Like many of us, Brienne Black had a milestone birthday in Quarantine. She turned 40 this past January and decided to drive down to Florida two weeks later with her husband, Michael, and their children Alanna and William. It did take a bit of convincing to get Brienne and her family packed up in a car for the 24 hour road trip down there. However, the promise of family time in the warm weather and a very cute Golden Retriever named Charlie really tipped the scales.
Brienne and the family experienced an almost euphoric moment upon arriving – they even jumped in the pool with their clothes on. Knowing they had made the right decision, Brienne and Michael looked into renting their own house for a few more weeks in Florida as the kids were still in remote learning. However, that night, Brienne was laying in bed and her breasts felt tender so she felt them and discovered a lump. Her sister also felt the lump and they immediately got on the phone with her doctors back in Boston.
The very next day, Brienne was seen in Florida and got her first mammogram. A day later, she received the heartbreaking results no one is every prepared for. The mammogram had revealed BI-RADS 5 and they informed her it was best to get back to Boston immediately. Brienne’s bubble under the Florida sun was devastatingly cut short.
As soon as she returned to Boston, “it was like a bomb hit – we went full speed ahead.” She had a surgeon at Mass General and an oncologist at Dana Farber. Brienne says “I feel so fortunate to live in Boston with access to two top hospitals.” A self-described “worrier,” Brienne was actually never worried about breast cancer as she has no familial history or connection to the disease. “One of the misconceptions is that breast cancer is hereditary” she says.
Brienne is HER2 Positive and went through 12 weeks of pre-operative chemotherapy in addition to taking Herceptin. They ended up finding two tumors and “a little in my lymph node.”
Because Brienne was going through this extremely difficult chapter during COVID times, she wasn’t able to have her support system join her at chemo – one of many cruel consequences of this pandemic. However, that did not slow down Brienne’s loved ones from lifting her up.
Her mother and sister would drive her to chemo each week – her mother leaving to go to the church in Brookline to pray during Brienne’s sessions. When they came back to pick her up, let’s just say they brought the uplifting energy…
It is very important to note here that Brienne empowers women every week when she teaches cardio dance, which her sister also teaches. Bringing the positive and energizing spirit of those classes each week, Brienne’s sister would pick her up from chemo holding a giant sign, top down, windows open, and a song from class blasting on the speakers. We can’t think of anything better than that.
One week, Brienne and her sister even did the entire cardio dance routine on the sidewalk outside Dana Farber, which may be the best possible medicine we can think of.
Brienne credits her support system with “never letting me hit the ground.” Her late mother-in-law used to say “ put your head down and charge.” Focus on getting to the next step. The only way out is through.
After chemo, Brienne got her lumpectomy this past June. Thankfully, there was no trace of cancer when they went in. She’s currently in the midst of 30 rounds of radiation and will continue with an antibody infusion treatment through February.
Brienne was always open with her kids but strived to ensure their life stayed as normal as possible during her illness. The Golden Retriever, Charlie, certainly has helped. When Brienne lost her hair, she wanted to be open about it; not only with her kids but her Dance Cardio coworkers and clients.
“I belong to a wonderful community of women because of cardio dance.”
We have no doubt Brienne will bring some iconic dance moves to the Runway stage in October and we feel honored to welcome her – not only to the stage, but to our family.