At 31 years old Kathryn Selinga was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. It was a shocking diagnosis. Very privately, she received treatment and attempted to move on with the rest of her life. After all, she was in her young thirties and was about to buy her first home with her husband. The universe, however, had other plans and at 34 years old, Kathryn was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis came after months of intense pain in her breasts and eventually, a lump she found during a self exam. While doctors assured her there was only a 1-2% chance of it being cancer, Kathryn responded with “I’ve heard that before.” Indeed, it was a cruel irony to be facing a second cancer diagnosis intensified by the timing- Kathryn began treatment during the height of COVID. Treatment included a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy at Dana Farber. Due to COVID restrictions, Kathryn faced treatment alone: “It was one challenge after another” and she notes the solo treatments were difficult because it was hard for her family and friends to grasp what she was really going through. Ever the optimist, Kathryn acknowledges that the pandemic meant her family had more flexibility with work schedules to be able to drive her to treatments. She reflects graciously on the time they spent waiting in cars for her treatment to be done. She notes that in some ways, their inability to see her in pain gives her some solace and that the largest lesson she learned was to accept their help: “I learned that opening up, sharing my struggle and accepting support was not a weakness, it was a strength.”
The entire experience was harder than Kathryn ever imagined it could be. The impact is obvious (“it changes your life forever”), but what she wants people to understand most is that the experience does not stop after chemo and radiation. In fact she says, “everyone is checking on you weekly or even daily during this time, but what most people don’t realize is active treatment may continue after that, as well as long-term physical and mental side-effects, so continued support is just as needed in the aftermath.” She’s found her time since ending treatment to be the most challenging. After chemo finished, she went on a road trip with her husband, but upon returning home found herself struggling: “the structure of regular treatments and being in survival mode for so long was gone and it was very hard to figure out a new normal.” Additionally, she faced side effects from the treatment, chiefly among them brain fog. A lifetime journalist and former magazine editor, words have played a massive role in her life so the struggle of grasping for words has been a difficult adjustment and like any human, it can make her paranoid around those who may not know her full story. It’s why she sincerely hopes that by sharing her journey, it will remind people to have more patience and understanding for those around them. It’s also why she has joined “A Fresh Chapter,” a group whose main mission is to help cancer survivors with the complex emotions that come from challenging circumstances. For Kathryn, it’s allowed her to connect with people “who, having been through a similar experience, understand those unique challenges” and start to form the stepping stones into her next life chapter. She’ll take to the runway in the fall as a reminder that everyone has a story and whether private or public, it’s worth celebrating.