In August of 2020, Bethy Atkins began experiencing breast pain that did not subside after multiple menstrual cycles. She messaged her PCP immediately and unbeknownst to her, her doctor was a breast cancer survivor. She immediately brought Bethy in for an exam, where a clear lump was found: “it all happened really quickly.”
Bethy began by freezing her eggs, followed quickly by chemo, a double mastectomy and radiation. All of this came in the heat of the pandemic, making an already stressful time, increasingly more so: “in some ways it was incredibly isolating in an already isolating time.” Despite the circumstances, she felt incredibly supported by those around her. Small gestures like her sister-in-law dropping off groceries without the pressure of needing to be seen or acknowledged meant the world. Outreach from friends also brightened her day: “this terrible thing was happening to me but my apartment was covered in flowers and they were a daily reminder of beauty.”
She also felt grateful to be connected to other women who had faced a breast cancer diagnosis, particularly one woman, whose advice, though crazy at the time, has stuck with Bethy: “She told me ‘breast cancer made me better- it helped me prioritize my health, mental health and I am so much healthier than before I was diagnosed.’” It’s advice that Bethy, with time, has come to really appreciate and agree with. While she is careful to note that not everyone has to find a silver lining of cancer, for her she says, “if you had told me-this is going to allow you to be more open to the world, I would say that’s bull****,” but that is exactly what has happened.
Though acknowledging her self check and advocation certainly played a role in saving her life, Bethy is immensely grateful for the resources she had access to: “every step of the way I have been so lucky and had so much privilege allowing for that luck. It’s heartbreaking and terrible to me that my luck gave me my outcome. There are so many women for whom doctors don’t believe them and the medical machine doesn’t work for them the way its supposed to.”