Kristin Bahny is very familiar with cancer. She lost her father to colon cancer and her mother is a two time breast cancer survivor. It meant that cancer, for her and her brother, was always front of mind. Given her mother’s older age when diagnosed with breast cancer, Kristin wasn’t too worried when she found a lump. She did however, bring it up to her doctor, who suggested more testing. She notes, “I was in denial because my mom was so much older when diagnosed. Up until the minute they told me, I was convinced it wasn’t cancer. I should have, but I didn’t see it coming.” Indeed, at 34 years old Kristin had breast cancer.
After diagnosis, Kristin sat with her options for a few weeks. Though she knew her friends and family would be supportive, she wanted the time to assess what treatment plan would be best for her. She found her comfort in the doctors and team at Dana Farber: “we were always able to have a conversation around treatment plan and what would work best for me.” Ultimately, Kristin decided on a left mastectomy and preserving her right breast. It meant three reconstruction surgeries, but no chemo or radiation. Given her age and indecision on having children, she was put on Lupron to preserve her ovaries. It was a medication that came with a myriad of side effects and felt brutal on her body. She notes how hard it was to convey to family and friends how she was feeling: “you can feel like crap all the time or risk getting cancer again. It’s so hard every single day to feel bad- disruption of sleep, intense hot flashes. You feel like your body parts are on fire. It’s easy for people to say just take the meds, but family and friends underestimated how hard it really was to take it.” She found herself feeling the same disconnect after her major cancer milestones were complete. While people in her life moved on, she felt stuck still dealing with the after effects of the entire experience: “in the beginning you have all these milestones, but then it’s a ‘now what’… you’re still dealing with things with no real milestones ahead.”
It’s why connecting with other women became so important. Living in NH made finding women her age who had faced breast cancer hard, but she attended the Dana Farber young adult conference where she met fellow Runway model Hannah Earle. The two connected immediately and found out they lived near each other. Hannah introduced Kristin to local Facebook groups for support. The connection became a saving grace. It also encouraged Kristin to continue attending group events for survivors. She attended Casting for Recovery, a fishing group where she met fellow Runway model and board member Nicole Merrill. The connection with women who had faced various forms of treatment became invaluable. At one retreat, her roommate expressed guilt over not having undergone chemo like most of the other women. It was a sentiment Kristin herself had felt many times and when she told her roommate, “your treatment may have been different, but it was still really hard,” her roommate jokingly said, “you should take your own advice.” These conversations and connections have helped Kristin embrace and evolve in her cancer journey. She notes that for a while she let herself “be a baby” and feel bad about her situation, but she knows that mentality was temporary. Indeed, on retreats now she is amazed how refreshing it is that “we don’t talk about cancer. We are busy catching up or bonding or talking about life.”
We can’t wait for Kristin to join another amazing group of breast cancer warriors when she takes the stage this October at The Runway Show, New England.