Ilene Fabisch was on her way to Disney World when she got the news she had breast cancer: “it completely blindsided me.” She had no family history, ate clean (mostly vegan) and even competed in triathlons. In fact, she had just completed one a month prior. Though she had never gotten regular mammograms, Ilene did feel a lump under her arm in the shower and felt compelled to go to the doctor.
In April of 2020, during the start of COVID, she received a double mastectomy. She describes the “trauma of losing both breasts” to be massive. As someone who was used to the grin-and-bear-it attitude previously in life, Ilene came to rely on the people around her to get her through the tough times. Chiefly, her husband who she says was “such a rock, more so than any other time in my life.” Friends also stepped up and Ilene gets choked up when talking about the small, yet hugely impactful, way friends showed love. At one point her friend Laurie made sure Ilene had everything needed for Passover dinner: “I am so grateful to her. I don’t think she understands how much it meant.” When Ilene finished chemo, her friend Charlene sent cowbells to all of Illene’s friends and family so they could all ring the bells over Zoom to mark the occasion. These small acts of kindness helped get Ilene through to complete treatment in December of 2020.
The lingering effects of cancer are still prominent, however. Ilene suffers from anxiety, something she never dealt with pre-diagnosis. In an attempt to connect with others that have faced the same journey, Ilene has found comfort in various Facebook groups including She Strong, which connects different types of athletes who are battling cancer. She also joined a group called Fabulous and Flat, which has come to be the most meaningful for her. As someone who chose not to have implants after her mastectomy, Ilene is particularly excited to take the runway “to accentuate the fact that you don’t need boobs or implants to feel confident, or like you are doing the right thing for your body.”
Of the past few years, Ilene remains blown away at the support she has received: “mostly what I learned from this journey was I have a huge support network of people that care about me that I didn’t know I had.” Indeed, this network continues to provide her the support she needs until she feels comfortable calling herself a survivor (“I have an issue with survivor. It’s a funny term- it indicates an end point and I don’t really feel an end point yet”). Her advice to those newly diagnosed? “Always live your best life. Do not give up on life. You my hit barriers, but there is always something you can do. Focus on what you CAN do and that might not be in front of your face, but if you search, you’ll find it.”