Erin Drummey first attended Runway as an enthused supporter and, along with her group of girlfriends, was blown away by the positivity and energetically charged atmosphere a night about breast cancer could be. Never did she imagine that shortly after, she would be diagnosed with breast cancer herself. With no family history of the disease, her world came to a halt and she began to grapple with what would become her new normal.
Getting the diagnosis was especially harrowing given Erin’s age. At just 30, she felt a lump in her breast and alerted her gynecologist, who quickly wrote it off due to Erin’s youth. The lump got worse and Erin sought a second opinion. Her persistence paid off and a triple positive diagnosis followed. Erin hopes her self advocacy is a warning to doctors who quickly use youth as an excuse to avoid further testing. She notes that from the time she alerted her first doctor to the time she finally got admitted for tests was nearly eight months, a time gap that can make all the difference for some patients.
With the support of her mother, Erin worked with her doctors at Dana Farber to create a treatment plan. It began with a mastectomy, five weeks of radiation and, once complete, a total of 30 rounds of chemo. She will receive a diep flap reconstruction in July, but notes that the time between a mastectomy and reconstruction is complicated, filled with moments of pain, shock and frustration with appearance. This uncertainty is heightened with the current COVID-19 crisis. After a family member displayed symptoms, Erin has had to delay her treatment. As an immunocompromised individual, staying healthy ordinarily is a challenge, but COVID-19 produces another layer of stress. When she returns to treatment, Erin’s routine will be altered: no visitors will be allowed, extensive screening will occur prior to entrance to the hospital and more. While most of us will avoid hospitals whenever possible for the near future, Erin’s reality is a constant grapple between being immunocompromised, but also needing treatment to live. It goes without saying that a person who has learned to face chemo with strength and resolve and then has to also then deal with not being allowed to get it is truly someone who is reaching for every possible ounce of poise under pressure. This is an impossible situation for the Runway models who are currently in treatment, and we are in complete awe of their strength.
Through it all, Erin’s resiliency is astounding. Taking time off work for treatment, she still maintains a routine- from waking up at a normal time every morning to at-home workouts and spring cleaning projects- all in an effort to avoid lounging around for extended periods of time. She strikes a careful balance between staying accomplished, while recognizing that her energy level is not what it used to be.
Achieving this normalcy requires help. She relies on friends who check up on her and make sure she gets out of the house, even when she would rather stay in. Their support has transitioned to FaceTime during COVID-19. Simple care packages filled with adult coloring books and ginger candies (for nausea) create moments of happiness and keep her occupied during treatment and now, quarantine. Chiefly, her connection to others who are going through treatment, and now facing the world’s current health crisis while immunocompromised, is most important. Erin relies on The Breasties and Young Pink Sisters as beacons of support during treatment. Whether discussing a particular medication, or her upcoming reconstruction, Erin is clear that the support of mentors, from the very beginning, is essential in staying grounded and sane. Her mantra is simple: stay normal where and when you can. Easier said than done, but with the help of the community she has built, she feels confident as she nears the end of chemo.
Even in the midst of treatment under challenging circumstances, Erin glows with grace and positivity. She is proof that cancer patients are oddly well adjusted to handle a crisis like COVID-19. Their diagnosis prompts the prioritization of wellness under stressful circumstances- from home workouts to mental health check-ins to creating a virtual community of support. As the world gets a glimpse of the real stress isolation, threatened health, and lack of community can have, we look to women like Erin whose resilience can serve as a roadmap to maintaining normalcy under strain, in order to undoubtedly come out the other side stronger.