In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we’re highlighting impactful stories of strong, courageous women who have experienced breast cancer and now want to share their story with you. 

We interviewed breast cancer survivor Shealyn Kirts. Shealyn is an incredibly strong #WarriorWomen who shares her journey with us of what overcoming breast cancer was like for her.  Her strength, courage, persistence, and self-compassion for true healing are unbelievably admirable, and we appreciate you sharing what that experience was like for you. We invite you to join us in learning more about Shealyn’s survival story. 

HV: Can you tell us about how your journey with Breast Cancer first started? When were you first diagnosed, how old were you, what type of breast cancer were you diagnosed with, and how was the cancer initially detected? 

SK: I was diagnosed with Stage II, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in June 2018.  I was 29 years old.  I found the lump in my right breast while working out when my hand grazed my sports bra.

Life as I knew it, as well as the life I had imagined for myself, drastically and permanently changed overnight. 

HV:  Is there a family history of breast cancer? 

SK: No family history. I am the first person diagnosed with breast cancer on both sides of my family.

HV:  Can you tell us about your treatment process and what that was like for you? Was there anything in specific that made it easier for you to get through it? 

SK: I had a year of treatment and procedures including a double mastectomy, fertility preservation, chemotherapy, reconstruction, and radiation.  I am also on hormone therapy for ten years to help prevent a recurrence. 

Being diagnosed with breast cancer has impacted every area of my life. I continue to manage side effects from treatment, and it has placed many question marks in mine and my husband’s future plans. However, the experience reminded me that I can do hard things, and I can do them with grace and courage. 

I learned I am a girl who will never stop searching for the light even when it is much easier to sit in the darkness.

I often still feel like I am getting knocked down as I try to embrace a new body and all the challenges that come after active treatment concludes, but it has never been an option to not get back up.

Most days when I look in the mirror now, I no longer see cancer and fear. I see grace, strength, and courage. I see self-love. And that is a pretty cool thing.  My biggest takeaway: hope and happiness are not feelings, but conscious ways of being that must be practiced daily if you want to live a joyful life.

HV: Did you experience any complications throughout your treatment?

SK: Except for a difficult recovery from my double mastectomy, an ER visit during chemotherapy, and the expected side effects from treatment, my experience was as smooth as I could have hoped. One thing that I did that really helped me heal and move forward was using Scalp cooling, also commonly known as cold cap therapy, during my chemotherapy treatments. This therapy prevents hair loss during chemotherapy by cooling the hair follicles during infusions using cooled headpieces. I had four caps that were chilled to approximately 35 degrees below zero using dry ice, and for each infusion, I spent 10 hours wearing these cold caps. I imagine a full day of the worst brain freeze you’ve ever had without the satisfaction of the ice cream!

I knew the therapy was working when, two weeks after my first infusion, I began to lose my body hair but the hair on my head stubbornly remained. At the conclusion of my chemotherapy treatment, I lost less than 10 percent of my hair — a barely noticeable amount, even to me. This still amazes me as my oncologist promised 100% hair loss after my first treatment due to my chemotherapy regimen. 

I’ve learned that hair is not “just hair.”

For me, it represented fighting back in every way possible and refusing to let cancer take more than it already had. Maintaining self-image was self-empowerment, self-advocacy, and self-healing. My hair signifies a girl who advocated for herself, who chose the options right for her regardless of outside opinions, and who refused to relinquish all control during a time of forced surrender.

My hair is my crown of victory. I fought back. I won. 

HV: Throughout your journey, did you feel that you had a support system or the resources you needed? If not, how did you overcome that? 

SK: I leaned on my trusted support system, especially my husband, to share his light with me until I could find my own again.

Letting people in to sit with the trauma with me was healing and essential.

I am forever grateful to my husband who never allowed my pain to cause discomfort. Instead, he dove into the deep waters of unknowns with me and began treading. 

I did not (and still don’t) feel I have been given the resources needed to truly heal. Anything I required in terms of mental health or managing long term side effects, I have sought out on my own. It takes a lot of grit and dedicated effort to move forward after a cancer experience, and a more holistic approach to a patient’s wellness is essential, and something I wish my recovery was more focused on.

HV: Based on your experience, what do you wish people knew more about in regards to breast cancer? 

SK: After a year of surgeries and treatment, I experienced a textbook reaction that is widely shared by most cancer survivors, but rarely given the attention it needs.  I was left with no visible signs of illness, but I also had no real sense of wellness. You don’t walk out of your last treatment and just move on. Instead, once the noise of it all starts to quiet, you finally begin to have space to process the trauma you went through.

Healing is far from linear.

It is messy and confusing, and the only way to the other side is to sit in the pain with enormous self-compassion and patience. I needed the most support and resources when I concluded active treatment, and this is when I had the least. Everyone encouraged me to return to a “normal life”. Not one person provided guidance on how to do that.

There was no warning that the after would be even harder than the during. 

HV: Do you have any messages you would like to share with the women in this community? 

SK: Take it day by day and never stop trying to hold onto the light. Let yourself feel it all so that you can move forward as the best version of yourself.

Remember that you can do hard things.

As cliche as it sounds, cancer taught me that how we spend our days is what really matters. It’s important to find joy in the seemingly trivial moments of each day. Don’t give energy to situations that won’t matter in a week. Things will rarely turn out how you planned, and often the unplanned moments are what life is all about.