By Diana Price
Most survivors will tell you that a cancer diagnosis can impose a sense of isolation. No matter the level of support from family, friends and faith, the words You have cancer have the power to build a wall between you and the wider world. For many, learning about the experiences of other survivors—via social media, online forums, or print publications—can be a powerful tool in disassembling this barrier and breaking down the fear and the anxiety that can result from feeling alone on the journey.
Women magazine is glad to be a part of this network of support and inspiration. Through our quarterly print publication, our online magazine (awomanshealth.com), and our Facebook and Twitter communities, we are grateful to have the opportunity to engage with our readers and participate in the conversation.
Now, as part of our ongoing series profiling members of our community of readers, friends, and followers, we’d like to introduce you to a survivor who has offered to share her story in the hope that her experiences will offer inspiration and perspective to other women diagnosed with cancer. We’re grateful for her courage and inspired by her desire to make a difference.
Lauren Eiger, 27
Westbury, New York
When Lauren Eiger felt a pea-sized lump in her left breast, she immediately made an appointment to have it checked out. Having watched her mother go through breast cancer treatment three years earlier, and having lost her grandmother to the disease as a young child, the 27-year-old knew she couldn’t hesitate to seek care.
Months later, after having undergone a series of tests and, finally, a biopsy, Lauren heard the words she had dreaded: You have cancer. Surprisingly, it was not the lump she had felt that was cancerous—that turned out to be a benign cyst; instead she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
“As soon as I heard the diagnosis, I felt sick to my stomach,” Lauren says. Still, she retained hope because she had been told that the cancer was early-stage. “I thought I would have a lumpectomy, like so many women do, and have a low dose of chemo or radiation since it was so early,” she says. Unfortunately, though the cancer had been detected at an early-stage, it had spread throughout the ducts in her breast from her nipple all the way to her chest wall—a lumpectomy was not an option. “The moment those words left my doctor’s mouth was the moment my world started to cave in around me,” Lauren says. “I was supposed to be getting married in four months. How could this be happening to me: I was only 27.”
Despite her shock and “an initial, warranted meltdown,” Lauren worked fast to switch gears. Putting her wedding plans on hold, she made fighting cancer her full-time job. “With a wedding in my near future and a long life ahead of me, I put the pedal to the metal,” she says. “Instead of planning flower arrangements and picking out invitations, I began making plans to save my own life. In order to enjoy my bright future, my new plan of action was to get healthy.”
After seeking a second opinion, which confirmed her initial diagnosis, Lauren launched into a treatment plan that included a double mastectomy, lymph node removal, and reconstruction—a process that has tested her physically and emotionally. “The recovery was harder than I ever imagined,” she says. “Nothing will ever prepare you to go through something like this, even with an army of loved ones behind you.” And yet, having come through the surgery and been told that the cancer had not spread and that her lymph nodes did not show evidence of cancer, Lauren’s overwhelming emotion is gratitude: “Seeing two scarred lumps on my chest reminds me every day that I am a survivor rather than a victim. These scars were what saved my life.”
Now, having completed the reconstruction process and happily married, Lauren is focused again on her bright future, which includes a commitment to helping other young women. “My mission now is to make other women aware of their bodies and to help them not fear the word cancer,” she says. “I felt alone and scared when I received my diagnosis, like I was the only 27-year-old out there with breast cancer.” Her plans to help ease the burden for other young survivors include writing a book about her experience and continuing to raise funds for cancer research. (She has already raised more than $6,000 for the American Cancer Society as a participant in its Making Strides against Breast Cancer walk last fall.)
“Twenty-seven-year-olds are not supposed to go through the experience of having breast cancer,” Lauren says, “but I am oddly thankful for the hand I was dealt. It has given me a new appreciation for each day and has led the way for me to make a difference in people’s lives. I kicked cancer’s butt, and I look forward to helping others fight it, too.”
To learn more about Lauren’s experience, visit her blog at onlyliveoncelauren.wordpress.com.