“Breast cancer changed my life completely and forever.”
Amy Rigard had no family history of breast cancer and never felt a lump. In fact, she noticed a small spot of dimpling skin and when it persisted, she told her gynecologist. Out of caution they sent her for a mammogram. Before the results even came back, Amy “just kind of knew it was breast cancer.” Indeed, Amy would go on to be diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2019 at 38 years old. By November, she started chemotherapy and she received a bilateral mastectomy in April of 2020. She would proceed to have radiation and two other surgeries during the height of the pandemic in 2020: “2020 was a double whammy of the two C’s- Covid and cancer. It was really rough.”
Amy chose to keep her diagnosis mostly to herself. Her parents would drive down on Thursdays to help support her through chemotherapy on Fridays and into the weekend, but otherwise Amy faced much of her treatment alone. She notes, “ I was ashamed or maybe scared, I’m not sure. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my diagnosis. I’m from a small town and I didn’t want anyone I hadn’t spoken to since high school reaching out suddenly caring about me or feeling pity for me.” For a short time Amy utilized online blogs, but ultimately they became too scary and dooming to continue with. She forged ahead as her own support system. Upon reflection, she does feel that she was “alone and isolated during much of that time”,” especially given the added layer of the pandemic.
She did find her type of people eventually, in a subset of The Breasties out of NY who did a Hip Hop Happy Hour. The group “would listen to music, chat and complain about cancer.” For the first time, Amy felt like she had found women she could relate to. She hopes to find the same in the Runway community.
Amy notes that, like many females, she has struggled feeling comfortable in her own skin. Of course cancer, and all its treatments, further complicated that. She says she still may not feel comfortable in her skin or with her hair, but she is excited to publicly recognize the journey she has been through for the first time on the stage this fall. While she does not identify as a survivor yet, she is a warrior and looking back her advice for newly diagnosed is to talk to people early and often: “you’re not alone. It is not a sign of weakness or seeking pity to reach out. Find someone you can relate to and who understands what you are going through.”
In a strange twist of fate, Amy has been just that to her close friend, who was diagnosed with breast cancer recently. While Amy feels immense gratefulness to be a built in support system and guide through her friend’s journey, she also notes how complicated the emotions of reliving treatments and day-to-day cancer talk can be. Indeed, she has found it harder to watch a close friend go through breast cancer than she did with her own diagnosis. In the end, it’s Amy’s story that reminds us of the true power of community and sisterhood.