, when a life-threatening disease like breast cancer sweeps in, we will be tested. Just ask the seven amazing women who struggled, survived, and were willing to share their inspiring stories with us.
Thanks to incredible organizations like Imerman Angels — a one-on-one cancer support system that connects fighters, survivors, and caregivers — feeling alone or helpless is simply not an option.
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Ahead, seven stories that just might change the way you think about the life you're living.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Kiara L. Kharpertian
"I was diagnosed with stage three ER positive, HER2 positive, and PR breast cancer in October 2010. I underwent chemo, radiation, and surgery, and was declared cancer-free and in remission in May 2011. In March 2013, we found my cancer had come back and had metastasized to my lymph nodes, bones, lungs, and liver. In November 2013, it metastasized to my brain, and we treated the new tumors with whole brain radiation. Now, my body scans remain clean after six months of Taxol and continuous Herceptin and Pertuzumab. My latest brain scans show that all my brain tumors are responding well to radiation and shrinking."

What advice do you have for women facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
"I tell them something the writer Goethe said many years ago: 'Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.' Being brave doesn't mean not being scared; it means showing up to your appointment even when you spent the whole drive there and 15 minutes in the parking lot in tears. Every time you stand up and face the next step, a little part of you resolves into a small plate of armor, and those plates come to surround your soul. And, soon, that armor starts keeping the fear at bay."

How do you keep a positive attitude when going through treatments?
"I try to remind myself that treatments and their side effects are, by and large, temporary. Because I'm stage four and will be in and out of various treatments for the rest of my life, I also try to maintain as normal a life as I can, which really helps keep my spirits up and keep perspective. I horseback ride and rock climb, and am working on a dissertation in literature."

What is one thing you looked forward to doing after or between treatments?
"I have two really amazing best friends who came with me to every treatment. We made the treatments themselves really fun, but afterward would be the best — we'd spend the rest of the day drinking cocktails, watching movies, and hanging out. It made treatment days really easy because I knew there was always a lot of fun coming!"

What was one of the best things someone did for you in terms of support?
"I'm part of a literature association in my discipline, and the graduate students are all very close in the group. When I got diagnosed stage four, a bunch of them banded together and sent me little presents every so often to push me through the first phase of my diagnosis and adjustment period. It was awesome."

What is something you learned through your cancer experience? How did it change your outlook on life?
"I'm still learning! Being stage four is hard. You're spearheading a siege that you will eventually lose, not running a marathon that you will someday finish. This perspective taught me to think really carefully about the decisions I make now and the ways I spend my time. Having stage four cancer makes me really aware of what I can bring to the world and how to best bring it in the time I have left."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Angela Walker
"I lost both of my parents to cancer in 1999. My father died first of lung cancer at 48, and my mother second of breast cancer at 46. My world as I knew it had changed forever, so I decided to make a change and pursue my passion for cooking and food. After culinary school, I had only been at my new job for a month or so before I discovered a lump in my armpit. But, I had to wait until my 90-day probationary period for my health insurance to kick in. After the crazy wait, appointments, and tests, at 34 I was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma."

"I would be later told that I was triple negative. With no time to spare, I was placed on Lupron in hopes to preserve some form of fertility. I began three months of chemotherapy, which included Adriamycin, Cytoxan, and Abraxane, followed by a lumpectomy and radiation. Thankfully, I am now in my eighth year of survivorship."

What advice do you have for women facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
"Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis is one of life's greatest challenges, but it is not insurmountable."

How did you keep a positive attitude when going through treatments?
"I prayed and I worked. My family, friends, and coworkers gave me the strength to endure."

What is one thing you looked forward to doing after or between treatments?
"I actually looked forward to going to work. I received my chemo on Thursdays and I was back on the pastry line by Sunday."

What was one of the best things someone did for you in terms of support?
"My sister, who is only 11 months older than I am, was my rock. She supported me spiritually and financially. And, when my lumpectomy was completed, she nursed me back to health in her home."

What is something you learned through your cancer experience? How did it change your outlook on life?
"Cancer gave me a new 'lense' to view life through. You ultimately learn to appreciate yourself, life, people, places, and experiences much, much more."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Diana Duenas
"I was a 27-year-old single mom when I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer on November 3, 2005. I went through multiple surgeries and five months of chemotherapy. During my ordeal, I never asked 'Why me?' because 'Why not me?' Staying positive was and is the key to my cancer journey in order to get through all of the highs and lows of life. Fast-forward to today, I am an eight-year survivor who is happily married with two daughters (one post-cancer baby)."

What advice do you have for women facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
"Don't give up and have faith!"

How did you keep a positive attitude when going through treatments?
"My positive attitude came from looking at my eldest daughter. She was my inspiration."

What is one thing you looked forward to doing after or between treatments?
"Simply spending time with my loved ones."

What was one of the best things someone did for you in terms of support?
"I have three wonderful friends that would take me out to dinner monthly."

What is something you learned through your cancer experience? How did it change your outlook on life?
"Cancer showed me how to live with gratitude every single day since my diagnosis."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Amy Overby
"I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2001, following a history of several benign breast tumor biopsies. I had a left breast mastectomy, a sentinel node biopsy (clean!), and second surgery to get clean margins from the chest wall. Following chemotherapy, I had saline implant reconstruction and a right breast implant for symmetry. I celebrated five years cancer-free only to find an enlarged and cancerous axillary lymph node a week later. After six weeks of radiation, I was able to celebrate again — it is now 13 years since my original diagnosis!"

What advice do you have for women facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
"Find someone who has been through it before so that you can talk to them. (Imerman Angels can find someone for you.)"

