Kasha Wasylak was just 26 years old when she found a lump in her breast while showering. She reported it to her OBGYN and they both assumed it was a clogged milk duct as she had completed breastfeeding months prior. After several rounds of testing, Kasha got a voicemail that would change her entire life—she had breast cancer.
Her coming weeks would be filled with appointments, meeting various oncologists and formulating a treatment plan. At first, she felt optimistic; she chose to do a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. To her, she could eliminate the cancer completely and upgrade her breasts with reconstructive surgery. This being a “consolation prize” she joked, for the “entire mess”. However, after surgery doctors found that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and she would have to undergo an additional surgery, possible radiation, and the ultimate offender—chemotherapy.
Kasha explained, “I felt heartbroken. I was immediately depressed. My wedding was only 8 months away and I knew I would lose my hair, the hair I spent years growing long. This was not part of the original plan and not what I pictured as part of wedding preparation.” Kasha was defeated and felt she should have been celebrating the completion of her surgeries and looking forward to her wedding, not preparing for more treatment and dreading the side effects.
During the stressful chemotherapy discussion, Kasha’s doctor mentioned a new experimental treatment called scalp cooling which could help with hair retention during chemotherapy. It piqued Kasha’s interest: “Out of all the things she said to me at that appointment, that was the only thing I held onto.” Despite the lack of information and direction,Kasha left the appointment determined she would save her hair through cold capping. This reignited her purpose and will to live. She decided she would save her hair and she spent her days and sleepless nights researching best practices, tips and tricks. She found forums from the UK and Australia (where cold capping was more common). Two weeks later she was ready to start her hair saving mission. She was the first patient to complete this trial at Dana Farber in Boston and because of this the entire process of obtaining the cap, the fitting, and then using it was new to staff. Together with her team, they learned along the way and she was able to save 60% of her hair.
Kasha also notes the emotional struggle cancer took on her. While the shock of it, especially at 26, was a lot to handle, she was concerned for her husband. He was fearful not only for her life but also for the future of their 8 month old daughter, Alexa. Looking back, Kasha recognizes that having Alexa meant she had no choice but to get healthy. If there was any good time to get cancer it was then because her daughter was at an age where she didn’t worry about her mom and was able to live life as normal. Alexa enjoyed extra time with relatives and playdates during her Mom’s appointments and day-long treatments. In an effort to document her journey to survivorship, Kasha blogged so that one day her daughter can read and reflect what happened years prior. As of 2017, when Kasha was going through treatment, it was not mainstream so her blog also served as an incredible resource for women going through cold capping who were looking to connect with others in treatment. Her OKEMO blog is still used by current patients to help them on their journey today. She became a Paxman “pioneer” in effort to spread awareness and support through cold capping. She has been interviewed and profiled by Dana Farber, NPR and was honored to join the cast of WEEI for their annual Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon in 2019.
When asked at what point Kasha considers herself a survivor, she says, “The day I got diagnosed.” It speaks to her incredible grit that she was ready to fight to be cancer-free on the very day she found out. It’s that quiet determination we can’t wait to see hit the runway this fall.
Oh… and, like a boss, she got married with a full head of hair. Kasha, along with her husband Patrick, daughter Alexa, and dog Gus welcomed their son, Colin last summer. She refused to let cancer stop her from building the life she had always hoped for—the one among her biggest fans: her family.