One of the care packages I received shortly after sharing my Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) diagnosis contained a special item I didn’t know existed at the time. When you’re 28 and hear the words, “you have breast cancer,” the veil of cancer innocence is immediately removed as you’re thrown into a new realm of appointments and vocabulary.
Triple-negative, port-a-cath, dose-dense chemotherapy and medical menopause are just a few of the phrases I remember diving into after learning about my diagnosis and treatment plan. I quickly learned I would be going through chemtherapy via a port-a-cath that would soon be placed in my chest. I was also advised to prioritize treatment over any fertility preservation procedures with the help of Lupron and medical menopause. Ready or not, I was all in.
Receiving My Port Sweatshirt
On the day I opened that special package, I unfolded a navy blue hooded sweatshirt with zippers on both sides of the chest. The tag read, ‘Oscar de la Renta x Care+Wear,” and little did I know this piece would play such a big part in my chemotherapy journey. The thoughtful friend who surprised me with it was familiar with Care+Wear, their company mission, and their product line. She knew I could use this before I did. It was such a kind and generous gift.
I thought about wearing this to my upcoming eight rounds of chemotherapy, and I decided to add one more Care+Wear port sweatshirt in pink to my Amazon wishlist– some variety to mix things up for the upcoming months. Another generous friend swooped in and sent the pink hoodie. It meant so much to hold these acts of kindness close to my heart while I prepared for the battle of my life.
My Game Day Uniform
A fun fact about me is that I have enjoyed playing sports my entire life. In fact, my father used to joke that I was his first son. I love the camaraderie, competitive spirit, and adrenaline rush that comes from playing different sports. There is an indescribable feeling when you train with your team and finally get to put on your uniform and lace up your shoes for the big game.
That port sweatshirt, I came to realize, was my game-day uniform.
I loved that it was cute, comfortable, and flexible. The zippers allowed my team to access my chest port without stretching anything out, and I was able to zip it up to be more discreet when my husband and I would stroll down to the hospital cafeteria after my labs were drawn for a breakfast date. We did what we could to face this beast in our own way– creating joyful moments in the process.
Showing Up On Chemo Days
While everyone’s journey and preferences are different, I found true comfort in sporting my ‘game day uniform’ on my chemo days. It became routine to put my uniform out the night before and get in the right mindset to step back in the ring. I loved having my port sweatshirt ready to go, and my team appreciated that I wore a garment that was accessible for us to conquer the day. I also wore comfortable pants and sneakers, did my makeup, created a playlist, and used soap with aromatherapy during my morning shower.
Not much can prepare you for going back– again and again– for something that is going to make you feel terrible in order to save your life. However, cancer patients and chemo warriors know this all too well. I remember feeling scared and uncertain when it was time to switch chemo drugs at my mid-way point. I had “conquered” the Red Devil (I use that word with grace knowing what it put me through), and was entering the unknown series of Taxol. Switching chemotherapy drugs meant a new chemo day timeline and new side effects. It was scary, but having a routine for these hard days helped me show up with strength and confidence to take on whatever was coming my way.
Digging Into My Why
Besides my “why” of beating TNBC, my life mantras have always been to “seize the day” and make an impact.” So on the day I started chemotherapy, I launched the Chemo to Kindness℠ Challenge, where I encouraged my social media community to do an act of kindness and tell me about it. On each chemotherapy day, I would check in with the community and get flooded with notifications of acts of kindness being done in my honor to spread awareness. The challenge inspired more than 1,700 acts of kindness and impacted more than 75 organizations worldwide. This made a huge impact on my overall experience. Instead of wallowing in the reality of chemo, I had a mindset of gratitude and positivity knowing I was still pursuing my “why.” Whatever your “why” is, I encourage you to go there during these hard times.
Life After Chemo
After I finished chemotherapy, I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction the day after my 29th birthday. In that surgery, my port was removed. I gave my two-port sweatshirts to another warrior, who has since finished her treatment and passed them forward again. On February 2, 2023, I celebrated two years since I rang the chemo bell. Survivorship is a whole other battle, but I look back on my overall journey with gratitude for where I am at and all that I have overcome.
Thank you, Care+Wear, for the opportunity to write this post, and for the pieces you create that allow us, cancer warriors, to show up on hard days as our best selves.
About The Author:
Lorelei Colbert is an award-winning advocate, speaker, and creator. At 28 years old, Lorelei was newly married and diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer shortly after. As she battled, she created the Chemo to Kindness℠ Challenge that inspired more than 1,700 acts of kindness and impacted more than 75 organizations worldwide. Now a survivor, her leadership work has been recognized by advocacy and industry groups as she continues to shed a light on breast cancer awareness in young women and the importance of advocating for yourself.
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