I’m A Survivor!
Maria’s Breast Cancer Story
It was a normal weeknight. I was lying on the couch, half watching TV and half texting with my sister. I lazily scratched my armpit area – and felt something unusual. “I just found a small lump in my breast,” I texted her.
“It’s probably nothing,” she wrote back, “but see a doctor right away”.
“It’s probably nothing,” my doctor told me when I saw her a couple of days later, “but let’s do the imaging to be sure”.
After the mammogram and sonogram, I knew it was not nothing but something just by looking at the radiologist’s face. I’ll never forget that look, and what she said next: “There’s cause for concern.”
The lump that felt like nothing more than a little frozen pea turned out to be breast cancer.
“You have to be kidding me”
That’s what went through my head when my oncologist told me she wanted to put me on an aggressive treatment plan for breast cancer, starting with chemotherapy in a few days.
Maybe it was selective hearing, but I hadn’t really grasped that chemo was on the table. Wasn’t I repeatedly praised for finding the lump when it was so small? Didn’t the surgeon say that no one would probably have to know? Isn’t chemo for more invasive cancers? (Now I know that early stage breast cancers in pre-menopausal women are often treated with chemotherapy as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of recurrence).
Not only did the rigorous treatment feel like a surprise, the timing of it seemed incredibly unfair. I had just finished raising Po Campo’s first round of capital weeks earlier, which was not easy; in fact, it was probably the hardest and most daunting thing I had ever done. Rising to the challenge of putting myself out there, sharing my vision, and getting the funding for our next phase of growth made me feel strong, confident, and ready to take on the world. All I wanted to do was execute the plans that we had told investors about. Hearing about my treatment plan felt like a cruel joke, like I was being cut off at the knees just when I was standing my tallest.
Now I’m on the other side, my hair is growing back, my energy has returned, and I feel pretty close to normal. Despite all my fears about what might happen, Po Campo is having another phenomenal year; we launched two product collections, expanded distribution, and our sales are on track to double. I’m really proud of that, and incredibly proud of and thankful to my team for stepping up to make it happen.
How My Bike Helped Me Get Through
At the beginning of treatment, I reached out to a friend who had gone through something similar for tips on managing chemo. Her advice? “Keep biking.”
To combat fatigue, you’re encouraged to stay active. I biked to work. I biked around Central Park. I even biked to some of my chemo infusions. Here I am getting ready to ride the Empire State Trail to celebrate my birthday and the halfway point of chemo. Showing up to the infusion center with my Po Campo pannier bags packed for a week long bike trip certainly raised some nurses’ eyebrows.
To combat loneliness, you’re encouraged to maintain your social relationships. COVID-19 of course already made this more difficult, but with group rides resuming, it was a great way to reconnect with people and still not have to share too much before I was ready. Here I am riding with WE Bike NYC, the local bike group I volunteer with, on a tour of the (sadly very few) statues of women in Manhattan.
And to combat sadness and depression, you’re encouraged to do the things you know make you happy, even if it just feels like you are going through the motions at first. My bike rides made me feel like me, a happy and capable me. I really needed that, and came to rely on it.
Side note: I really thank my e-bike for making all of this possible. There were definitely days when I needed assistance and I know I would not have ridden as much if I did not have that support.
Why I’m Sharing My Story Now
During treatment, I had two priorities: taking care of myself and keeping Po Campo moving forward. I didn’t tell too many people what I was going through. I didn’t want to expend energy on answering questions or making excuses. I was afraid of being pitied, of being underestimated, of being perceived as weak. I didn’t want to be known as the founder with cancer; I didn’t want to scare away future investors or potential business partners. So I hid it.
Recently I told my team that I’d like to do something special for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. Maybe a pink reflector pin? It was suggested that we kick off the month by sharing my story, which made me nervous, but it also gave me a sense of purpose.
Breast cancer shockingly affects 1 in 8 women in the U.S. and 25% of cancers are diagnosed in people under 55. I KNOW I’m not the only entrepreneur or small business owner who has gone through this, but it sure felt like I was. Feeling ashamed of having cancer, and the sense of isolation that shame can bring really is not helpful. My hope is that by sharing my story, other people coping with a similar situation will not feel as alone as I did.
Join me in staying strong this month!
Here I am crossing the Delaware river from New Jersey into New Hope, Pennsylvania, the end of a wonderful multi-day ride my husband and I took to celebrate my recovery.