I was in such a great place in my life. I had the dream job, amazing friends and family, a loving and supportive boyfriend, and I was in the best shape I'd ever been in. Wellness and health are extremely important to me. So when I found out that I had the BRCA 1 genetic mutation, it threw me off balance. It was the only thing I felt like I didn’t have control over, the only thing that was holding me back from being completely at peace. I had to really sit down with myself when I thought, "I am doing everything in my power to take care of my health outside of this. Why should this be any different?"
That's when I realized that I had to have a preventative double mastectomy. Although I had made the decision without hesitation, I felt very alone before the surgery. I wasn't technically a cancer fighter or survivor, so I didn't fit in with that crowd exactly.
But I was definitely going through something. Whereas other people might say there's a stark contrast between their pre-cancer
lives, I seemed to fall in a crack right between the two.
I felt like I had no one to talk to who understood what I was going through.
I was just browsing the internet one day when the term "previvor" popped up. The sense of belonging and validation I got from that one word was deep and immediate. How had I never heard of that word before in all my research?? It may seem silly, but knowing there is a term for what I was going through makes it seem a lot less foreign and lonely. Through this word, I have met so many amazing people who have been affected by breast cancer in some capacity that I now consider to be some of my closest friends.
As I started meeting other previvors, I realized there was this huge community of people going through the same exact feelings and experiences as I was. There are so many people I have become friends with who aren't
Previvors. Sometimes I think labeling myself as a Previvor separates me from others in the cancer community (and yes, I see the irony in my Instagram being Paige_Previvor
-- ha!), but I have learned that that insecurity is more in my head than anything else.
The cancer community is the most inclusive group of people I have ever met and I am so beyond thankful I have found my tribe in them. Rather than label myself as a Previvor, I choose to think of myself as a "breast friend."
ANYONE and EVERYONE can be a breast friend. You don’t have to have BRCA or have breast cancer to be a breast friend. If you have been affected by breast cancer or have had a breast surgery in ANY way, I consider you one of my Breasties. Like the cancer community, I want everyone to know that if you are looking for love or support, you can get that from me and the rest of the Breasties.
That being said, I am incredibly thankful to be a Previvor. To me, it means overcoming a genetic predisposition to cancer. It means facing my genetic risk head on rather than letting myself be overpowered by fear. It means potentially saving my own life. I used to think of it as being a pre-survivor, but now I think it is more about being a proactive-survivor.
What does the word "previvor" mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Photos courtesy of the author.