Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How being diagnosed with breast cancer convinced a makeup artist to go green
Makeup artist Sheri Stroh was looking into ways of greening her life as well as her kit when, at 36, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
About five years ago, I read the book Not Just A Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan, which is about potential toxins in beauty products. In general, I’m a bit of an alarmist—I kind of freak out, go hardcore and then lighten up on certain things. I mean, I basically live in a cloud of hairspray, but I decided I wanted to look into green products. The book just made a lot of sense: there are so many chemicals we’re exposed to, either by eating them, breathing them or putting them on ourselves. I thought maybe I could try to lessen my own exposure.
Then, in the spring of 2009, I began to feel an ache in my right breast. My bra was aggravating something and I found a lump. It concerned me enough to go to the doctor, but she wasn’t overly concerned because I was only 36 at the time. She said my breast contained dense tissue and that it was probably fibroadenoma, and I was told the same thing at the ultrasound. They told me to come back in six months. Oddly enough, the ache just went away, so nothing really reminded me to follow up.
Around nine months later, the ache came back. I felt around and the lump was still there. I couldn’t tell if it was bigger or not, but I made an appointment. Right away, they were concerned it had grown, enough to book me in for a mammogram. I knew something wasn’t right. I mean, nine months ago it was, “Oh, it’s nothing, you’re young,” and now it was, “We want you in for a mammogram, stat.” So I went in for the mammogram and waited a week for the results.
I don’t want to say I was in denial, but I was very positive. My mother always said not to worry until you have something to worry about. When the results came back, they told me they wanted me to come in for a biopsy. I remember one of the nurses looking at me and saying, “You know, at your age, it’s a good chance it’s fibroadenoma.” Ignorance is bliss—I didn’t bother looking up anything.
Two weeks later, my results were in. My husband just happened to be off work that day. He said, “We’ll get ice cream after to celebrate,” but for some reason I replied, “Well, we can go out for ice cream either way.” He asked what I meant and I said, “I just don’t have a good feeling about this.” Right off the bat we saw from the doctor’s face that something was wrong. She said, “We have some bad news.” She explained that the lump was cancerous and needed to be removed, along with some lymph nodes. She also said the kind of cancer I had, which had “mucinous” qualities, was rare—only two or three per cent of breast cancer patients get it, usually post-menopausal women—and usually it’s slower growing and not as aggressive.
My doctor had said I’d just need a lumpectomy, but my surgeon recommended I have a mastectomy, which seemed pretty dramatic. She said, “Because of the size of the tumour, you won’t be left with much. A mastectomy would probably look a lot better.” I was OK with that—if you need to take any body part, you can have it. To me it was just, “We’re going to cut it off and I’m going to get on with my life.”
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