October is well known as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” and is often associated with the color pink. The AQUILA website has been transformed into shades of pink to help spread awareness and honor survivors both in our firm and out. It will remain pink for the entire month of October.
I’m Kathleen Brennan, Senior Marketing Coordinator at AQUILA and a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed back in 2015 when I was just 23 years old. I wanted to share my story and why this pink website means so much to me.
“You have breast cancer.”
Shortly before my college graduation, I went in for my annual gynecologist appointment. During the routine breast check, my doctor found a lump, so she ordered a breast ultrasound for the following day. I got the results a few days later. It was just a cyst, but they recommended I come back in six months to check it again.
Meanwhile, I finished up my degree at TCU, graduated in December and moved back home to Austin. The lump in my breast would occasionally fill my thoughts, and I could feel that it had gotten bigger. Instead of waiting six months as they suggested, I called and requested a follow-up ultrasound. A few days after that appointment, they called to tell me that the lump had in fact grown, but it still appeared to just be a cyst and they were pretty sure it was benign. Plus, they assured me that I was young and girls my age rarely got breast cancer. Something just didn’t feel right and I think they could sense my hesitation. They referred me to a surgeon if I wanted to have it surgically removed.
I decided to go ahead and have the surgery to get it removed. Two days later, my surgeon called me and told me that he had gotten the pathology report back and that he was completely shocked. It was April Fool’s Day, so I thought he was joking when he told me that I had breast cancer. When he told me he wouldn’t joke about something like this, my heart dropped and I immediately went into shock. I remember starting to cry, and I don’t think my eyes dried for a week.
I was immediately thrown into a whirlwind of appointments. I met with an oncologist, had follow-up scans, met with a fertility doctor to freeze eggs in case chemo made me infertile, met with genetic specialists and had genetic testing done, and had surgery to place a port in my chest for receiving chemo treatments…all within one week. My world was totally flipped upside down. I went on to have six rounds of chemotherapy over the next few months, followed by a double mastectomy.
One of the hardest things was losing my hair. I was devastated. It took about two weeks after my first chemo for it to start falling out. I ended up having my family cut it; I put it in a bunch of ponytails and they each cut one, and then my mom buzzed it.
I never thought I would go out in public bald. I got a wig, and I wore it one time to dinner and then never wore it again. Everywhere I went I just kind of decided to rock the bald. I was like, “this is what I look like now, and I’m just gonna do it.” And so, I did. When I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes, I thought that I looked like an alien. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, what? Oh my gosh. That was really, really tough.
A New Outlook
I feel like it completely changed my life. I look at things so differently. I try to be nice to everyone. I just try to look at the positives of everything because I know how negative life can be. You just have to stay positive to get through things like that. You really don’t know what people are going through. I also try to eat healthier, and I try to use natural products. I’ve done research on certain things and now I look closer at nutrition labels and product labels and try to choose healthier options.
I’ve also learned you have to be an advocate for your own health. You have to know your body and know when something isn’t right. Especially when the doctors brush off something because you’re too young or don’t fit the typical mold. I am so grateful that I had the intuition to remove the cyst. Because who knows what might have happened if I hadn’t.
Genetic testing uncovered that I have two genetic mutations – one of the ATM gene and another of the TP53 gene, also called Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. In short, the P53 protein produced by the gene is damaged and is unable to help prevent malignant tumors from developing. Because of this, I’ll have intense screening and surveillance for the rest of my life. I have annual full-body MRIs, brain MRIs, breast MRIs, colonoscopies, endoscopies, ultrasounds, bloodwork, scans, skin checks, and other appointments throughout the year
I’m really fortunate that AQUILA is so supportive. Whenever I have appointments, they tell me “Do what you need to do. Your health comes first.” That’s really important to me. I feel like some workplaces may not be as flexible, but AQUILA lets me put my health first. And the fact that they transform their whole website pink every year in support is really awesome. I feel really lucky to be here.
I wanted to share my story with you because breast cancer awareness month is so important to me, as are organizations like the Breast Cancer Resource Center and Susan G. Komen Greater Central Texas. They are doing incredible things for women in our community and for research, advocacy and more. If you or someone you know is going through this, I am here to be a resource, to answer questions and to let you know that you are not alone. Please reach out to me if there is anything that I can do for you.
And be sure to check out our new pink website this month! I hope you love it as much as I do.
At AQUILA, we celebrate all of the AQUILA family and friends who have been affected by cancer of all types. Please join us on our mission to raise awareness and in our fight for a cure, by donating to the Breast Cancer Resource Center or Susan G. Komen.