How did you keep a positive attitude when going through treatments?
"Distraction worked well for me — I watched lots of movies when I was feeling ill, listened to music during chemo, worked, and kept to my 'normal' life whenever I could."

What is one thing you looked forward to doing after or between treatments?
"Between treatments, gardening. After treatments, a trip to Paris!"

What was one of the best things someone did for you in terms of support?
"Two things. One, my sister communicated with my family and talked to everyone so I didn’t have to. Two, a coworker gave me a Victoria’s Secret gift certificate!"

What is something you learned through your cancer experience? How did it change your outlook on life?
"Plan as though you’ll live forever; live as though you’ll die tomorrow. Every moment is precious."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Erika Bracey


What advice do you have for women facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
"Believe that you are healed. The power of one's thinking can change your situation. Although the diagnosis of cancer is devastating, I quickly understood that living in fear would do me no good. Research your disease and make choices that are logically good for you. Most importantly, remember that cancer is not always a death sentence. It’s just a new lifestyle."

How did you keep a positive attitude when going through treatments?
"Every day as I drove to Rush hospital, I listened to this song called “Favor.” It's a spiritual song that gave me the inspiration and empowerment I needed to face radiation five days a week. Most importantly, I learned how to be alone. How to sit and just be one with myself, reflect on my life and the changes that needed to take place."

What is one thing you looked forward to doing after or between treatments?
"After treatment, I looked forward to helping people. Cancer changed me in such a way that I am clear as to what my purpose is in this life. I did look forward to laughing with friends and going out of town. I couldn’t wait to get in the sun."

What was one of the best things someone did for you in terms of support?
"My aunt went to every doctor's visit and radiation treatment that I had. There was also another patient who heard me complaining that I was tired of doing radiation. The next day when I came to radiation, she gave me a blue Smurf stuffed animal. She said 'This is for when you feel down, for the sky may seem gray today, but it will be blue again tomorrow.' She passed away last year, but I will never forget that."

What is something you learned through your cancer experience? How did it change your outlook on life?
"I learned that I only have one life, so every moment counts. I understand how precious time is and how important it is for me to tell my story to others. People need to know that there is life after diagnosis and treatment. As a matter of fact, I am living my best life right now."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Dikla Benzeevi
"I have advanced metastatic stage four breast cancer — breast cancer that spread to other organs. I will be in treatment for the rest of my life and face the constant uncertainty of not knowing how long treatments will work, and what my quality of life will be depending on the treatment and its side effects."

What advice do you have for women facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
"Seek out nurturing, constructive, motivating, and inspiring support — both practical and emotional. It takes a community to help us get through our cancer experience — medical experts, as well as support systems. Talk to your peers that are going through the same situation. It help so much to share with other cancer thrivers who understand. It alleviates the burden of worry."

How do you keep a positive attitude when going through treatments?
"Support groups, counseling, and my family. They really helped me deal with the fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and the physical side effects of my cancer experience. Lifestyle changes helped tremendously in improving my mental, physical, and emotional well-being: yoga, nutritious meals, acupuncture, exercise, support groups, counseling, and of course, finding the most effective treatment for my breast cancer."

What is one thing you look/looked forward to doing after or between treatments?
"I look forward to maintaining as normal and fulfilling a life as possible."

What was one of the best things someone did for you in terms of support?
"The best thing anyone can do is to listen without judgment, accept, and be supportive."

What is something you learned through your cancer experience? How did it change your outlook on life?
"More than dealing with the physical side effects, the most important lesson I learned is finding healthy coping methods to deal with the fear of uncertainty, disability, and death, by creating a supportive and nurturing environment of people and services around me."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Fionda Williams Brock
"I was 21 and had just graduated from college when they found the stage two, four-millimeter ductal carcinoma in August of that same year. When it took pathology two weeks to send a report, I knew something was up. After having six "second opinions" with leading oncologists in the area, I settled on two surgeries: lumpectomy and lumpectomy with re-excision and axillary lymph node removal (they cleared 15 nodes), as well as three months of radiation. There was not enough research surrounding tamoxifen for young survivors at the time. I couldn't work, so I used COBRA to pay for treatment (ouch!), and the following year, I enrolled in a nursing program so that I could help other fighters and survivors!"

What advice do you have for women facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
"Get a second, third, and fourth opinion! I had six from leading oncologists in my city. Within oncology, physicians have different interests and specialty areas. It is essential that you find the provider who is most closely aligned with your values and treatment preferences. Also, read all of the information that you can find related to your condition. Empowering yourself with at least one additional treatment recommendation will help you make a well-informed decision."

How did you keep a positive attitude when going through treatments?
"I meditated, prayed, read positive/healing books, and sought out my most positive friends. I completely avoided anyone who was a drain on my joy — including certain family members! You have to be surrounded by positivity to seek out wellness and be clearly focused on making good decisions about your health. I also acknowledged my worst fears. Once you understand your worst fear(s), you can develop a plan for how you will face them."

What is one thing you looked forward to doing after or between treatments?
"Sleeping!"

What was one of the best things someone did for you in terms of support?
"Friends from my college community sent me lovely cards and well wishes. Their positive thoughts let me know that I could get through treatments."

What is something you learned through your cancer experience? How did it change your outlook on life?
"I became a survivor at the tender age of 22. My life had barely begun and survivorship shifted my focus from all of the things that I wanted to do, to all of the things that I could do for others. I learned to seek out new adventures and enjoy my friends, family, opportunities, experiences, and life to the fullest! Question everything, love everyone, and take nothing for granted."
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